Shapiro soon found other protesters who, like her, hadn’t come with a particular organization. “I kind of took over the lead,” she said, and they soon had a group chat going. Conscious of her promise to her daughter, she avoided arrest and instead filmed sit-ins at senators’ offices, chants, and demonstrations.
The group chat merged into a Facebook page, WMN2DC. When Shapiro found out many of the protesters wanted to stay longer in Washington but couldn’t afford it, she hit up her network and started a GoFundMe campaign. She raised $8,000 that she used to book rooms for about 50 protesters, paying for three nights and some meals.
Shapiro insisted she was never paid to protest. She admitted organizers trained her on how to get lawmakers’ attention but said she doesn’t think that was wrong: “I’m not going to apologize for anything we did. It’s a new tool in our box.”
She’s stating what organizers on both sides of the aisle know: It takes a variety of tools to pull off a successful protest. Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin has helped organize her share of protests, including the 2009 Tax Day protests that had over 1.5 million participants.
She listed the key ingredients. A protest must be organized and timely, have a focused message, and capture media (or social media) attention.
Martin cautions against discounting protests or assuming all protesters are “hired outrage”: “It’s insulting to the people who are not paid,” she said. She works full time at Tea Party Patriots and told me she doesn’t believe employed organizers pushing the action behind the scenes make a protest illegitimate.
There’s one other thing a protest needs, Martin said. A protest needs anger.
But this is where organizers can harm a protest’s effectiveness: Get the dosage of anger wrong, and the concoction might blow up in your face. Tom McClusky with the March for Life said, “Anger is a good motivator—but it gets you nowhere when you’re trying to talk to people.”
He explained that effective lobbying is not just about winning over lawmakers. It’s also about winning over everyone else who is watching. “Violence or disruption tends to sour your audience,” McClusky said.
It could also sour your sisterhood.
While others inside the Senate Hart building were getting arrested en masse for singing and chanting during the Kavanaugh hearing, one protester sat outside. “They’re doing it so wrong,” 23-year-old Rachel Shehy said. “You have to get attention—I get it—you need to get your face out there.” But she asked why not focus on intellectual discussions “instead of chanting and singing songs and nonsense?”
Shehy came up to participate in her first protest because she hoped “Congress would realize there’s normal people like me willing to come to D.C. to say, hey, I don’t support [Kavanaugh].” However, she found herself embarrassed, not empowered.
Melanie Blanchard, a 30-year-old Californian who became swept up in Shapiro’s group, also grew disillusioned. I spoke with her a week after the protests ended. She told me even after the confirmation was over, the WMN2DC Facebook page still lit up as members posted links to news articles or videos with their faces or quotes.