Organizing Protest with #DoBetterGa
Organizing Protest with #DoBetterGa
Students have made history organizing protests since the 1960’s. In 2019, we’re seeing a rise in students organizing against things like police brutality, school shootings, deportation, and most recently, reproductive rights.
On May 26th, an estimated 10,000 people took to the streets of Atlanta to protest an anti-abortion bill recently passed by Governor Brian Kemp. The demonstration was organized by four 19-year-old college students: Sophia Gonzales (GCSU), Molly Weston (Georgia Tech), India Sawyers (Georgia State) and Eric Abel (Georgia Tech).
The four friends were unhappy with the legislators handling the bill, agreeing that this was an issue of politicians not representing the wishes of their constituents. Weston and Gonzales quoted Liliana Bakhtiari’s words at the rally: “This is not legislation we called for.”
The group jumped through all the necessary hoops to make sure this event would go smoothly, and saw much more success than they initially anticipated. Working with support from the Mayor’s Office, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood Southeast and the local Handmaid Coalition, the students held a rally at the Capital before leading the crowd through the streets to the CNN center.
We caught up with Sophia Gonzales and Molly Weston the day after the protest to get some information on what it took to organize something of this magnitude, and how other young people can organize responsibly as well.
Even after going through all of the proper legal channels to ensure that they were following all of the rules, the group still faced obstacles along the way.
The law requires that organizers obtain a permit to protest 30 days before the event. Because The Heartbeat Bill was signed on May 7th, the students were working on a time crunch to get the permit approved.
Sean Young, Legal Director at the ACLU Georgia assisted in getting the permit request sent to the proper legislators while Ebony Barley, Director of Special Events at the Mayor’s Office, helped set up arrangements with EMS and the Fire Department.
In order to obtain permission to march, organizers must provide access to public bathrooms. The students ensured that they would have privileges to the facilities at the Capitol, getting permission from all the proper authorities. According to Molly Weston, Brian Kemp sent Marty Smith, the Georgia State Property officer, to barricade the entrances of the Capitol Building before the rally. This blocked off access to the public bathrooms as well as the front steps, where the speakers would be standing during the rally.
“He put up barricades all around every entrance at the Capital even though we had been told by state troopers, by the Georgia Building Authority and by the Mayor’s Office that we would have access to the Capital bathrooms.”
After learning from mistakes and mishaps, Gonzales and Weston provide a step-by-step for any young people who are interested in taking action the way they did:
- The students’ first move was garnering a large following on social media, which they used to get the attention of the Mayor’s office.
- They used numbers as leverage to get assistance from the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and The Handmaid Coalition.
- After beginning the permit process, they made arrangements with EMS, The Fire Department and the Atlanta Police Department, who sent 100 on-duty officers to make sure the marchers would be safe during the event.
Gonzales emphasized the importance of getting assistance from the Mayor’s Office. “The Mayor’s office will guide you. We couldn’t have done any of this without their help.” The students encourage organizers to go through the proper legal channels, acquire the necessary permits and be respectful and open-minded when working with legislators and administrators.
In summary, make sure you have water, snacks, and access to public bathrooms available during the rally. Listen to the police about possible safety hazards, follow the schedule, and most importantly, Weston says “dig your heels in,” insisting that young people remain strong, and resist those who may be patronizing. Weston’s advice: “Hear the voices of others, take their advice, but don’t let anyone take over your message.”
When asked about their hopes for the rally, the students made it very clear that their goal is to “take this to the ballot boxes.”
“Who you vote for isn’t a fashion trend. It’s about more than a sticker at a football tailgate. It’s about what those people stand for, what they’re gonna vote for and whether or not you want that to represent your values,” Weston claims.
#DoBetterGa is hoping to give young people the information and resources they need to take charge of their situation and demand more from their representatives. Weston believes the current political climate is stirring up action in younger generations.
Weston closed the interview with a call for action: “The past couple of years have created a generation of us who are fed up with the way politicians are running this country, and the way local politicians are voting in our districts. We’re talking about no longer being a passive member of society but being active politically and engaging in local and national elections. That’s what we’re going for.”
#DoBetterGA is a powerful group of students that started with four individuals who had an idea, and is now thousands strong in a matter of weeks. Young people are enacting change across the country, and they don’t plan to stop anytime soon. Stay informed on who your representatives are, read the Heartbeat Bill and make your voice heard.
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