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How Political Rallies Have Changed The World

Political rallies are carefully staged-managed, expertly choreographed theatre.

We've all seen it.

The masses gathered as a leader stands before them proclaiming their beliefs and those of their party. The crowd is boisterous and their leader revels in the energy of their supportive cries.

The place is alive with the euphoria of solidarity.

"[It's]the creation of atmospherics, their creation of a theatrical environment because politics [is] being performed," Peter Monteath Professor of History at Flinders University told 10 daily.

Political rallies as tools of recruitment for a party aren't anything new, but how they can influence people outside those immediately gathered in a physical space is something that's central to modern politics.

Both mainstream media and social media have a role in spreading the ideology of a group or political party beyond the rally space to the wider world.

Nazi leader Adolf Hitler skilfully exploited modern media to spread his cause and recruit new party members. He used radio and film to spread the dogma of his party to the entire German nation and the wider world.

Adolf Hitler on stage at the Nuremberg Youth Rally in 1934. Image: Getty Images.

"They [the Nazis]... had the knack of using the modern media -- radio and film.  I think with Hitler and the Nazis there was this awareness that the rallies weren’t just about the people gathered there, it was about creating an image that was projected much more widely," Monteath said.

Perhaps the most famous exploitation of film was Leni Riefenstahl's The Triumph of the Will which provided a carefully curated insight into the 1934 Nuremberg Rallies. Films such as this worked to bring the Nazi Party out of its origins in Munich to the rest of the country.

"When you think of Nazi party rallies you think of the films that were made about them," Monteath said.

"Everyone knows the Nuremberg rallies and how skillfully they were exploited and how theatrical they were and you can certainly see parallels through to the present whereby the present day ones are carefully staged managed I would think, like the Nazi ones in many cases."

US President Donald Trump speaks at a Make America Great Again rally in Cleveland, Ohio in October 2018. Image: Getty Images.

Politicians use rallies not just to promote their cause, but also to legitimise other movements.

Last Saturday, Queensland Senator Fraser Anning attended an anti-immigration rally at Melbourne's St. Kilda Beach. Anning appeared to attend in support of a group who were protesting against the Government's stance on migration.

"MPs like Fraser Anning turning up...  it may well be that he is trying to signal to these people that he aligns with them, however more or less, he is trying to say 'you actually do have legitimacy and I am going to add legitimacy to it,'" Politics Lecturer at the University of Sydney Dr Stewart Jackson told 10 daily.  

"They [the protesters] themselves are attempting to recruit people and they are saying 'we’re here, we stand for a particular country, a particular kind of place …'"

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Senator Fraser Anning at the St. Kilda rally last Saturday.

People also use rallies to push their cause into the public arena. Affecting government response is perhaps an obvious reason for rallies. Getting the media and the citizenry interested is often the first step in this.

"People will turn up there, they will say 'we want to put pressure on the government, we want you to not do what you are doing'-- this is the obvious rationale for having a protest," Jackson said.

"It sends signals to people that this is an important issue for the general public. It sends a signal to the media this is an important issue. 'Come and look at us,' and then media turn up and take pictures."

More deeply, protests instill a feeling of like-mindedness between citizens. They give people who are unhappy or disillusioned the feeling they belong to a group of people who feel the same.

The Yellow Vests group held rallies across France in late 2018, protesting against government reform increasing fuel prices and, therefore, the cost of living. The group called for lower fuel taxes, a minimum wage increase and Emmanuel Macron's resignation as President of France.

READ MORE: Death Toll In France 'Yellow Vest' Protests Climbs To 10

The Yellow Vests protesters front of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Image: Getty Images.

"Yellow Vests has become quite interesting because they colour code themselves in a certain way and then people are wanting to join in because they have similar feelings," Jackson said.

"That question of solidarity becomes quite important. That pushes those views into society. It promotes a set of ideas that people now understand. They bring the ideas into the public arena."

While people tend to dip in and out of activism, rallies remind citizens they are able to affect real change at the highest levels. In fact, the visible nature of politics rallies could be part of why they have been so effective throughout history.

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"It creates solidarity and a statement... people felt strongly enough that they still needed to comment. They could have written to the paper, they could have signed a 1000 petitions... but they didn’t," Jackson told 10 daily.

"They chose to come out in a form of solidarity... because it is a very visible process."

Featured Image: Getty Images.

Contact Siobhan at skenna@networkten.com.au