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There is perhaps no better representation of democracy in action than the humble public meeting. Since politics often is spectacle, advocates work hard to get noticed at them.

Over the past few years, we’ve noticed that campaigners for various issues in San Diego have fallen into well-worn patterns for showing support for their pet causes.

Consider this a guide to the ways to tell politicians you really like something at a public meeting – and one thing you should never, ever do at City Hall.

Wear Matching T-Shirts

Nothing shows a politician that a group of people means business better than matching T-shirts. Matching shirts mean you’ve got some organization, some moxie and a spare $15 for something you’ll probably never wear again.

The visual is striking. Imagine you’re the politician looking into this armada of blue at a Poway school board meeting earlier this year.

Photo by Dustin Michelson

Or at this meadow of neon during a San Diego City Council meeting.

Photo by Andrew Keatts

People know that this is how it’s done. Organizers behind a proposed Thrive Charter School in Mission Valley were prepared when they went before the San Diego Unified School Board last January. Here’s how Mario Koran described their effort: “For added support, Thrive-backers did what any group does when they want to show the school board they mean business: They appeared at the meeting wearing matching T-shirts.”

Get Creative

T-shirts require a good amount of advance planning. But you can show support without getting a ton of people together beforehand.

Just bring props.

At a city planning commission hearing earlier this month, supporters of Airbnb and other vacation rentals had green flags to wave when they were happy.

@dillonliam pic.twitter.com/Hr0271r9Bh

— Grant Oliveira (@OliveiraGrant) December 3, 2015

To at least one observer, the flags did their job.

@dillonliam These are residents in favor. I could not tell you why they picked neon green but I can tell you it is striking.

— Grant Oliveira (@OliveiraGrant) December 3, 2015

Don’t Clap. Do Gesticulate Wildly.

In 2009, Ben Hueso became San Diego City Council president. With that title came the responsibility to run Council meetings. His legacy stands to this day.

Hueso believed he had a problem: Council meetings took too long. And he found a culprit: too much clapping.

And so from the Council dais on Jan. 26, 2009, Hueso, still sounding a bit tentative about his idea, told the world his solution.

“I want to ask that in lieu of either making comments or applauding, maybe if you hear somebody that’s saying something that you agree with that you maybe raise one hand or two hands and just wave them up like that,” Hueso said.

Hueso demonstrated the maneuver.

Thus, the Hueso Wave was born.

Waving your arms instead of clapping is not something people are used to. Hueso, with increasing confidence about his solution, showed crowds that came to Council meetings how to do it time and again. This is Hueso in April 2009.

Once people got the hang of it, they became very enthusiastic. This group of people from a September 2009 meeting did NOT like a proposed self-storage business in Tierrasanta.

Look closely at the upper-righthand corner of that GIF and you’ll see Hueso giving the crowd a thumbs up as they’re waving.

For the most part, Hueso’s successors have embraced the Hueso Wave. Here’s Councilman Todd Gloria – president from 2013 to 2015 – showing everyone how it’s done in November 2013.

Current Council President Sherri Lightner asks crowds to do the Hueso Wave instead of clap all the time, according to meeting transcripts. Sadly, it seems she’s never demonstrated the maneuver, leaving the world without the GIF we so richly deserve.

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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