Over half a million people descended upon Warsaw on Sunday, 4 June, in a sign of solidarity among progressive groups united in their values. The ECDA incubator team marched alongside protestors, and mentored one of the biggest participating groups to mobilize people using digital organizing strategies.
The choice of 4 June was significant as it marked 34 years since Poland’s first partially-free elections. The reason for collectively taking to the streets in Warsaw was in reaction to a new Russian influence law that could threaten democracy in advance of the upcoming elections in Poland. The new law has already been signed by President Andrzej Duda and was brought about by the ruling PiS (Law and Justice) party. Although not yet enacted, it has faced condemnation and legal action from the EU. With this law, political opponents could be targeted and banned from holding office, resulting in an erosion of the democratic process and participation in elections.
What simply could have been a demonstration by opposition political parties against the ruling party’s law became a unified reaction of people wanting to protect their shared values and freedoms against this threat to democracy.
Although the main speakers of the event were politicians from the opposition parties, Donald Tusk and Lech Wałęsa, the main call-to-action quickly evolved from one of political opposition to a more decentralized strategy aimed at mobilizing people to stand up for their beliefs and protect the freedoms that they were afraid of losing.
The ECDA incubator team worked with one of the participating groups, Women’s Strike (Strajk Kobiet), the main organization supporting women’s rights in Poland that has a large presence in social organizing. By using digital tools such as forms, social media, and email to communicate about the event, the digital organizing strategy enacted by Women’s Strike went beyond basic event information and invitation details. It included creating strong calls-to-action that resonated with the members of this group, focusing on women’s rights and freedoms.
During the preparation phase, our team set up digital forms that were sent to group members, asking them to share their motivations for participating. A myriad of responses flooded in, including women’s health and rights, education, immigrant rights, economic concerns, and more. The information gathered was then used to create campaign materials posted on social media to reach different individuals and unify them behind this opportunity to show solidarity. Additional digital forms were used to organize logistics and gauge participation in advance of the event.
Women’s Strike and many other groups mobilizing for the protest set up Facebook pages and websites where it was possible to book a seat on organized buses heading to Warsaw, or carpool with other participants. Moreover, these groups used digital platforms to prepare attendees for anticipated police blocks, sharing vital information on what to expect, resulting in their ability to pass through them quickly.
A remarkable aspect of the digital organization behind this march was not only the ability to use platforms for communicating event logistics and transport, but also the diverse and unique calls-to-action used by different groups to motivate their followers to show up. Progressive groups in Poland vary in their founding beliefs, be it climate protection, women’s rights, or certain political ideologies. However, they found common ground in reacting to the major threat posed by the current ruling party.
A relevant lesson for progressive community organizers and social movements across Europe is that the energy sparked by a common threat can fuel positive momentum, which can be properly harnessed by different groups. These groups should be encouraged to use their own voices and reasons to mobilize their followers, resulting in a numerous, unified movement. Although the main organizers of the event were political opposition parties, they allowed the groups to use their own means to motivate and get people in the streets, and also ensured that their voices were heard at the march itself.
A true show of democracy by people intending to protect it, as Poland nears the elections it will be interesting to see if they can continue the momentum harnessed from this march to sustain the collective movement against the ruling political party. The event was a success for progressive community organizers in Poland, as it mobilized a massive number of people and instilled hope in the power of protest to protect people’s rights.
Decentralized approach: The event’s success relied on harnessing the shared momentum and unity among diverse groups, focusing on values rather than just political opposition.
Strong calls-to-action: By addressing a common threat to democracy, each group was able to create and spread their own unique messages that resonated with their followers.
Forms as a digital tool: Using online forms, organizers collected information to promote the event, understand participants’ reason for participating, and handle logistics such as transportation.
Email as a digital tool: Email was utilized to keep members informed and send personalized messages throughout the event’s stages (preparation, day of, and post-event).
Fundraising: Events such as this protest provide an opportunity for groups to ask supporters to donate to support a cause.
Improving future participation: Considering the use of digital platforms aimed at a younger generation such as Tik Tok or Instagram could capture the attention of a younger audience and increase their participation in future mobilization efforts.
Continuing the momentum: To maintain motivation and engagement, the groups should build upon the event’s success and encourage ongoing participation in social organization leading up to the elections.
For more information on digital organizing, check out our Online Learning Platform with more takeaways and strategies.