Brandy Thought Her Petition Failed. She Was Wrong.
This post originally appeared on Care2 Causes.
Brandy Betts lives in Chicago, but that didn’t stop her from charging down to Atlanta, Ga., to organize a protest against Bill Cosby’s performance at the Cobb Energy Center last year.
Brandy started a Care2 petition calling on the Center to cancel Cosby’s show at the venue after more than 40 women accused him of sexually assaulting them. (That number has now grown to nearly 60 women.) Last week, she spoke to Care2 members at our second Activist University training about her experience gathering signatures for her petition and fighting for justice. (You can watch Brandy’s full discussion here.)
And here’s something that may surprise you: while Brandy didn’t technically win her campaign, her petition didn’t fail — it was a huge success.
So how is that possible?
Let’s back up for a minute. Brandy’s petition asked for Cosby’s show to be cancelled, but it went ahead as scheduled. The venue informed Brandy that the terms of their contract made it nearly impossible to cancel the show.
But rather than let that deter her, Brandy renewed her commitment to raise awareness of Cosby’s crimes and to take a stand against a broader rape culture. Focusing on one of his performances was a key way to communicate that message — and if the show would still go on, then Brandy decided she would be there to deliver her message in person.
Brandy connected with survivors of Bill Cosby on Facebook, and from there, she spent weeks working with other activists to plan a huge protest outside of his Atlanta show. The group of organizers decided to make sure that Cosby would have to face the women who were standing against him.
So, on the day of Cosby’s last show on his 2015 tour, he was greeted by the sight of Brandy and her co-organizers standing outside the venue with signs and custom-made shirts denouncing his history of abuse. Two survivors, their families and a prominent civil rights lawyer all attended the rally in front of the very place where Cosby was performing. The group also staged a press conference where yet another Cosby survivor came forward and revealed her identity.
At first, Brandy was worried because only 12 actual protesters gathered at the scene. But the protest and petition had generated so much negative publicity that barely half of the Center was filled that night, even though Cosby had nearly sold out the show. Because of Brandy’s campaign, half of the tickets purchased for the performance went in the trash.
And, according to Brandy, the press immediately swarmed their protest site, interviewing the survivors and their supporters, photographing their rally signs, and filming the press conference with rapt attention. Their message made headlines with CNN, The Washington Post, Time, NPR and more. Documentarians who are putting together a soon-to-be-announced project attended, filming both inside the venue and outside, where the protest was taking shape.
Brandy even accomplished what she thought might be impossible: She made sure Bill Cosby himself knew the demonstrators were there, including his victims. Not only did Cosby himself drive past several times to observe what all the commotion was about, but their presence worried him enough that he set scores of North Atlanta police officers on the premises, both inside and outside the venue, to create a barrier between himself and his victims’ supporters.
After the media picked up the story and ran with it, people around the world began hearing about the campaign. Brandy watched, astounded, as the signature count on her petition took off, to reach a final count of more than 49,000 people. That’s 49,000 people who learned the stories of women who’ve been sexually assaulted by Cosby and who cared so much about it that they wanted to cancel just one single show.
And there’s just one more way in which Brandy’s petition was ultimately a success. Since her campaign and demonstration, Cosby has not announced another tour. She muses, “He knows he’ll never tour again.”
To hear Brandy talk about her story and to learn more tips about how to grow your signature count, watch our Activist University webinar here. If you want to hear from her co-speaker, Bettemarie Bond, check out our post about Bette’s activism here!