Organize Locally Toolkit
GetEQUAL Toolkit for Organizers v. 1.0 | Printable Version |
We hope you’ll consider reading this entire manual from beginning to end, as each step is integral in organizing efforts. Send any questions, comments or concerns to info at getequal dot org.
This toolkit is intended for organizers in the LGBTQ movement to take action locally. We would like to acknowledge the work of all the people, communities and organizations whose material is also contained in this toolkit. We have tried to give credit wherever we can, but wish to acknowledge all of those individuals and organizations who have contributed to the writing, editing and vetting of this toolkit below:
David McElhatton, Whitney Walton, Sam Ames, Jay Carmona, Heather Cronk, Michelle Wright, Robin McGehee, The Ruckus Society, Midwest Academy, The Change Agency, ACTUP, Training for Change, National Lawyers Guild, and Catalyst Project.
Our logos are available for download here: https://www.box.net/shared/rrmt6yna5yequ4611sui.
Please read the following warning before you use our materials:
READING THIS MANUAL IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR A TRAINING OR STRATEGY SESSION. We encourage you to take advantage of GetEQUAL staff time and training and other training resources we have listed at the end of this manual. This toolkit was created by GetEQUAL and we offer it to you to share far and wide. If you’re interested in having GetEQUAL help you to assemble a campaign, or to lead a training in your community, just email us at info at getequal dot org.
Toolkit Table of Contents
GetEQUAL Theory of Change
GetEQUAL Organizational Statement of Nonviolence
What is a campaign?
Planning your campaign
Finding your allies
Issue identification and clarification
Planning your event
Logistics for your event
Follow up and Reflection
Our mission is to empower the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community and our allies to take bold action to demand full legal and social equality, and to hold accountable those who stand in the way.
We envision a society in which LGBTQ people experience equal protection under the law, and are free from cultural and social transphobia, homophobia, and biphobia without caveat or compromise. To that end, GetEQUAL will inspire and equip the LGBTQ community and allies to a) fight back against discrimination in a way that builds power and personal agency, b) encourage LGBTQ people to take our place to push forward progressive change as equals, and c) to stand arm-in-arm with all who struggle for justice and dignity in their lives.
GetEQUAL Theory of Change
GetEQUAL will work toward this mission and vision by:
- Building and authentically engaging a movement of people poised to take action, both online and offline, to create and sustain a critical mass demanding full equality
- Organizing direct actions that lead to moments of crisis in existing power structures – moments that result in more power for our allies in the movement and the political will for elected officials to resolve that conflict
- Illuminating and grounding our organizing work in the lived experience of discrimination and multiple oppressions
- Creating meaningful avenues for allies in our organizing work
- Willingness to challenge those who stand in the way of achieving full equality, even those counted as friends — regardless of party affiliation or individual/organizational agendas
- Challenging false frameworks that claim legal and social equality for LGBT Americans has already arrived— regardless of party affiliation or individual/organizational agendas
- Challenging false frameworks that claim legal and social equality for LGBT Americans has already arrived
- Engaging in relational organizing – meaning that we will strive to create deep and authentic relationships with supporters as often as possible, and that we will provide clear ways for supporters to take action with meaningful results
This work will involve many different avenues for supporters to take action individually, including both online and offline mechanisms within the context of sustained campaigns. Some of the mechanisms we intend to make use of in this work are:
- Online calls to action via email and social networks
- Direct actions that strategically target those with decision-making power
- Townhall meetings in local communities
- Training sessions on the history, strategy, and tactics of direct action
- Centralized online organizing hub
- Online toolkit to support local organizers’ work in their own communities
- Professional consulting and advice on direct action campaign planning
- Coordinated, distributed actions
Radical inclusivity can be broadly defined as the intentional inclusion of every person in the community. Fitting this term into an organizational framework requires thoughtful effort. Radical inclusivity challenges major, fundamental, deep-seated beliefs — societal and cultural ideologies of how the “gay” community is represented — and those challenges cannot be marginalized. The LGBTQ movement has traditionally been led by a group of affluent, middle-aged Caucasian men, making decisions that affect a very diverse community.
Paying attention to radical inclusivity while structuring your group will help to decrease stereotypical and unhelpful characterizations of certain groups; however, more than that, these foundational practices will help to limit non-unifying behavior, oppression, and exclusion — all which have plagued our movement at a time when unity is paramount, and have often stymied progress.
What are some effective ways to achieve radical inclusivity?
