Who Can Do This

  • Any staff member
  • Any member of the House or Senate

Difficulty: Easy


By lending their names and voices to public protests, boycotts, and demonstrations, members can provide legitimacy to citizen movements, bring public attention to lesser-known causes, and give hope and encouragement to oppressed populations.


Members can participate in or speak at rallies, vigils and demonstrations, engage in civil disobedience, wear a bracelet/lapel pin/armband/T-shirt, or provide strategic and political guidance to protest planners.

Good Practices

  • Perform due diligence and careful vetting on the event sponsors. Work only with legitimate, trustworthy, and responsible groups that are organizing the action and can control how it will play out.
  • Prepare carefully for acts of civil disobedience, such as being arrested in front of an embassy. Work with a group or coalition that has done it before and will provide full briefings and make logistical arrangements. Clear the schedule, prepare a press release, bring a photographer and press secretary, send a statement and photo to supportive groups and press outlets, and use social media platforms. Afterwards, make a floor statement and talk with constituents about why you did this.
  • If you plan to get arrested, notify the Sergeant at Arms, the Capitol Police, and the House or Senate Legal Counsel. You may also want to meet with the legal counsel of the sponsoring organization, and do a walk-through of the action.
  • Know in advance that any member who is arrested will undergo a mandatory inquiry by the Ethics Committee. Under normal circumstances, the Committee dismisses such matters without requiring detailed review by an investigative subcommittee.
  • Increase the media coverage and visibility of your protest by joining with high-profile individuals, such as Hollywood celebrities and faith leaders.

Instructive Examples

  1. Grabbing the World’s Attention. On March 15, 2012, Reps Al Green, Jim Moran, Jim McGovern, and John Olver joined actor George Clooney and other activists at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, DC, to protest the bombing of civilians and the blocking of humanitarian access. After refusing to follow police warnings to leave the property, they were arrested for trespassing. The arrests immediately became a top-trending item on social media and were covered extensively in the traditional media, drawing condemnation from the government of Sudan. Because Clooney had traveled to Sudan and South Sudan several times, at risk to his personal safety and health, and had spent time studying the issues involved, he had credibility on the issue and served as an excellent spokesperson. As part of a sustained campaign that included legislation, education, and media work, the protest helped build public consciousness about the atrocities in Sudan and broadened support for sanctions.
  2. Daily Protests Continue for More than A Year. On Thanksgiving Eve, 1984, four anti-Apartheid activists, including D.C. Delegate Walter Fauntroy, led a protest in front of the South African Embassy and refused to leave until their demands – including the release of Nelson Mandela from prison – were met. Three of them were arrested, launching the “Free South Africa Movement”, involving daily protests by civil rights, labor and religious leaders, movie stars, politicians, and famous athletes in front of the Washington embassy and at South African consulates in cities across the United States. Sen. Lowell Weicker was the first Republican and the first Senator to be arrested as part of the action. The daily protests continued for a full year, and by the time the movement ended in 1990, an estimated 4,000 people had been arrested, including more than a dozen members of Congress.