September 11, 2001 is not a date most people remember with fondness, yet this is the date which woke many individuals up to American politics. A couple of short years later, this writer swallowed the ‘red pill’ and began to participate in political activism.
A fascination with documentaries about “The Who’s” generation from “Gimme Shelter” to “Underground” created a vision for modern day rallies, protests, sit-ins, concerts and marches. The vision included millions holding hands in unity making a difference in the Republic for the people’s benefit with media support and government cooperation. It did not take much time to realize this vision was not the reality today.
After a decade of organizing marches, rallies, and sit-ins, including the Stop the North American Union March, Free the Texas Three, American Civil Rights March, Choose Black America March and over 20 others, here are my experiences and observations to benefit any event-planning activist.
The most important advice (and perhaps the most obvious) is to be convicted in your beliefs and enjoy the process of making a difference without expecting immediate results or massive participation. Real change does not happen overnight and many individuals are still unaware of the true underlying issues. Disappointments and frustration only create stumbling blocks. We need to build solid foundations for which to grow – the tortoise, and not the hare, builds those foundations.
Many political activists refuse to engage with local law enforcement, however informing their agencies ahead of time actually reduces potential issues and in reality most law enforcement representatives are rather quite cooperative (SI has an LEO Adviser if you need help). In fact many times, they would offer additional resources making the process easier. However, stress to event attendees not to engage with law enforcement unless in a manner of gratitude, and ensure focus on the event’s purpose.
Although the United States should not have any “free speech zones” as the entire country, except private property, should be a free speech zone for the public, many city, county, state and Federal ordinances restrict peaceable assembly in certain public spaces. Since we have messages to get out there and rebellion only hurts activist causes, check local city ordinances and review any permit requirements. Some locations may require “insurance”. Each time the insurance request was made, I simply recited the first amendment and even state constitution free speech rights. We also stressed the fact that we pay taxes which should cover any and all insurance and event costs. These statements always worked. If your local city or town office persists with costs, contact a free legal organization to assist.
Once the red tape has been handled and the event approved, create a complete, itemized, list of resources needed for the event. This list should include providing local restroom facilities, drinking water, parking details and private security. Make sure to thoroughly scope out the location of the event and write down names of local restaurants, hotels, gas stations, and other businesses which may benefit attendees. The more details you advertise about the event and location, the more people will attend. Most people do not like the unknown so instructions on where to park, walking directions from parking to the location, and restroom and water locations may seem silly, however these oft overlooked details will help create a successful and well-attended event.
If any resources or necessities cost money, then try to get those resources or necessities donated. Contact local businesses, clubs, churches, charities, etc…which may be friendly to your cause. You may also need to find monetary donors. Do not hesitate to post your need for resources or funds online to assist with the project. If donations do not come through, simply be resourceful and seek alternatives. For example, at one event at City Hall, we did not have the funds to purchase the City’s required portables for events of the size we had permitted. We simply asked the clerk “if we could find local businesses willing to allow usage of their facilities, would this be acceptable?” Since the answer was yes, we found not just one, but a couple local businesses which allowed us to utilize their facilities.
After sorting out the fine details of the event, create a map for attendees and upload online for them to download. The map should include the local key businesses cited above along with any driving and/or walking directions, subway or bus depot information. The easier you make it for people, the more motivated they will be to attend.
In addition, provide key local city ordinances, event guidelines, and constitutional rights online for attendees to review and download.
Promoting the event should actually begin even before any of the bureaucratic process. Just keep people informed of the process via social media, emails, and/or organization website. Event promotion activity should be both online and offline. Either create or ask someone to create a simple but effective flyer for which to hand out around the venue location. If you cannot find someone to create a flyer for free, go to www.fiverr.com and hire someone for a mere $5. Don’t forget to ask local business owners to post the flyer in their facility.
In addition, flyer your own neighborhood, local college campuses, local malls or any heavy traffic location. If someone does not want your flyer or disagrees with the intent of the flyer, simply thank them and walk away. No need for confrontation. Part of the mission is to grab the “willing” attention of people who want to learn more, and confrontation only leads to contempt and future resistance to your message. The goal is to bring people to your cause…not push them away.
(*Note:if you reside in a larger city, you might also find someone on Fiverr to distribute your flyer for just $5.)
Online marketing of the event should include creating an event page on Facebook in addition to a fan page. Create and post daily content to keep people engaged and interested. Also consider blogging on wordpress, blogger, or blogspot. Do not forget other social media sites such as Twitter, Linkedin, Tumblr, Pinterest, Godinterest, and Reddit. In addition, post on Craigslist, local community calendars, classified sites, and eventful. For your email contacts, create an e-vite and ask those with large email lists to forward.
Besides the online and offline marketing of the event, grabbing the attention of media is key to helping promote the event, but more importantly to educate the masses with your message. Although the media is mostly controlled, it is still possible to capture media attention. Find reporters who are willing to listen and report your event. Local news channels will normally be interested. Write a professional media release and distribute to both mainstream and alternative media outlets. Do not forget talk radio – including blogtalk and other Internet radio programs – ask to be a guest. Many local newspapers, especially smaller community papers are also willing to promote and report on the event.
Keep a list of media contacts and keep in touch. Relationship building is key to future support and coverage. Always send thank you emails or cards post the event. In fact, send thank yous to all who assisted with or supported the event, including law enforcement agencies. Establishing sound relationships is beneficial for future events.