Building authentic collaborations with groups who have traditionally lived at the margins of both our community and society may be a difficult task. The LGBTQ community is made up of different ethnicities, ages, gender identities, physical abilities, spiritual perspectives, and socio-economic levels, each bringing along a unique set of strengths that will benefit our movement. It’s imperative that each individual member has a voice; more important, however, is that those marginalized individuals are included into leadership roles, advisory and board roles, media spokesperson roles, and strategist roles — and that you are consciously and consistently seeking members of traditionally under-represented communities to be an integral part of your team in an authentic way. Simply inviting “everyone” to a meeting is not enough –you must intentionally seek out those from under-represented communities, build relationships with them, work with them on their issues and make your issues relevant to them.
Some starting places for seeking radical inclusivity: check out your community calendar for events and neighborhood gatherings in your community, show up to city council meetings, community centers, progressive events, church services, etc. Find out what people need and how you can help them get it. Are locals interested in health care? Jobs? Find out, and find out how your communities can collaborate together for the mutual benefit of all.
Representation vs. Radical Inclusion
Having a person from an underrepresented community or organization begin to regularly attend/participate in your group is a great starting point towards radical inclusion. This should further motivate your efforts to consistently and consciously do outreach to those communities, because having one face in the crowd to represent an entire community is not radical inclusivity—that is tokenism, although it is also a starting point. We know that being LGBTQ knows no race, gender, culture or ethnicity, so it is important that we take that into account in our efforts to be inclusive and maintain cultural and historical context when organizing. Seek out those who do not generally consider themselves part of the LGBTQ community but are interested in helping to do this work.
You can help build a cohesive team by taking time to understand group dynamics, whether that means taking a moment to have group icebreakers or allowing members to have a few moments to talk about their week. The GetEQUAL staff participated in a retreat at The Highlander Center in Tennessee, building up relationships over the course of a week. When it came time to participate in our first action, there was a positive group dynamic in which we knew that the people who surrounded us had our best interests at heart. We know that not every group can assemble a retreat in advance of their organizing work, but it helps to create trust within your local organizing group if you can assemble intentional bonding moments as you’re starting your organizing work. If you are asking people to sacrifice time, energy, and effort, it’s important to take the time not only to understand who they are, but also what they can bring to benefit the group. One way to start every meeting is to allow for everyone to “check-in” to the meeting, by either offering an answer to a unique question posted to the group by the facilitator, or each participant is asked to give their own “climate check” on how their day is going – before jumping in to the meeting’s agenda. This will help you orient to what is on people’s minds and what they may also be bringing to the space, as well as starting to build your organizing relationship.
Doing a needs assessment
Get a read on your community by reaching out to local leaders and LGBTQ allies, and seeing where your group could be most beneficial to the community. This means attending more than just one of their meetings, having one-on-one conversations, and going beyond email or Facebook invites. Be realistic about what your group can do and work with your community, instead of expecting to go in and solve everything.
Creating a culturally-relevant decision-making process
It is important to set up a list of norms (group rules) so that everyone shares expectations about the group’s decision-making process and new members can quickly acclimatize to group meetings and know that the group will allow individual voices to be heard. Understand that not everyone is looking at a given situation with the same perspective. Members of the group could process a situation in a variety of different ways based on past experiences, family history, community-building philosophy, etc. Allow the group to try a few different methods in the beginning to see what is effective for them, and be open to changing group processes according to need.
Sample group norm resources and materials:
Just as members of your group need to have their voices heard, it’s just as – if not more – important that individual members feel comfortable enough in a group setting to share their concerns about an event, activity, campaign or conversation that has taken place. The best way to have to get folks on the same page ahead of time is by using a case study to illuminate sticking points that might only come up when a concrete situation arises. You might use something like the following:
While sitting in a group meeting, the issue of getting arrested during a direct action came up. In a group of over 20 people, there was a conversation that developed around two varying points of view on arrestable actions. One participant was very familiar with the law and legal system, and made a statement implying that it was no big deal to get arrested. To that person it wasn’t — they had a relationship with the judicial system that allowed them to feel at ease. Another participant spoke up and said, “Maybe to you it’s no big deal to get arrested. I am from a different country, here on a green card status and getting arrested could revoke my citizenship.” Getting arrested for her could jeopardize her status in this country, and that wasn’t an issue that she could so easily dismiss.
Using a case study such as this one as a way to have a theoretical discussion around norms and group expectations is a helpful way to get on the same page before getting into a situation mired in emotion and urgency.
