Michaela Miller and Aileen Lawlor met each other, and a group of other performers, at a San Jose coffee shop one recent morning. They were getting paid to protest and needed marching orders. The mission was to draw attention to the threat of AI censorship of creative characters, like Catgirl. 

Donning matching t-shirts and cat ears, they picketed, carried signs and chanted at the entrance of a tech conference. “Uncensor AI!” they demanded. “We have only begun to meow!” They also distributed cat ears to make sure conference goers brought the message home with them.

A few hours later, when most of the attendees had entered the conference center, the actors went back to their respective lives $200 to $300 richer.

Getting paid to protest

The event was a publicity stunt pulled off by a company called Crowds on Demand. The site hires actors and activists at rates starting at $25 to $30 an hour to man telephone banks, email and letter-writing campaigns. Getting paid to protest at live events pays considerably more.

An event like the Catgirl demonstration, which took two to three hours, paid roughly $100 an hour, for instance. Other in person events pay anywhere from $150 to $500, depending on the length of the day.

“We work all across the country and pay substantially above any minimum wage in any state,” says Adam Swart, founder and CEO of Beverly Hills, CA-based Crowds on Demand. “We want really good people — people who reflect really positively on what the client wants. You don’t get that for $15 an hour.”

Protestors to paparazzi

Launched in 2012, Crowds on Demand is a “gorilla marketing” company that does far more than enlist actors to protest. They draw attention to everything from political issues to new companies and products. And in so doing, it hires thousands of protestors and performers each year from all over the country.

Need a flash mob? A crowd of adoring fans, reporters and photographers for your “red carpet” event? Outraged citizens for your protest? A packed audience for your speech? Acolytes for your new product?

You define the need. Crowds on Demand brings people who are getting paid to protest, petition and otherwise perform.

Crowds draw attention

The idea behind what they do is that a crowd draws a crowd. And, often, it also draws media attention. If you get enough people carrying picket signs, news vans pull up. That can make your niche issue play to a wider audience, where you could gather real support.

Likewise, businesses launching new products and services often need “buzz” to boost interest and sales.

“Even if your business is great, you will fail if nobody knows about you,” says Khalif Bradley, a 25-year-old college student who frequently works with Crowds on Demand. “We are here to get the ball rolling.”

One tech company sought recognition at an industry conference but couldn’t afford a conference sponsorship, for example. Swart enlisted dozens of actors dressed as limo drivers to hold up signs with the company’s logo at the airport. Freelancers also waved company banners near the convention center’s entrances. It all made the company seem big and prosperous. The tech firm’s booth ended up packed with interested conference goers and an industry publication wrote a feature on the company.

“I always try to get our clients a return on their investment,” says Swart.

Great gig work

For students like Bradley, getting paid to protest is also a great part-time job. The hours are flexible. The work is interesting. And performance art can be fun. Better still, it’s sometimes remarkably well-paid.

Among Bradley’s favorite gigs: Pretending to be a photographer at a VIP event, where a good portion of the reporters and paparazzi were actually freelancers playing those roles.

“I recorded and edited the video and earned about $800 for about 5 hours of work,” he says.

Bradley has participated in about 20 gigs with the company, ranging from brand reveals to protests, and has earned more than $10,000 in the process, he says. He now supervises some of the events, making sure that all the freelancers understand their roles, dress appropriately and are in the right places.

How to get hired

Where can you find these gigs?

Both Miller, 25, and Lawlor, 39, found the Catgirl gig through Backstage, a subscription casting service. Both are performers. Miller says she does a wide array of performance art. Lawlor is primarily a fire dancer.

However, you don’t need to be an actor to get a gig with Crowds on Demand. All that’s required is a good attitude and the ability to follow directions, says Bradley.

In fact, Swart says that when the site is working on advocacy issues, it often looks for people through groups with similar aims. If it needs people to protest a sensitive land development, for instance, it might seek out local environmentalist groups. Looking for support for a conservative cause, the site might enlist young Republicans.

The site does not have a formal process for finding performers and protestors. Swart says freelancers who want to work with the company should send a note through the site’s contact form. Introduce yourself, say where you live, and the type of events you would be interested in.

In big cities like Los Angeles and New York, the site is constantly on the prowl for freelancers, he adds. However, if you’re in a small town, it’s hard to say how often you’d be enlisted.

“Our people are passionate,” says Swart. “They love what they do. Almost 100% of the people who participate want to do more.”

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