Inaugurate the Revolution: Activism 101
January 20, 2017/Bloomington
Adapted from The Citizen’s Handbook (http://www.citizenshandbook.org/1_03_plan_act.html)
- Before your group organizes specific events, you should have done basic research on your issue, identifying why it is important (how does it affect the common good?), whom it impacts, which groups will be in sympathy with you, and which groups will oppose you?
- Recognize that campaigns unfold over time and include many kinds of actions and events. As you organize your action/event, consider how it fits into a series of actions and events. Does the situation at hand call for cooperation, negotiation, or confrontation?
- Remember that you want to make people take you seriously and engage with you rather than alienate them. Tailor your message to your audience. (For example, many middle-aged and elderly people, along with members of the faith community and people from the Third World, are offended by profanity. If you want to win these constituencies over, watch your language and be civil.)
- Use confrontation sparingly. And recognize that confrontation is not an option for some communities (people of color and immigrants) who are often targeted by authorities for violence or general harassment.
Objectives: Determine what your objectives are for the event/action. It is best to start with one or two objectives and build from them rather than to begin with a long list.
Generate ideas for how to meet your objectives, and then decide how to translate them into action.
Create an action plan that includes:
- Deciding on a time frame.
- Creating and ordering a list of tasks with deadlines.
- Assigning people to each of the tasks.
- Making a list of resources that you will need, including funds and facilities.
- After your event/action has been completed, analyze how it went. What went well? What could have been better? What would you do differently?
- Determine how to build on your action/event and move forward.
Tips for Running Meetings:
- Doodle is a free, convenient scheduling tool. (www.doodle.com)
- Make an Agenda
- Assign a facilitator, who keeps people on topic, and moves them through the agenda; the facilitator does not participate in the discussion. For pointers on facilitating, see
- Assign someone to take minutes
- Provide childcare or have some quiet activities to keep children busy
- Have a sign-in sheet and ask for contact information
Demonstrations, Marches, and Rallies (excerpted from UN Women, http://www.endvawnow.org/en/articles/1297-demonstrations-marches-and-rallies.html?next=1298)
- Demonstrations and rallies are intended to show public concern for a cause, i.e. the opinion of a wide cross-section of society. It is best to bring together women and men of different ages and different backgrounds.
- It is not a good idea to organize a march or a rally if one cannot count on a large attendance – it may backfire, suggesting that the cause is not important to the public. Look for ways to have rallies at times of the day that would ensure large attendance, e.g. weekends, public holidays and venues of public interest. Other events likely to attract media coverage, such as vigils or public stunts may be more effective in such a case.
In many countries, demonstrations, rallies and marches require legal permits, such as permission from the authorities to assemble in large numbers, permission to close certain roads or public venues, etc. Failure to obtain such permits before organizing your rally could have serious consequences including police involvement in dispersing the crowd gathered.
Checklist: planning a demonstration, march or rally
- As with all public events, consider whom you want to reach and what you want to achieve with the demonstration.
- Agree on the main messages you want to broadcast and decide who will be your main
- Who is going to do what? Appoint one person or a team in charge of overall organization of the protest. Divide specific responsibilities to other participants.
- Plan the place or route, and timing – if you organize a march, it should start and end in easily accessible places which are safe for public gatherings. The route should follow animated areas so as to draw maximum public attention. Usually, public speeches take place at the end of the march – verify whether speakers can be heard by the audience (acoustics). To ensure participants remain fresh and interested, do not plan for more than two hours for the entire event. Sit-ins may last longer: in a sit-in, people sit down in a public space linked to the cause, e.g. the site of a crime or a court house. One strategy for sit-ins is to threaten not to leave until a particular problem is solved.
- Time the event for maximum attention, e.g. to coincide with anniversaries and symbolic dates, e.g. International Women’s Day or the 16 Days of Activism. Find out, e.g. from local authorities, whether any other events are planned on that day that might distract your event – or help attract extra attention.
- Find out about legal constraints, and complete necessary formalities– in many countries, demonstrations must be formally announced or permitted by local authorities, usually the police. There may be other restrictions, e.g. in the UK, NGOs may lose tax benefits if they engage in certain types of political activity. Unless there are compelling reasons not to, do complete the formalities so that your campaign cannot be accused of illegal conduct.
- Inform allies– contact supporters and prominent persons who support your cause and ask them to join the event – politicians and celebrities may increase your media coverage.
- Devise slogans, make placards, banners and other colorful displays that convey your cause and catch attention.
- Advertise for your march or rally with fliers, e-mails, posters. Include the date, address of the rally or information on the route your march will take, as well as the starting time. If you want to draw huge crowds, start advertising several months before the event.
- Inform the media (e-mail a press release and digital photographs of eye-catching displays or banners). Consider filming your own footage (e.g. by using digital video) to publicize it via the internet.
- For a march, appointstewards, e. persons who guide participants along the route. Plan for at least one steward for every 50 participants. Brief them on action in case of emergencies, e.g. someone getting hurt or conflicts with troublemakers. Stewards should be easily identifiable, e.g. by wearing bright t-shirts.
- Organizeequipment, such as megaphones, public address equipment (loudspeakers, microphones) and digital cameras as needed.
- Organize finances– budget for the event and control expenses.
- Consider integrating other campaign tools into the demonstration, e.g. collecting e-mail messages for participants who wish to stay in touch, or signatures for a petition. Ensure some participants take specific responsibility for these extra tasks and plan plenty of time for them.
During the demonstration…
- Respect your time-planso that participants stay enthusiastic.
- As a rule, do not be offensivein your slogans – you might alienate supporters. As in all societies, there are people who resist “breaking the silence” on violence against women and girls, you are likely to appear “provocative” to some even if you communicate in a sensitive manner – be prepared for that.
- Be prepared for challenges from bystanders, including “identity-bating”, i.e. comments that try to discredit the campaigners as individuals or as a group. Stay calm and do not get embroiled in a fight; if needed, remind other participants to remain peaceful.
Petitions (a formal written request, typically one signed by many people, appealing to authority with respect to a particular cause):
- Paper petitions should include the demands on each page, followed by different columns (signatures, printed name, address, and contact email/phone)
- A number of sites offer “free petitions”: https://www.change.org/petitions https://www.ipetitions.com/ http://www.thepetitionsite.com/
Meetings with local and state politicians:
- Very good tips available through “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.” https://www.indivisibleguide.com/web
- Secure a venue that is easily accessible (with parking).
- Line-up credible speakers who are “authorities” on the subject.
- Make sure that your credible speakers are not too academic in tone or boring.
- Check the sound system.
- Tape your event and post it to the web or show it on access television or play excerpts on the community radio station.
Town Hall Meetings:
- Reserve a venue.
- Agree on a format with invited speakers.
- Have a plan in place to deal with disruptive individuals.
- Select a moderator, who is diplomatic but firm about keeping time.
- Distribute talking points among your members.
- Come equipped with petitions to sign.