Daily White House Protest During Lunch?
February 7, 2017 5:52 AM   Subscribe

I work about fifteen minutes from the White House (between Dupont and Farragut North) and I'm thinking about using my lunch break to go and protest for like twenty minutes a day for the rest of this week and most/all of next week. Is this really stupid and pointless? If not, should I try to get other people to join me? How would I best do that? I don't have Facebook so I can't organize that way (and I would really, REALLY prefer not to sign up if I can avoid it).

What I am looking for:

-If you think this is a bad idea, I am happy to hear "there is no point in doing this because..." or "here are more effective choices you could make" (I live in DC so I have no reps to call so please don't suggest that).

-If you think this is a good idea, I'd be very grateful for any suggestions on how to reach out to people/organizations who might be able to help with this (again, no Facebook, but I do have Twitter and, like, I don't know, I could post some IRL meetups?).

-It looks like if we just show up on Pennsylvania Ave we wouldn't need a permit or anything but I could be wrong and would be happy to receive more logistical information if anyone has it.

-Among my concerns is that this might be presumptuous and counterproductive because we don't need more well-intentioned but inexperienced white people making big but meaningless gestures so if you have thoughts on that I'd be happy to hear them; above all I do NOT want to detract from the good work being done by PoC organizers and/or anyone else with more experience and ability than I have.

What I am NOT looking for:

-What I DON'T want to hear is knee-jerk "don't bother, it's not worth it"; if you have ideas about why this might actually be a counterproductive plan or other things I can do I'd be happy to hear them, but I want to be doing as much as possible to fight these awful people and giving up my lunch break seems like the least I can do.

Thank you so much for your thoughts on this!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl to Law & Government (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My mom, who also lives in D.C., is also casting around for things to do, since she doesn't have any congressional representatives to contact. It really is the D.C. dilemma: so close to the seat of power, yet with no avenues for access to it. I emailed her this link to the D.C. calendar for weprotest.today, a centralized calendar keeping track of all the protests in various cities. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be anything coming up that fits your bill, but if you decide to do something, you could post it there. I kind of like the idea of a "donate your lunch hour to democracy" protest.

I don't think this is pointless, for what it's worth. I think the one thing that people in D.C. have going for them is visibility, and it's a good idea to use that to your advantage.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:25 AM on February 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

Do you have friends who Facebook and know lots of people in DC? I would never encourage you to sign up for Facebook if you don't want to, but literally 99% of the organizing I'm seeing is happening there so I don't know if you can do this effectively without that signal boost, unfortunately.

Ideally, tweet the plan and point your friends who have both Twitter and FB accounts to it and ask them to share.

Good luck! If I lived near there I'd totally take a daily shift.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:25 AM on February 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

There are a ton of Women's March "huddles" going on this month (search here by zip code); one of these might be a good venue for proposing this idea and starting to organize around it. Most of the huddles are also listed as events on Facebook, but you don't need to have an account to see the basic meeting details (I'm not on Facebook either).
posted by melissasaurus at 7:06 AM on February 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'd join you if I lived there. I don't think it's worthless at all, and you'll probably meet other people who might join you. Do carry a sign, and make sure the sign is brief and to the point and that you really know what you're saying. Also, beware of hecklers. Refuse to engage, don't let them make you angry.

Tell a few friends who also work in downtown DC, invite them to join you. Go at the same time every day.
posted by mareli at 7:24 AM on February 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yeah, my plan would be to get there around noon and carry a sign saying something like "Lunch break democracy - Resist Trump" or similar and to let friends in the area know I'll be there and invite them to come if they are able. I know it might end up being just me which would be sub-optimal and kind of embarrassing but you fight fascism any way you can.

Thank you for the encouragement so far! This week happens to be an auspicious time to do this in terms of work for me so unless I hear any reasoning against I'll probably start tomorrow. God how terrifying.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:30 AM on February 7, 2017 [7 favorites]

Maybe you will be inspired to hear about Tuesdays with Toomey here in PA. In early December a group of 7 women went to Senator Toomey's Philadelphia office to meet with staffers to express their hope that Toomey speak out against the cabinet nominees and that he hold a townhall in Philly (which he has never done -- the last time he held one anywhere was in 2013). They were disatisfied with the response from his staffers so pledged to go back every Tuesday at lunchtime. When I joined them at the beginning of January there were 50 of us outside the office. Last week there were over 1,000 of us at his offices across the state.

We are regularly covered in the press, including national publications and TV. We've rattled him so much that he tried to discredit us by saying we are "professional protesters."

Go! Be a voice of protest!
posted by mcduff at 7:52 AM on February 7, 2017 [18 favorites]

FYI, The Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference is in DC later this week. I would be VERY surprised if there are no plans for protest among the conference's 10-12k attendees.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:41 AM on February 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you think this is a bad idea, I am happy to hear "there is no point in doing this because..." or "here are more effective choices you could make"

I don't think this is a bad idea, and in fact I think it's all-around great for people to participate in democracy loudly and enthusiastically.

That said, what else would you do with that time if you weren't protesting? If you are 15 minutes away from the White House, your opportunity cost is whatever you could do for 50 minutes (total time you're proposing) vs 20 minutes of net protest. I would assert - without evidence, and not very confidently - that 50 minutes of something like these would have more value:
  1. calls to critical, persuadable, districts
  2. contract work where you donate the money to activist organizations
  3. baking goods to sustain protesters that have more available time than you.
I've looked for quantifiable evidence to determine the optimal value per unit time in achieving political change, but I have never found any. So, all of these answers here are guesses. I would note, however, that your marginal costs (transit time) for your marginal gains (protest time) seem weighted in the direction of minimizing impact.
posted by saeculorum at 8:42 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

what else would you do with that time if you weren't protesting?

