Newsletter - Animal Writes © sm
23 January 2000 Issue

Troubleshooter's Guide to Staging an Event

The thing about activism is that there is no single method which is the right one. I do believe, though, that there are measures one can take that can further assure a successful event. A lot of times we in the movement ignore or don't think enough about the planning stage, which is instrumental to having a rewarding action. An annoying but adroit cliché a painting professor of mine in college would oft repeat is, "You've got to learn how to crawl before you can run". The context was a little different; he was talking to freshmen who wanted a painting "style" before they'd put in the work to understanding the fundamentals of the craft, i.e, color, composition, proportion. To have a painting that reflected our understanding of these principals, we had to do the background work. Okay, perhaps my analogy is weak, but the point is, to have an event that is enthusiastic, well attended, and effective, there is obviously some preliminary work required. Here's what I have learned from my years as an activist, incomplete and in no particular order:

1. Don't be late! I know this is a big duh, but I was at an event once where the organizers all came together in the same car and they were 25 minutes late. (Did I mention that they had all the signs, leaflets and bullhorns?) As a result, most of the press left early, grumbling to themselves. So did many activists. Those of us who stayed stood looking at each other stupidly, wondering what was going on. Needless to say, it wasn't a very effective protest.

2. Make sure all materials are functional. Does your megaphone allow only a whisper? Did you bring enough batteries? Are your signs clean, legible and up-to-date? These are good things to check on several days prior to the event.

3. Logistics, logistics, logistics! Say you've been planning a demonstration in front of Neiman Marcus for weeks. Let's pretend it's Saturday at noon. Wouldn't it be tragic if there was a fruit merchant or musician who had a permit to be in front of Neiman Marcus on Saturdays at noon?

4. Let's talk about materials once again -- do you have what you need? I was at a protest once where the organizers wanted to burn an effigy, but no one had the means to light it. We may have looked a little stupid to the crowd and the media that had gathered to watch us. Also, wouldn't you feel silly if you wanted to u-bolt yourself to the door to protest a circus and you found that your neck wouldn't fit? You get the picture.

5. To borrow a phrase from corporate America - make sure you're on the same page. Were you planning a silent vigil but someone kept shouting chants? Does one protester keep repeating, "I do have a life!" to hecklers when you didn't want anyone to respond? Its good idea to make the agenda clear to the activists before the event commences, rather than having to take them aside and say, "Uhhh..."

6. Make sure everyone knows their respective responsibilities. If Mike thought it was his job to bring a videocamera, but everyone else thought he was bringing megaphones, well, it's going to be a very quiet protest. Similarly, if he knew he was to bring the camera, but didn't realize it was also his job to bring a battery, the effectiveness of your action may be compromised a little. It's a good idea for organizers of an event to meet earlier in the week to make sure all the responsibilities are being taken care of and understood.

7. Do your research. If Mr. Security Man tells you that your group can't stand where you're standing, what do you say? If the cops tell you that a statute dating from 1911 prohibits sign-carryin', bullhorn yellin', anti-establishment types from assembling, do you have a response? Familiarize yourself with the laws, even if you plan to respectfully break them.

8. Be an ambassador. This doesn't mean a glamorous job in an exotic locale. It means that as activists we make a lasting impression on the public and the media when we are viewed by them. This doesn't mean that I am advocating conformity; I simply mean being smart about how your message is conveyed, and how it will likely be received. Drugs, drunkenness, foul language and combative behavior will work wonders at quickly destroying any progress that we have struggled long and hard to forge. If someone in your group routinely engages in these activities, you may want to seriously reevaluate your association with them.

9. Think. Once you've taken care of all the planning minutiae, pat yourself on the back. Now it all goes back to the beginning -- in activism, there is no single method that is the right one. Look inward and ask yourself, what is the most effective way for me to get my point across, with the ultimate goal of helping animals? You may need to meditate on this for a few days. When you've thoughtfully answered this question, your will have your direction. Yippee!

Source: [email protected]
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