But this cuts both ways – everyone else in a democracy can also say, and do, what they want.
And sometimes it is those people that get into power and make some misguided decisions that affect the entire country.
That’s why protest/pressure groups are so important. A function of democracy, protest groups allow concerned citizens to pool their power and, if successful, actually change the future of their country.
Malta has seen some successful protest movements in the last few years leading to change in the areas of women’s reproductive rights, the environment, and gay rights.
But it isn’t easy to get there. Here are some pointers from some of Malta’s foremost activists on how to form a successful protest group.
1. Choose the right base for your organisation
When creating a group, you need to reach out to the right people. You need a core group of people who are actually personally affected by the cause, and it is important to have a mixture of people from different backgrounds, to maximise your reach.
2. And make sure it’s a cause you all really believe in
It’s important that the base of your organisation is lined with people who feel strongly about your cause: they will fight the hardest and the ones ready to wake up early on a Saturday to help set up stands.
3. Know all the risks involved
If your organisation is planning an action or demonstration, know all the risks involved.
For example: if you are planning on protesting in favour of immigrant’s rights, expect backlash from right-wingers, and so on for each issue.
It’s important to know what the risks are – only then can you not be afraid of taking full action.
4. And realise even small actions can have a big effect
There might be points when you feel like you aren’t being effective, or aren’t getting your message across. Bear in mind that every action that you are involved in will somehow or another contribute to change, even if you don’t see it yourself.
5. Get other organisations on your side
Cooperation with other organisations is essential. They can provide resources, as well as increase your outreach, and the more official organisations supporting your cause, the more legitimate you will become. Soon enough, you will become the go-to organisation on your issue.
6. And plan a campaign
Plan your campaign well ahead of time, and think of a series of events/activities that will drum up attention for the issue. The campaign should end on a loud note: either a public demonstration, a series of high profile meetings, or something that will show results to other activists and followers.
7. Marketing is essential
You need to reach your target audience throughout your campaign. Use a variety of means to do that, like social media, but also getting out there and speaking personally to individuals will also get you far.
You might also want to start reaching out to influential politicians/community leaders/leading organisations in society that are sympathetic to your cause. Meeting them, or getting them to publicly support you, will do wonders.
8. And so is getting your message across
It’s important to have your priorities laid out in as easy a way possible. You want everyone from the government to your neighbour to be clear on what your organisation wants.
Having something tangible, like a manifesto, both online and in print, and in English and Maltese, is a good way of ensuring your message comes across and is not diluted.
At the very least, create a document with your goals in point form. But it is essential to have some material to refer curious people to.
9. Accept all public and private invitations
You are officially the mouthpiece of a movement at this point. Do not squander the position, and take every opportunity to talk about what is important to you. Radio, TV, public debates – accept them all and delegate in your team who will be the public face or faces of your movement.
10. Eventually, effect change
There is only so much that lobbying, protesting and debating can achieve. Eventually, you will need to get involved with a political party. You need to see whether the government or the Opposition at the time is more sympathetic to your cause, and see how long you can bear waiting to see legislative changes.
Once you’ve determined which party to focus on, lobby them and force your agenda onto the party. In due time, your agenda will become their agenda, and, if all goes according to plan, your organisations demands will become law.
With special thanks to Karen Tanti, Eric Castillo, Mark Camilleri, and Monique Agius.