Delivering Symbolic Objects

Delivery of symbolic objects makes a specific point to someone in a position to act. It can be a gentle reminder of an unkept promise or a graphic illustration of conditions that need to be changed. Using hundreds or even thousands of a given symbol turns a spotlight on situations that are being ignored.

When planning to deliver symbolic objects answer the following questions:

  1. What is the point? – This type of protest must have a very specific point. It is not a good choice for drawing general attention to a broad range of issues. When a group working to improve conditions in one of Chicago’s slum neighborhoods wanted to urge Mayor Daley to action, they piled up rats on the steps of City Hall. While there were also other issues making conditions intolerable in the Woodlawn neighborhood, focusing on one specific thing kept the message focused.
  2. What is the symbol? — The symbol must capture an aspect of the issue that will grab people’s attention and their emotions. When supporters of the Committee of 100 wanted to protest Soviet nuclear weapons testing, they delivered hundreds of bottles of milk labeled “Danger – Radioactive”. Using milk drove home the concept of corrupted purity and danger to our children.
  3. To whom will it be delivered? — The choice of recipient may also be symbolic, like an embassy or government representative. However, if there is one official with power to change the situation that will be the most effective recipient. In 1963 the Congress of Racial Equality joined in a wider campaign to remind President Kennedy of his campaign promise to abolish discrimination in federally funded housing. An executive order had been reportedly waiting for his signature for two years so protesters sent the President thousands of bottles of ink.
  4. When and how will the items be delivered? — These practical details are vital to the success of the protest, if handled poorly they will distract from the point.

As in any protest, the enemy is the situation not any one person or group. Show respect to the recipient and to others who will be affected by the delivery. The point is to draw attention to a situation that needs to be changed and to encourage action. Making enemies of those with the power to make the change is counter-productive.

Continue reading the 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.

Also check out The Politics of Nonviolent Action Part One / Part Two / Part Three.

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