What Nonprofits Can Learn from the House Dems’ Sit-in
If you were following the coverage of the House Democrats sit-in, you likely did so in a way that’s making history. Yesterday, as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was attempting to adjourn the day’s session, several House Democrats chose to sit down on the floor, protesting the end of the session. Their goal was to postpone the session break until Republicans agreed to vote on a bill that would prevent the sale of firearms to those on the No Fly List.
Though this was an important moment in history, what really got our attention was how this sit-in was communicated and broadcasted around the country. But before we geek out on you, here’s a few things you should know:
- The cameras at C-SPAN are turned off after a session ends. Once a meeting is adjourned they cease broadcasting.
- The House Majority (currently the Republicans) control C-SPAN’s cameras.
- The House of Representatives was adjourning for a recess that will last until July 5th.
Of course, it didn’t end there. C-SPAN and representatives turned to social media to broadcast the sit-in and keep the conversation going. C-SPAN tweeted that they did not have control over the cameras and then began streaming the live footage through their website and Facebook Live.
C-SPAN has no control over the U.S. House TV cameras.
— CSPAN (@cspan) June 22, 2016
Representatives Eric Salwell and Scott Peter began streaming the protest through Periscope, a live video app. Representatives shared the footage through their Twitter feeds, bringing life to already heated conversation happening there. The hashtags #NoBillNoBreak, #HouseSitIn, and #NoFlyNoBuy were trending as far as India. The tag #NoBillNoBreak, averaged 70,000 tweets per hour throughout Wednesday afternoon, reaching an all-time high around 9:00pm with 150,000 tweets in an hour.
It’s safe to say that far more people witnessed the sit-in because it was banned than if the cameras had continued to stream the protest. Speaker Paul Ryan said it was “a publicity stunt”, and in a way – he is right. Whether or not you believe it was premeditated, this broadcast got the world’s attention. It got incredible coverage through social media and more people joined in the conversation and protest than ever would have otherwise. Because C-SPAN and Congressmen jumped to use their social media feeds to share the event, the issue will continue to stay at the forefront of our minds a bit longer, rekindling the interest of citizens and Congressmen alike until they’re satisfied with the outcome.
There are a few things we can learn from this experience. First, familiarize yourself with social media options well before the situation arises in which you’d need it. By having an account set up and a solid following, representatives were able to share the live video and reach viewers right away. The word spread quickly because they, or more realistically their staff, were ready to go with a moment’s notice.
Second, if you want to reach a wider audience, offer more than one way to view it. Because the C-SPAN coverage was shut off, people had to get creativity. That creativity in turn boosted interest and the reach expanded tenfold. People could watch from their computers and their phones at any time of the day. It also offered a rare view of the House floor and the representatives participating in the protest which isn’t seen on a regular basis. People tuned in just for this view, even if they weren’t wholly invested in the issue one way or another.
Nothing can be a kept a secret anymore thanks to social media. Spend the time it takes to build your strategy and an audience before you need get your message out. Get proficient on these channels and offer an inside look at your organization, your events and your programs. In times like these, it’s more effective than relying on earned or paid coverage, since the organization does not control those channels.
Hopefully you won’t have to stage a sit-in for 26 hours to get your message across, but if it happens, you’ll be ready to keep pushing your message, no matter who stands, or sits, in your way.