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Last Updated: Friday, 11 March, 2005, 10:44 GMT
Lessons from history
By Matt O'Connor
Founder, Fathers 4 Justice

When Matt O'Connor decided he wanted to protest about the one issue that mattered to him most, he looked to history for how to go about it.

He spoke to People Power, a BBC documentary examing what makes ordinary people want to protest, to give his views on running a succesful campaign.

His personal account below contains some strong language.

Matt O'Connor
Matt O'Connor studied the mechanics of protest
In any successful campaign, planning is essential.

For Fathers 4 Justice, this took up a full two years before launch.

And, I believe, there are three key ingredients involved. If they are all addressed properly at the planning stage, they will help to make the campaign unique.

The first is understanding the history and background of protest.

My upbringing was steeped in the Labour party. I visited the site of the Tolpuddle martyrs with my mother as a child, which made a lasting impression on me, as did the miners' pickets.

It is essential to research topics such as the suffragettes, the Trade Unions, Martin Luther King - and even people like Ned Kelly.

Only by doing this will you begin to know the mechanics of protest.

The second ingredient is marketing. I had a day job in marketing and PR, so I was lucky to have experience in this area.

The third and final ingredient is money. I had to input my own money, and invested a great deal in order to create a global brand.

'Not half-cocked'

As a result of these efforts, Fathers 4 Justice is now the world's fastest growing pressure group.

In fact, if I had known at the beginning how big it would get - we are now in Australia and the US - I probably would not have started. It is mind-blowing.

But my view is that if you do something, you should do it well - not half-cocked.

Protesters dressed as superheroes
Superhero costumes for Matt O'Connor's group create impact
There is a marketing maxim that I work to: AIDA. It stands for Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action.

For the awareness stage, you need publicity. Make your issue visible, as Ghandi said. You have to start first, for the rest to follow.

For interest, you have to be provocative and challenge people's conditioning.

You then need to create a populist campaign to spark the desire.

And you need to act. It might take 15 years to get an outcome after lobbying your MP - whereas it has taken me 15 months.

We tackled three areas: the government (when purple powder was thrown at Tony Blair in the Commons), the monarchy (when Batman and Robin climbed up Buckingham Palace), and theology (with a rooftop protest at York Minster).

As Martin Luther King said, "at first they will ignore you, then they will laugh at you, then they will fight you, then you will win".

Fathers 4 Justice is at the fight stage. We know, historically, that we will prevail and succeed.


This is not a minority issue. It affects everyone in the country, and has a global appeal. The premise is unique because the issues are so wide-reaching.

If we dressed normally, we would have as much impact as a bus queue
But we are also unique because we use humour - and are the only campaigning group to do so.

This is a tragi-comedy. One minute we get tears of despair and anguish, and the next tears of laughter.

If we dressed normally, we would have as much impact as a bus queue.

And although we are just middle-aged men in unflattering outfits, we try to be iconic - like Mel Brooks's Men in Tights, or The Incredibles.

Many protest groups are very earnest, but we are happy to have fun made of us.

My personality means that if I go to prison I might as well have a laugh along the way.


You need to be like a Chinese firework and get up people's noses
Only a small number of people voted for this government. People feel disconnected, so they will rebel and take the law into their own hands.

But to achieve anything, you need to be like a Chinese firework and get up people's noses.

You also need bollocks - big brass balls - because it is dangerous.

For example, we knew our recent protest at Downing Street was dangerous; with armed police around we could have been shot.

You must have the passion (provided you are peaceful). And even though I see my children now, I still do this because I feel there is a massive injustice.

If you believe in it, you will see it through.

Belief is almost instinctive: you cannot always define it, but you know it is right, hopefully.

And if you are wrong, let history be the judge.

People Power was broadcast on Sunday, March 13, 2005 at 2215GMT on BBC One.

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