Effective Protest Strategies

One of the most effective tactics you can pursue is having regular protests, rallies, marches, and other demonstrations. This section is one of our shortest because protests do not require much technical knowledge or expertise in order to be effective. As long as you follow our few recommendations, you are likely to see an impact from protesting, so get out and mobilize!


The most effective protest strategies include:

  • Mobilize regularly
  • Combine protests with other tactics
  • Focus your message


Mobilize regularly


We previously covered the research that has shown that frequent mobilizations lead directly to social change.[1] Remember that cities in the U.S. South in the 1960s with a sit-in were five times more likely to adopt desegregation policies[2] and that another study found that every protest increased the likelihood of pro-environmental legislation being passed by 1.2%.[3] One study also found that policymakers were more influenced by protests for which follow-up events and activities were planned than by one-time protests.[4]


What does this mean for activists? Mobilize often to boost your impact. If you have limited time and resources for hosting events on your own, you can partner with other organizations to host protests and demonstrations together. This can increase the total number of events happening in your community, help increase the turnout to every protest (as each organization will bring out their members), and increase the reputation of your events (as coalitions often appear more powerful than single organizations). You can also commit to attending local protests, boycotts, and events when they happen in your community to support your local movements.


Combine protests with other tactics


Protests are powerful tools for creating social change, but they are not sufficient on their own. Protests are most effective when organizations have political allies and favorable public opinion,[5] coalitions with other movements and organizations,[6] and use other mainstream tactics such as lobbying and voter mobilization.[7]


While protests are enormously impactful, they are not magic bullets that fix all of our problems. Many activists have become burned out and dropped out of movements and organizations that are one-trick ponies, using protests as their one and only tactic. If you live in a conservative area, fail to keep in touch with your elected officials, lack strong coalitions, or are not strategically working to accomplish concrete goals, the occasional protest to “raise awareness” probably won’t do you much good. Add some other tactics to your toolbelt and develop the strength of your organizational practices to really harness the power of protesting.


Focus your message


We previously covered general messaging strategies for securing wins for social movements. It is worth noting again here that strong messaging is crucial for protest success. Studies have found that protests with clear and focused messaging are more likely to influence policymakers and secure social change.[8]


Remember, rather than vaguely trying to “raise awareness,” your protest should be identifying a problem and advocating for a clear and realistic solution to that problem. Protest flyers should clearly state the reason for the protest and include messaging around collective identities and master frames to help recruit more attendees, such as “join us,” “fight for your freedom,” or “take a stand for democracy.” Supplying signs to attendees that clearly articulate your diagnostic and/or prognostic frame can increase the coherence of your event and help the public and policymakers understand your movements’ goals.


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[1] Agone 2007; Biggs and Andrews 2015; Cress and Snow 2000; Gamson 1990; Gillion 2012; Giugni 2007; Johnson, Agone, and McCarthy 2010; King, Bentele, and Soule 2007; King and Soule 2007; Minkoff 1997; Olzak and Soule 2009; Wasow 2017

[2] Biggs and Andrews 2015

[3] Agone 2007

[4] Wouters and Walgrave 2017

[5] Agone 2007; Cress and Snow 2000; Giugni 2007

[6] Minkoff 1997

[7] Johnson, Agone, and McCarthy 2010

[8] Fassiotto and Soule 2017; Wouters and Walgrave 2017


Need to dig more into the literature? Visit our full references page to search for the article you’re interested in.