This is part four in a 4-part series where I share strategies that you can become more familiar with when it comes to activism: lobbying, writing campaigns and action alerts, using social media, and rallies/demonstrations. If you’ve read any of my other blog posts (and I thank you if you have been), you know that I’m all about sexual/reproductive wellness and rights, but I believe that these tips can be used for a variety of causes. Feel free to focus on the tips throughout the coming weeks that inspire you the most and what makes the most sense for your cause.
We’ve come to the final lesson in the Raise Your Voice with Activism series: holding & attending rallies and demonstrations. I can say that participating in a rally, protest, demonstration, day of action, or civil disobedience/resistance (I tend to use the terms interchangeably, though it depends on the event itself) is a very adrenaline-pumping and exhilarating experience. From the demonstrations during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s to the more recent Occupy protests happening in many major cities around the world, people have been forever taking to the streets to make their demands heard. I will provide some tips on what to do while attending a rally, how to organize your own rally, and share some important differences between planned rallies and unplanned rallies (which is important, because one of these can possibly get you locked up!)
Attending a Rally
Attending rallies allows you the opportunity to have your voice heard about a particular concern happening in your community or across the nation. It’s also a great way to get more information on a cause. You can find out about rallies through actions alerts from community organizations, the local news, word of mouth, posted flyers, and even social media. If you have never attended a rally, what you’ll usually see are a crowd (small or large) of people chanting, and many holding signs, like this one:
You may also see people passing out fact sheets as well as petitions and invites to attend planning meetings and other rallies. Also, there will be plenty of speakers and even some musical performances. Finally, while the majority of people there will be in support of the rally’s cause, be mindful that there may be people in attendance who will be on the opposite side. Be prepared for counter-rallies and random outbursts from goobers who are not down with you. Don’t let these people deter you, and don’t stand for someone disrespecting you. Everyone has the right to free speech, but when that free speech makes you feel that your life is in danger, contact the proper authorities. And if things escalate, get out of there!
Planning a Rally
Planning a rally is also great because you can bring together a large number of people from all walks of life to gain support for a cause. If you’re ready to plan a rally, here are a few tips:
1.Location, location, location: Pick a place where your presence will really be felt. I’ve attended rallies outside of elected officials offices, in popular parks, and outside of major buildings on campus.
2. Make sure you get permission: Some places require a permit. Make sure you speak with your local police precinct in order to make sure that the proper roads are blocked off and traffic is re-routed. If there’s a department in your local government that handles permits for rallies, make sure to contact them as well.
3. What are y’all talking about?: Develop your messaging and your reason for why this rally is taking place. Also, will there be a spokesperson for the rally? This is especially important for Tip #4.
4. Let people know!: Not only is it important to get out the word for potential attendees, it’s equally important to alert the media. Whether it’s the campus newspaper, the local news, or CNN, you’ll want reporters there to take in the action and report on it. Your spokesperson may be asked to speak to reporters to get sound bites and quotes.
5. Have items prepared: If you’re going to have chants, make sure you write them down ahead of time to pass out to attendees. Also, feel free to pass out fact sheets about your cause.
6. Gather up your speakers: Invite people to speak during the rally. Some rallies flow well with a pre-determined list of speakers, and some are good with allowing anyone to speak. Use your discretion. Also, have your spokesperson or other rally organizers control the flow of speakers.
7. Have a call to action: Tell your attendees to take action to make sure that the excitement over the cause doesn’t just stop at the rally. Give attendees actions items to take to further the cause along. If you plan to have any meetings, make that known as well.
8. Let your targets know: Be sure to let the people/organizations (i.e. elected officials, board of directors, and other people on the opposite side of your cause) know how many people attended, signed petitions, etc. Having reporters there will come in handy.
Now….Planned versus Unplanned
I was a college freshman when the war on Iraq was declared by George W. Bush. I remember sitting with my friends in my dorm room watching the announcement, and I remembered feeling scared and confused about the direction of the country. The next day, word spread throughout campus that at 2pm, students will walk out of class and march to the CNN Center in downtown Atlanta. So, at 2pm, me and a few friends followed the crowd, first marching throughout Spelman College’s campus, then walking throughout the Atlanta University Center before reaching the front of the CNN Center. There was a huge crowd of angry students, and we were joined by other people opposed of the war. The Atlanta police stood in front of the entrance to the center, and cars drove by and honked in solidarity (and I remember some guy giving us a thumbs down). It was awesome, and my first experience of being in an impromptu rally.
Given the fact that we were just students and weren’t doing anything but shouting and holding signs, the police just stood their ground and allowed us to protest until we decided to leave. This isn’t always the case. Typically, when a rally is planned, the police are notified and are ask to go out and make sure that it doesn’t turn into a riot. If people are arrested during a planned rally, they are usually released within a few hours. When a rally is unplanned and police are caught off guard, it can be a little tricky. Even if the rally is peaceful, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be let off the hook, especially of your unplanned rally is blocking traffic.
The #1 Way to Go to Jail In One Piece
If you find yourself at an unplanned rally and you see the police coming, sit on the ground. The act of sitting on the ground lowers your heights, thereby making you less of a threat to the police. Whatever you do, don’t argue with the arresting officer. If you feel that you have been roughed up unnecessarily, inform the officials at the precinct. And make sure that you have enough money for bail if you’re willing to risk arrest.
As with most things, rallies alone won’t change things. Be sure to follow up organizing a rally or attending a rally with next steps, such as meeting with policy makers, writing to newspapers or to elected officials, and sharing your experiences through different mediums (including social media.) Finally, always remember WHY you’re doing this. This can bring everything into perspective.
Thanks for participating in the Raise Your Voice with Activism series! I hope you’ve gain a lot of information and realize that your voice is all you need to see change happen.
Now, go raise you voice!
Leave a comment: Have you participated in a rally, planned or unplanned? Have any tips? Leave them in the comments below!