Now it’s time for the fun part—make some noise! Events and demonstrations have dual purposes: recruit public support and apply political pressure.
Make events fun, and make sure you have a specific purpose and a critical mass of people. Events are great ways to get media attention. Imagine what you want the picture on the cover of a newspaper to look like—and then shape your event around it. Make it as easy as possible for the media to cover your event. Make sure that you have spokespeople armed and ready to deliver your SOCOs. Remember to always stay on message. The microphone is always on (see section on media).
No matter what type of event you plan to organize, it is critical that you do your due diligence. Find out what types of permits you need from the city or state to demonstrate on public or private property. Sometimes it can take over a month to obtain a permit, so plan early, if possible. Contact the local or state police department and find out if there are any additional regulations you need to adhere to. If you’re going to be using sound equipment or a megaphone, check with the police about whether there are any noise codes you need to follow.
There are a number of different types of events that you can hold:
If you have a critical mass of people, rallies are a great way to educate and engage the public while applying pressure to the powers-that-be. Make sure to have lots of posters, signs, t-shirts (the same color shows unity), stickers and press packets. Rallies typically have a more positive tone, as opposed to protests. You’re rallying around a solution. Even your promotion of the event can serve as an opportunity to educate the public.
Have just a few speakers, and give lots of time for chanting. People like to participate. Tell positive stories. Your rally should promote economic opportunity and growth and the positive outcomes of your policy objectives. It should not protest negative action by your elected officials. If you can couple this with an industry-specific event or demonstration—e.g., a food truck round-up, free hairbraiding services or a home decorating expo—all the better. It will add to the fun factor, increase attendance, make the rally enjoyable, increase media coverage and demonstrate the positive impacts you have on your community. If you have elected officials who support you, invite them to speak, and advertise their presence. This may be a good opportunity to draw out their support, as they will have a public forum to champion your issue. If you are rallying at the state capitol, couple your rally with a lobbying day.
Protests, on the other hand, typically focus on objecting to a bad policy. The goal of a protest is to make people upset and motivate them to be involved. You’ll also want signs here. Speakers should tell the negative impact of the policy you’re fighting. Your message should always be solution-oriented, but the purpose of a protest is to call out the powers-that-be for squelching economic opportunity and growth and to demand change. Hold your protest in a high-profile location and preferably around another relevant event, such as a vote.
Vigils are somber events and often involve a march around city hall, the state capitol or some other symbolic structure. These are held in the evening, and all participants are provided a candle.
Town halls and community meetings
Similar to your initial planning meeting, holding town halls and community meetings in different parts of your city or state is a great way to reach people where they are located who otherwise would not attend your events. Sometimes it’s cost- or time-prohibitive for someone to attend an event that isn’t nearby—so you need to take your message to them. Advertise your event in advance through the tools detailed above. Keep the events brief and explain why your fight is relevant to them. Close with an immediate call-to-action.
A symposium can be a great way to educate the public and policy makers about your cause. These feature experts in your field and entrepreneurs who address the different aspects of the proposal you’re supporting or opposing, and result in a call-to-action for participants. Ideally, there is a fun incentive for people to attend. By their nature they’re longer than other events—but only make them as long as they need to be. Longer does not mean better. Nobody has ever complained about leaving an event early—unless it’s a carnival or food-truck rally and the fun and food have run out. Make sure the room is bright, the speakers are lively and the agenda moves along at a good pace. Remember that few people are going to be as interested in your issue as you are, so make sure that your speakers are engaging and motivating. Have a call-to-action component at the end.
Put together a strong agenda that covers all aspects of the issue you’re discussing and keep the event moving along at a healthy pace. Limit your speakers to those you have chosen ahead of time and coordinate messages so there is no repetition.
If there is a film that celebrates your industry, film screenings can be entertaining ways to gather together a captive audience to learn more about what’s at stake. After the film, lead a discussion, and conclude with a call-to-action.
As mentioned above, lobbying days can be powerful tools to reach your policy makers at the city or state levels. These can be coupled with a protest or rally beforehand. It’s important to get everyone in one place beforehand and instruct them on how to lobby their elected officials. Provide handouts with SOCOs and maps of where the different policy makers’ offices are located, and help attendees figure out who represents them.
At any event, pass out literature, and collect attendees’
Now that you’ve planned a great event, you will need people to attend. Start promoting your event at least two weeks in advance through flyers and postcards. Post information anywhere you are legally allowed to do so. Enlist your core team and supporters to recruit people to come. Think creatively about an incentive you can provide attendees to come—a voucher for a discount, a free service or a raffle (if legal in your state). It can be very difficult to get people to RSVP for these types of events, but, if possible, request that people do so that you have an estimated headcount. If it looks like nobody is going to attend your protest, you will probably want to cancel it and not notify the media. Otherwise, issue a media advisory several days before your event, and call local reporters and radio stations to ask them to promote it. They may be able to provide you with free advertising. If absolutely necessary, you might consider paying for advertising—but that can be an unnecessary expense.
When you’re at the event, assign someone to be on point with the media. Direct camera crews to your spokespeople and help frame their television shot or photograph. If you have a small number of protesters, space them out and fill in empty spots with posters to fill the width of a photograph. Reporters want interesting stories. A picture of a dearth of protesters is boring and unappealing to the reader. But it makes a good visual if you can help set up the shot so a dozen protesters take up the full width of the photograph. Similarly, set up the television interview so the person interviewed is surrounded in the background by the other eleven protesters.
You can fill your city with signs that speak out about your struggle. Design a simple sign to put in the window of local businesses and distribute. Such signs should have no more than five to ten words. Lawn signs can also be very effective and low-cost, if they make sense for your fight. You can also design these signs and make them available at-cost on cafepress.com.
Paid advertising can be expensive but effective. Online advertising can be used to drive traffic to your website. You should identify popular web outlets—mainstream or alternative—and talk to their advertising account manager about what specifically your organization does. You may be able to get a discount. Your ad should be simple and vibrant, and convey what you’re about while leaving the viewer wanting to learn more.
You can also advertise in newspapers, but only if they’re read in your target area. If your fight is at the state level and you know that legislators read a specific capitol-area newspaper, that would be a great target. Alternatively, if you’re targeting a specific legislator, he or she likely reads her hometown newspaper. That is where you would want to advertise.
Billboards, although expensive, are a very bold way to draw attention to your cause. Keep in mind that they typically stay up for a minimum of one month, so you should not consider this option if you expect your issue to be resolved in a shorter period of time. Be sure to choose locations that are heavily trafficked and directly face oncoming traffic.
Buses are similar to billboards: They are expensive but make a very bold statement if you live in a larger city with a high quantity of mass transportation. Your message has to be even shorter than a billboard because buses pass you faster than you pass a stationary billboard.