Monday, April 18, 2016

Fast food workers rallying in Times Square

jonah engler times square nyc

The war for a $15 per hour minimum wage continues, and recently the battle spilled out into Times Square. In an effort to get the most eyes possible on their cause and their message, hundreds of protesters, including striking Verizon employees, took their march right to the front door of the Times Square McDonald’s store. Just in case folks in one of the most visited blocks on the planet didn’t get it, they shouted: "What do we want? 15! If we don't get it? Shut it down!"

In an effort to be both seen and heard, the protest march included both dancers and a marching band. CNN even reported that one protester was dressed as the Hamburglar and carried an effigy of Ronald McDonald. Of course. It’s Times Square.

Though it’s not clear if any fast food workers, much less any from that McDonald’s, took part in the march, the subject was certainly better pay for fast food workers.

While the march and accompanying antics may not have pushed the issue one inch further in that direction, the event certainly grabbed headlines and media attention. And here’s where the problems start.

One issue facing these protesters and detracting from their effectiveness is message confusion. The media will pick and choose which protesters to cover, and, in this case, much attention was paid to several decked out in slogans more closely connected with the Black Lives Matter movement. While there may be some crossover in people involved in both groups, the message doesn’t mix quite so easily.

Pay equality and police brutality are two totally different conversations. Some who may find sympathy for the former disagree strongly with the latter, and vice versa. By confusing the two, protesters allow detractors of either movement to attack both, summarily dismissing both though they may only have an issue with one. This artificially and unnecessarily drives potential allies into the “enemy” role, sacrificing support that could help push any issue past the tipping point.

This is a lesson taught by the Occupy movement that some protesters have yet to learn. In that protest, there was a massive groundswell of support. But it turned out to be miles wide and inches deep. Too many issues, no central, cohesive message. Because of this, what could have been a movement to rival anything from the ‘60s asphyxiated on its own lack of defining purpose and narrative.

If either BLM of Fight For Fifteen want to gain any traction, they need to learn that lesson. When you confuse your message you don’t confuse bystanders, you frustrate them … and they stop listening.

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