If you reside in a smaller community, your local television or radio station may even allow commercials for your event. For those in larger communities, try submitting public service announcements. Regardless of residence, create Youtube video “commercials” leading up to the event. Youtube is third place in the top global Alexa ratings and with more people turning to the Internet for news content, creating videos is key. Post-event videos are also a plus in order to report the real footage which may not end up on television news. The key to creating a viral video is in the title and tags, so create catchy, current, and even controversial titles.
While promoting the event encourage attendees to bring flags, banners, signs, and any props which may add to the theme of your event. Provide instructions on how to create signs and banners, although your event will attract veteran activists, there will be newbies who will need the ideas and tips. Inspire 3-4 word slogans attendees can use for the event. Cluttered signs do not capture or show up in video as well. Signs with graphics always peak interest and are visually appealing.
If you have the funds to create professionally printed banners and signs, fantastic, however grassroots signs are actually better. Professional signs raise questions such as what corporation or elitist is sponsoring the event, so printed signs may look sharper, but as activists we want to ensure it is “we the people” and not special interests with money and an ‘agenda’ organizing the event.
A quick, effective, and inexpensive sign can be made with light poster board stapled, taped or (heated) glued to a piece of cardboard from a moving/packing box…such boxes can be found at places like Home Depot. Either use markers, paint, or duct tape for lettering. Make the words as neat as possible – use a ruler or block letters to assist. Since many cities do not allow wood, metal, or PVC to be part of a sign (alleged weapons), forget creating a handle and just carry the sign. However, if you are more comfortable with a handle, then create one using a heavy cardboard long roll and attaching to the sign.
In addition to signs, create a flyer, postcard, or brochure of important educational information with contact details to pass out during the event. Not only do you want to network with attendees, but also with onlookers and passerby’s in order to raise awareness and possible future participants.
Before the event create a volunteer security team. This team are individuals within your movement who are either military veterans, martial arts experts, bodyguards, etc….You want a team as extra protection. I personally recall three events for which if we did not have our own security, there may have been violence from counter-protesters and in one case our team actually protected us from local law enforcement. This volunteer crew should wear the same t-shirts or hats so that attendees can identify them easily
During the promotion phase of the protest, rally, or march find videographers, photographers, and citizen reporters and coordinate with them to help accurately capture the event. Use their documentation for post-venue reporting.
Depending on the type of action you are organizing, sound and staging must be thoroughly addressed. The simplest events are those without planned speakers. Research local sound ordinances to ensure the usage of sound magnification like bullhorns. Do not forget extra batteries!
If the occasion hosts speakers, then plan on more details including extra filing paperwork for the event. The flaw most organizers make is booking too many speakers. People have short attention spans, so although the message may be important, most people do not want to remain at a political affair for more than two hours maximum. These events create energy and those in attendance will definitely experience both emotions and adrenaline rushes for which will drain them at some point, so keep the event to 2-4 dynamic speakers with no longer than 10-15 minute speeches. You must be willing to say NO to appearance requests or else your speaker line-up will grow too large and defeat the purpose of the event. You want people to attend future events so do not bore or drain them!
For venues with public speakers, either mc the event or find someone passionate who is willing to help out with welcoming people and introducing the special guests. If you mc, then you need a strong administrative assistant to help coordinate the event while you are in the “staging area”. In fact you should have 2 or 3 strong people assisting you from the pre-planning to post-reporting. Do not have too many “chiefs” however as this does create conflicts and power trips.
Make sure you have an expert sound person with equipment for the occasion. There are many activists in the community already who have this expertise, however if you cannot find a person, then do spare the expense of hiring someone. The staging area should be set-up a couple hours before the event with soundchecks before people start arriving. Play music before the event starts and throughout the event continue with music to help energize the crowd.
Another aspect I added to every political event was medical needs. Try to find a medical professional within your network to attend and assist at the event. If you cannot find someone, at least have a “tent” area with a few emergency medical kits and extra water.
Finally, ignore counter-protesters. They are only there to agitate you. Their purpose is to stumble you, prevent your message from being heard, and possibly even to get you arrested. I witnessed arrests of leaders who were set-up by counter-protesters firsthand. Sometimes they may even try to incite violence..more than once I was pushed – I just did not push back. Again keep the cameras rolling and your security nearby.
The more thought, details, organization, and promotion prior to the event, the more successful and stress-free the event. Every event I organized always included pre-venue meetings either in-person or via conference calls – communication is one of the most crucial elements of event planning.
Yes, it is challenging and requires hard work, but think about the sacrifices made in history, the love of your family, and the vision for the future! Remember what and who you are fighting for. Let these images inspire you to remain motivated and focused!
“You know that their time is coming to an end
We have to unify and watch our flag ascend
So come on
They will not force us
They will stop degrading us
They will not control us
We will be victorious, so come on…….”
Featured Photo Credit: Chelene Nightingale
Chelene Nightingale is a 2010 Constitution Party California Governor candidate, public speaker, political activist, writer and actress campaigning for liberty.
The Solutions Institute only takes one position: good ideas do not require force. Otherwise, each article published at the Solutions Institute is chosen for its focus on the process and how-to instruction. Any opinions expressed on any other issue, by any author or commenter, are strictly their own. Learn more.