(For more discussion about Nonviolent Direct Action please see GetEQUAL’s Nonviolent Direct Action resources)
Understanding Privilege—for Privileged Activists Especially
Privilege is a right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by [some] persons beyond the common advantage of others; an exemption in many particular cases from certain burdens or liabilities. Privilege is all around us, and certain members of our community (i.e. members who are male, white, cis-gender, etc.) have more privilege than others. An understanding of privilege is crucial to maintaining just and healthy relationships with all facets of the LGBT community. The existence of privilege is a fact, and one that you must be able to navigate the dynamics of to successfully unite people. Pointing out privilege should not be viewed as uncomfortable, the acceptance of the reality that it exist and the reflective, engaged and honest approaches to understanding and recognizing this privilege, or not, can make or break a group.
There are many different kinds of privilege, but for our purposes it is especially important to understand white privilege as well as cis-privilege and how they affect the dynamics of a group space. A good place to start is by evaluating what privilege you have before looking at how privilege affects group dynamics. If you are white a good starting place is reading Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh and then making a list of ways that your privilege affects the way you exist in the world. If you are cisgender (meaning you are comfortable in the gender you were assigned at birth) Queers United has a list of hardships often faced by transgender individuals that cisgender organizers and activists can take for granted. Once you have honestly looked at how privilege affects your life, think about how it affects your organizing and spaces that you organize in, and ways to mitigate and understand those effects.
Privilege is a fact, it’s not your fault that you have it, nor is it anyone else’s. There is a tendency for those who have privilege to feel guilty or attacked and to move into a defensive space when confronted with that privilege. The road to recognizing privilege and becoming an ally is long, and if you have not before, you probably will feel guilty or defensive at some point. This is okay, but it is important to move beyond those feelings, to a place where you can use that privilege productively. The goal of analyzing privilege is not to place value judgments on people, but, rather, to understand that privilege goes hand in hand with duty. A productive use of privilege acknowledges the characteristics that allow some to sidestep obstacles more easily, and utilizes the advantages it affords in the pursuit of justice for those who must confront those obstacles head on.
For more information on productively utilizing privilege in organizing, see a section of GetEQUAL’s resources for nonviolent direct action titled “Privilege and Civil Disobedience” (due out later this month). Dealing with privilege and creating intentionally inclusive organizing spaces is a big job, and we could write a resource devoted to just that, so we encourage you to take your education on privilege into your own hands, seek out training, websites and resources from the organizations we have listed below.
GetEQUAL Organizational Statement of Nonviolence
Participants in GetEQUAL-branded campaigns and actions pledge to follow the principles below. We recommend that any group participating in direct action organizing adhere to and have all participants sign the following statement:
- We will use no violence, physical or verbal, towards any person
- We will not use classist, racist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic, biphobic or otherwise hateful language
- We will carry no weapons or other dangerous articles on our persons
- We will not bring or use any alcohol or illegal drugs
- We will not destroy property
- No matter the circumstances of provocation, we will not threaten others with physical harm nor respond with physical violence to acts directed against us
- We will adhere as closely as we are able to the letter and spirit of truth in our spoken and written statements
- We will take responsibility for and accept the reasonable legal and other consequences of our actions, and will not seek to evade these consequences beyond legitimate recourse
- We will not run from or otherwise attempt to evade law enforcement officials
- We will minimize or eliminate any pollution or other harm to the environment that our activities could cause
What is a campaign?
“A campaign is a focused mobilization of energy with a clear objective, often in the form of a demand.” – George Lakey, Strategizing for a Living Revolution
As George Lakey says above, a campaign is a mobilization of energy toward a clear goal or demand. Campaigns keep our organizing efforts proactive rather than reactive; they put us on the offensive. Campaigns can be anywhere from a few months long to a few years. They focus on a goal that is within reach, but one that still gets us a step closer to full equality. Planning and sticking with a campaign will keep your energy focused and the public engaged.
(Stay tuned for an example of past campaign planning from GetEQUAL to aid you in your planning)
Planning your campaign in 3 steps:
Step 1: Create an analysis of power
In order to create a campaign, you need a working explanation for why problems exist and who is standing in the way of equality. Many groups and organizations break down power into pillars of support, and others use exercises to “map” power. However you decide to analyze the power structures in your community (see The Change Agency’s resource below), that process often helps to illuminate potential targets for your campaign – and sometimes those targets are uncommon or rarely focused on by others. By analyzing power and how it is exercised, you will pinpoint weaknesses, or places for your campaign to focus that will be vulnerable to actions, creative messaging, and public pressure. While mapping power, it is also helpful to create the vision of what a world free from homophobia, transphobia, biphobia and systemic discrimination could look like.
