After the terrible shooting in Orlando, gun control advocates were left, once again, with no news. With just four days left before Congress adjourned for the 4th of July recess, a bipartisan gun control proposal was set aside with no hope of passage. No news? No problem. Representative John Lewis and 170 fellow Democrats blended old-fashioned protest tactics with new social media tricks to incite a media frenzy and take over the news cycle. Sure, lawmakers have the luxury of working on the national stage, but their tactics are available to all changemakers. Inside or outside of power, all of us can defy traditional media, create our own coverage, and change the national conversation.
1. Stage an event
Instead of writing an angry op-ed or waiting to be noticed, Democrats took matters into their own hands. By staging a sit-in they made a statement that demanded an immediate response, and infused the issue with a sense of urgency. If your issue isn’t getting the attention it deserves, find a way to create your own event – stage a walkout, a sit-in, or a demonstration. Disrupt everyday activities to make people look up and take notice.
2. Be sensitive to current events
Democrats planned their sit-in wisely. Not only was there a gun-related tragedy in the news, but Congress was about to break for a holiday weekend. Their timing connected them to a major national story, while also positioning their opponents as too lazy to stay in town and make a difference. Whether you’re planning an event or writing a commentary, make sure you pick your moment right, and make the most of it.
3. Change the conversation
Democratic lawmakers neatly bypassed the debate over 2nd Amendment “rights”. Instead of talking about restrictions on gun ownership, their protest focused on their First Amendment right to voice their opinion. Suddenly their opponents weren’t gun owners, they were other lawmakers who suppressed the conversation. Instead of accepting the public conversation about your issue, take control of your narrative and frame it in a way that works for you.
4. Write that hashtag
During the sit-in, #nobillsnobreak and #holdthefloor were tweeted 1.4 million times, spreading the word and creating a buzz without external media. Social media is an incredible way to get the word out, especially as an event progresses. Hashtags help unite coverage across social media, bringing tweets, Facebook, and Instagram posts together into one big media presence. Don’t forget to have a couple handy!
5. Have a backup plan
CSPAN covers all proceedings in the House of Representatives, but their cameras are controlled by the Speaker of the House. As soon as the sit-in got underway, Speaker Paul Ryan had the cameras turned off, so protesting lawmakers had to improvise. Using Periscope, Facebook Live, and Twitter they filmed, took pictures, and broadcast the experience. Their popular hashtags and grainy real-time videos got picked up by news outlets from CSPAN to Salon.com. The sit-in stole the news cycle for twenty-five hours without a single external media source inside the room.