Demonstrations

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Demonstrations

Important details to know before planning a demonstration, rally, or picket.

To plan these events, you need to answer the following questions:

1.  What do you want your opponent or target to do?
2.  What are your demands?
3.  What do you want the public to do or learn?
4.  Will you need a permit from the police or city hall?
5.  Where are the boundaries that give you legal permission/protection to assemble?
6.  What type of visual aids (posters, banners, or costumes) will you use?
7.  What type of leaflets will you hand out?

Choosing a date and time:
You'll have a better chance of getting media coverage if you conduct the event during normal business hours on a weekday. On the weekend, you may get a better turnout of demonstrators, but news coverage is less predictable. Although a demonstration is almost always worthwhile, you won't be in the public eye as much without media coverage. Don't overlook holidays; they're generally light news days, so a nice public-interest story might be appealing to the media. Pick your time carefully so that you don't conflict with a major sporting or community event, unless you're responding to an emergency situation that gives you little choice.

Planning
Allow a few weeks to secure any permits that you might need, but don't hesitate to organize a demonstration on a day's notice if you have to. You usually don't need a permit to hold a picket line on a public sidewalk, as long as you don't block pedestrian traffic or go into the street. Permits are usually needed weeks in advance for street marches.

Make it visual
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More than just a picket line and signs. Consider eye-catching costumes, cages, or street theater.

Prepare leaflets that explain the issue.
List your demands and explain what the public can do to help. Mail some out ahead of time, and hand out the rest on the day of your rally. Make some posters to display or order some from PETA, and prepare a short handout explaining your group's background.

Hold a sign-making party before the event to inspire the group and ensure that you're all on the right track.
Use pictures and slogans that illustrate the issue in simple and dramatic ways. Stay away from offensive language, which may turn some people off. Use stencils (but fill in those gaps) so that the lettering looks neat.

Be ready to answer questions and provide statements.
Decide who will be the spokesperson ahead of time, but make sure that each person has a short statement prepared in case he or she is asked a question by the media or a bystander. Keep in mind that the media may photograph you. Ask your group to dress neatly and conservatively (unless you decide to wear costumes). If you wear a costume, you should not be the spokesperson—the audience will want to hear from an authority figure, not someone dressed like a pig.

Chanting
Prepare short, easy-to-understand chants ahead of time, and when appropriate (not during silent vigils), keep the chants going throughout the demo. Chants make more people take notice of what is going on, in addition to making good background noise for the media. Remind people not to smile or laugh if they're protesting a serious abuse. And never argue with or make derogatory comments to bystanders.

Press Release
Notify the media—radio, TV, newspapers, and wire services—with a telephone call or news release at least one day before the demonstration, and be on site at least half an hour before starting time. Visit the site beforehand so that you know how to set things up on the day of the event. Keep your group together, and remind them (quietly) to hold their signs so that they can be clearly seen and photographed.

Stay in touch with participants
Write down the names and telephone numbers of the people who attend the demonstration so that you can contact them for future actions. If you got media coverage, assign one person to tape each television station that was present at your event, and start a library of media coverage. Don't forget to pick up the newspaper the next day to gather print media coverage. Afterwards, send a letter to the editor to support, clarify, or further explain the issue and what people can do—ask members of your group to do the same.