Resource: Power-mapping exercise from The Change Agency
Step 2: Planning: Identify and clarify your issue or problem, choose your target audience, and find your allies
Identify and clarify your issue or problem
While we all want full federal equality as an end result, we have a long way to go before we can get there. In our local communities we face many different challenges due to our lack of federal equality, and sometimes all of those challenges feel overwhelming. It is difficult to communicate the experience of all of the challenges we face together to the general public, which is why we often focus on just one issue, or a smaller set of issues, in order to run an effective and targeted campaign.
Here are some important questions to think about when planning your campaign:
What are you going to fight right now? What gets us another step towards full equality and opens up a conversation that will help illustrate the ultimate need for federal protections for LGBT people? What is most urgent? What is most winnable? What opportunities or openings do you see in your community? What local or state protections need to be pursued while full federal equality is still not yet here?
We have seen that it is possible to win smaller victories that make a big difference for local communities, while also having a national impact that brings the need for full federal equality into public discourse. Even better, when many local communities act together, the impact of the coordinated action are felt nationwide — this is what GetEQUAL is all about. How can you highlight a specific injustice in your community that might also be applicable and could gather strength in other communities across the country?
Once you’ve chosen your issue, demand, or problem (it’s probably all three!), make sure everything about your campaign (down to your t-shirts) speaks that message loudly and proudly so that what you’re articulating is clear and precise. Remember, the general public often has a short and limited attention span — make sure you can keep up! The word here is “clarify”– clarify your issue/demand constantly, while reinforcing it with the experiences and stories of those most affected. Don’t be afraid of slogans!
Choose your target audience
Every campaign has a few different target audiences (as opposed to an event or action, which ideally has one target audience). Your target audience is who you want to do something, and you must clearly tell them what you want them to do. Is your target audience the general public? Government officials? A corporation? Sometimes, with the best of intentions, we try to send messages to the general public that should be going to a particular decision-maker. When you communicate, use specifics to build your narrative: who did what, when, why are you against what they did and what different outcome are you wanting? You may have several target audiences in your campaign, and they must all be held accountable — often through a series of actions. Again and again, you will see the most successful campaigns use a strategy with clearly considered targets.
On listening: Whenever you communicate, always make sure you listen, too. Usually feedback (especially from the public) comes in handy for your next event or communication, so that you’re constantly learning from and reflecting on your work. If you build clear mechanisms for and a culture of listening to constructive input from the public (i.e. other communities besides yours) into your campaigns, you will not only gain allies faster, your campaigns will get stronger and stronger.
Finding your allies
A few words about representation of constituents and allies in the planning process
First, read GetEQUAL’s statement on the concept of radical inclusivity (see previous section). As you can see, we believe that inviting allies (especially communities of color and communities of faith) and representation of all sectors of the LGBT community (especially people who identify as bi and/or trans) at the planning table are central to GetEQUAL’s theory of change. If we incorporate input from all those who are affected by the problem we’re trying to solve, into our planning process, that strategy becomes stronger and stronger. When we plan our solutions with everyone at the table, the solutions are more compelling, more targeted, and more just — and thus our organizing will be better, as well.
After you have brainstormed a list of your constituents and allies on the strategy chart, start looking for ways to seek input on planning and message from the communities, organizations, and people on your list that are not represented at your table. If you plan on collaborating with these people or organizations in the future, it will be that much easier if you have taken them into account in your planning process. Trying to organize with those who might not be in our immediate social circle is hard work, and is a task that is never perfect or finished, but it is one of the most important tasks we face as organizers. Building long-term relationships is crucial to GetEQUAL’s theory of change–sometimes people or organizations will not come aboard the first or second time they are asked, but consistently engaging with them, and helping and activating on their issues will increase your chances for collaboration—this is central to good organizing practices. Be consistent, keep lines of communication open, share ideas and listen respectfully to constructive criticism.
Always be willing to learn from your constituents and allies. Don’t assume that you will not make mistakes– instead, plan and be willing to listen once you have made them, that is what matters. We are a better movement, the more we are willing to listen to, learn from and modify around the missteps we have made.
