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Photo of two men and a woman looking intently at something. They are in an office with walls papered with hand-made posters, one with the word Vietnam.

Protest Then & Now: Organizing

Despite the lack of today’s technologies, such as mobile communication devices and email, the anti-war movement of the late 1960s was well organized. National alliances such as the MOBE were able to plan a series of large-scale demonstrations across the nation, including protest activity at the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention (DNC). How has new media affected the mobilization of protest activity at today’s national conventions?

Organizing: Then

Political organizing tactics in the 1960s included organizing first on local levels, such as on college campuses, with the distribution of flyers and leaflets, the publishing of alternative newspapers, and word of mouth. Campus activism served as a base for many members of the peace and civil rights movement. Many groups also established community and regional-based offices or meeting places through which they could organize.

Photo of a hand-made sign that reads Housing Meeting 3PM.

Former Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organizer Wayne Heimbach, who protested at the 1968 DNC, explained one method for getting out the message in Chicago: “A less collective response was for us at SDS to produce a leaflet entitled: ‘Wanted for Incitement to Murder, Richard J. Daley, Mayor of Chicago.’ This came after Mayor Daley’s ‘shoot to kill’ orders to his police department. We delivered this flyer all over Chicago’s West Side and it was an immediate success.”

Paper publications were another effective method of mobilization. Ramparts was a leftist magazine, published monthly, that served as a voice of the anti-war movement. At the 1968 convention, the magazine published a daily two-page publication that reported on the major events and protest activities that were taking place. Volunteers and movement members helped distribute it to the public.

Organizing: Now

Collection of tag words from a Web site, including environment, protests, Anti-war, DNC 2008 and police.
Tags from Indymedia site

Today, finding local protest activities or networks can be as easy as signing up for an email list on or doing a quick Google search to find organizations that are working for social and political change. Blogs and social networking Web sites serve as a vehicle for building online communities that can strengthen activists who might otherwise feel isolated and can provide an easy forum for speaking out. The Internet even makes it easy to donate money to an organization, cause or campaign. Major organizations and alliances that planned activities at the 2008 national conventions had their own Web sites with options to sign up for e-mail alerts, view online schedules of convention-based protests and make online monetary donations.

Instead of the Xeroxed paper publications of yesteryear, text messaging now helps mobilize protestors at national conventions. Howard Rheingold, a writer on cyberculture and countercultures, noted that mobile communication devices have replaced phone trees as a more effective way of political organizing, especially with street demonstrations, allowing one to “communicate with a very large network very quickly in a way that you simply can't with a telephone.” At the 2004 and 2008 national conventions, texting and email helped plan, publicize and assemble protest activity.

Find out about permit negotiations for large-scale protests >>

“The whole world is watching’ became more than just a slogan.” Read about the media’s role in protest, then and now >>

Protest Index >>

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