Eat lunch
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:05 AM on February 7, 2017 [16 favorites]

I like the idea, and as a fellow DC office worker (Farragut West), I would come and join you some lunch breaks.

What are you trying to achieve with this lunchtime protest? Feeling like you are accomplishing something? Creating a venue for protest on Trump's doorstep? Media coverage? Unfortunately, I think just one person with a sign isn't going to have much impact. The trick would be getting LOTS of people with signs.

I've been reading a lot about the efficacy of protest and I think they can be very effective along a few broad lines:
a) getting more people involved and engaged for further action
b) fostering a sense of unity and purpose in opposition
c) media coverage illustrating a broad, peaceful opposition, showing that Trumps policies are unpopular. Especially helpful in regional cities rather than the strongholds of the "coastal elite," ugh.

HOWEVER, there is a LOT of anger in DC and it is looking for a channel. See also the "Hands Off DC" effort some of the city councilmembers are leading. Charles Allen's meeting for next Monday in Ward 6 already has more than 500 RSVPs.

What would be your pie-in-the-sky ideal vision for this protest? It takes off by wildfire and by spring there are 5,000-15,000 protesters every day, with routine media coverage? A smaller protest focused on a specific issue, like the anti-nuclear folks that have kept a White House vigil almost continuously since the early 1980s? Weekly theme days? Do you want media coverage? How are you going to get it - do you have any journalist friends?

Part of the reason the Tuesdays with Toomey is so successful so far is that its a relatively small number of people (easier to achieve), but they have a very clear and specific ask (meet with your constituents), and it's something that's broadly within the former norms of our democratic institutions, they got great media coverage, and it's an ongoing story (has Toomey met with his constituents yet??)

On logistics, Pennsylvania Ave in front of the WH (between the portico and Lafayette Park) was blocked off by fencing from the inauguration last weekend. Is it open again? Is so, that is the best spot, as it is managed by the DC police who are generally very protest-tolerant. You generally don't need a permit for less than 100 people, per the very helpful website of the Washington Peace Center.
Lafayette Park and the sidewalks are managed by the National Parks Service, who seem a lot stricter and require more advance planning.

In general, I think your best approach is to be a spontaneous/word of mouth routine protest. Like "Tuesdays with Toomey," I think "Lunch with Trump" or something similarly catchy works. That would 100% require publicization on Facebook, Twitter, and similar, even if you also loop in other organizing groups in DC. Off the top of my head, the various indivisible groups are popping up, there's Jews United for Justice, Showing Up for Racial Justice, and I'm sure a bunch more.
posted by foodmapper at 9:42 AM on February 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think this is a fantastic idea! Just because it's easy doesn't mean it's not withheld. Lunchtime democracy is important too. Make a public Facebook page and then just show up every day at the same time. Take a selfie with a hashtag and post to Facebook and Twitter every day. If I were in the area I'd join you for lunch and a protest every day for sure.

I think there used to be lots of daily protests outside to White House in the 60s 70s and 80s protesting Vietnam war, nuclear weapons, etc. Even if it's just you (it won't be but you might be the most consistent person) I think it's super important that 5, 10+ years from now there's a record of someone showing up every work day for a year+ to protest.
posted by TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln at 10:06 AM on February 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Holding up a sign that says I want to see the Tax Returns for 15 minutes would be worthwhile. My .02 is that the tax returns can be beat to death as effectively as the emailserver, and they are much more important.

Thank you
posted by theora55 at 11:07 AM on February 7, 2017 [8 favorites]

Thanks for all the support -- I did end up creating a Facebook account so I could make a page for this and I've posted it in a few places (including Metafilter IRL -- feel free to share the link and/or come by! I won't be around next Wednesday because my kraken has to get vaccinated but I'll be there for the rest of this week and Monday/Tuesday at least). I think it will probably end being just me and maybe like one coworker if I can drag them along but I feel like I have to do everything I can. Thanks again!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:29 PM on February 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

I love this. And for maximum attention/impact in 15-20 minutes, I humbly submit that you make this Dance Break* for Democracy**, and get some kind of wearable audio speaker, and invite passersby to join you as you rock out to some protest music. A sash or some kind of pullover garment that has your message on it will be easier to manage and keep nice than a sign (this is true for any recurring protest).

* or breakdance, I don't know what your skills are
** not yet a thing
posted by notquitemaryann at 3:45 PM on February 7, 2017

omg I am wrong in the best way
posted by notquitemaryann at 3:47 PM on February 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also, FWIW, my fellow Washingtonian friends and I don't take our lack of elected representatives as a restraint--call *any* senator or representative since they are *all* our senators and representatives until we have our own!

Also, Eleanor Holmes Norton is just an amazing lady.
posted by eglenner at 11:50 PM on February 7, 2017

Another D.C. resident here, and don't forget that local stuff matters too!

While you're protesting at the White House you can also call your D.C. councilmember! I just called mine for the first time this week to voice my opposition to a call to radically expand the police force.

The D.C. Paid Leave Act is another local bill that will will provide people with paid medical leave.

A few activist groups that do a great job of informing about what the council is up to include SURJ, Jews United for Justice, Washington Peace Center, and D.C. Black Lives Matter.
posted by forkisbetter at 4:42 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

12-1 o clock Washington would be 5-6 pm GMT.

Most days my commute gets me home by 5:30 so IF there was a close free wifi link I would happily join your protest by Skype, I'll make my Irishness very visible so you can hold your iPad up and I could join you. Maybe other international mefites could join? With their flag?

Please hope/Skype me!
posted by Wilder at 11:54 AM on February 8, 2017

I'll see you there!
posted by aspersioncast at 1:30 PM on February 9, 2017

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