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How to organize a worldwide protest in just 5 easy steps

photograph by Nancie Battaglia

STEP 1

PICK A POINT

It may have included 5,248 rallies in 181 countries, but 350.org’s record-setting 2009 day of protest starts small. A year and a half earlier, Bill McKibben reads a journal article that suggests the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere needs to come down to 350 parts per million or the earth will bake like an apple. McKibben and a team of young environmentalists form 350.org to call attention to “the most important number in the world.”

STEP 2

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WORK THE NET

Banking on the revolutionary power of social media, each one of 350.org’s seven members assumes responsibility for engaging an entire continent. They work Skype, Facebook, and YouTube, gathering an activist army for the opening salvo in their “open-source campaign” to save the environment.

STEP 3

ENLIST ALLIES

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Al Gore endorses the 350ppm target, giving the movement a boost. More than 200 environmental organizations eventually sign on and begin planning events. There will be 350-kilometer bike rides and climbs up Everest, the World Council of Churches will ask its 650 million members to ring bells 350 times, and Maldives politicians will hold a meeting . . . underwater.

STEP 4

PROVIDE SUPPORT

As the events come together, 350

.org staffers focus on logistics. Online, they post explanatory videos, sign-up sheets, and instructions for making great banners. When they hear no one can document a 15,000-person march in Ethiopia, they leap into action: A coordinator from New York Skypes a friend in South Africa, who calls a friend in Ethiopia, who bicycles to the march, video camera in tow.

STEP 5

SHOW OFF

On October 24, 2009, 350.org becomes a digital repository for more than 20,000 photos and videos streaming in from around the world. The group rents video screens at the United Nations and in Times Square to broadcast images from what CNN would call “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.”

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