NOTE: If you want to authentically reach out to people who have traditionally been marginalized (which you should if you really want to create change) you must invite them to be a part of the decision-making process all the way through your action—inviting people in at the end of your planning or event for a, “photo-op” is oppressive and tokenizing. GetEQUAL was created to organize differently—in a way that inludes the true diversity of our community authentically throughout the organizing process.
Step 3: Lay out your campaign
After you’ve chosen your issue/demand, its time to develop your strategy. We’ve adapted a chart from the Midwest Academy to help you do this.
(See Resource A at the end of this toolkit)
Remember to be specific and list out your possibilities. Save your notes from this exercise, as it will help you keep your campaign on track. Check in periodically to make sure you are meeting your goals. If you aren’t meeting the goals you want to meet, then re-orient or restructure.
Congratulations! Now that you’ve planned out your campaign, it’s time to plan your first event!
Planning a political or activist event is just like planning a mini-campaign. We will take you through the six steps to planning a successful event (this is our manual for events not featuring civil disobedience — for civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action planning, please see our other materials on that subject—which will be available later in August).
The Six Steps to planning an effective event:
- Issue identification and clarification
- Planning your event
- Building context
- Logistics for your event
- Follow-up and reflection
Issue identification and clarification
Knowing the difference between a campaign and an event is crucial to being strategic. Remember: strategy = power.
- An event does not necessarily always have to occur within a campaign but, when they do, they are nearly guaranteed to be more effective.
- A campaign is made up of a string of well-placed events that capitalize on each other, both telling a story and building power as they strive towards the goals of the campaign.
Differences between a campaign and a single event
- Can have more than one target
- Can have more than one target audience
- Have specific goals
- Ideally have only 1 target
- Ideally have only 1 target audience
- Have specific goals
Ideally, your event will have a lead-up to it just like a campaign does, where context is built and your issue is clarified. Remember, when you choose your issue or purpose for your event, make sure your purpose achieves the campaign goals that you set during the campaign planning section. This is part of what makes your event strategic. It is imperative that you understand why you are doing an event and whether you will be able to exploit the opportunities that you will create by organizing it. You may understand that many issues are connected, but the public may not understand a general message. You must decide what aspect of your campaign to focus on most specifically.
Planning your event
Event planning can be difficult — often people walk into a room with different ideas of the event they want to do. Sometimes you feel like you are choosing from too many possibilities, or that you just don’t have enough creative ideas to choose from. The event planning process can be one of the most frustrating things organizers ever do.
But we have good news! There is actually a very simple formula that will, if you follow it, help make your event planning sessions more orderly, reduce frustration, and create strategic and creative events. This formula takes a bit of discipline to follow, but we guarantee you that the results will be worth it.
Here it is:
Goal -> Target -> Message -> Tactic
Believe it or not, most bad planning sessions are a result of planning the above steps out of order. Many groups start with their tactic, when tactics should come at the end. Here it is in steps:
- Outline the goal of your event. It’s okay to have secondary goals, like building capacity or educating the public, but generally the best events touch your campaign’s central issues. What do you want and how will you get it?
- Choose your target. Your target is generally a person or a company, and the more specific the target is, the better. Sometimes educational events will target the public, but challenge yourself be more specific than that. Are you targeting the LGBT public? Allies? Decision-makers? A company? Voters? Your target must be able to give you what you want.
- Clarify your message and demand. What does your target need to do, why do they need to do it, and by when?
- Finally, after everything else has been chosen, choose your tactic, or type of event. Your tactic could be a rally, a panel, a group meeting, or a flashmob, etc—anything you come up with. Your tactic must be able to meet your goal, reach your target, and communicate your message. Your tactic should also make sense to your target and target audience. NEVER plan a tactic before you have set your goals and target. 
When planning your event, you must consistently ask yourself “Will my event be understood by my target audience? The general public? The media?” Remember, your event never happens in a void, it happens at a specific point in time and in a particular cultural context. Being sensitive to culture and history will increase your chances of being understood. Have you ever heard back from someone that they “just don’t understand” your action? Even someone who should agree with you? Chances are, if you’ve heard this, you didn’t build enough context beforehand.
Conversely, sometimes history and culture will work to make a specific event timely. As a general note — avoid jargon. Speak in language that anyone can understand and relate to, and demystify bill names and acronyms whenever possible. If people don’t understand what you’re saying, how can they engage with you? Never underestimate the power of standing on a street corner with a flier—use the flier as a conversation starter to explain the issues to passerby. Be willing to talk to regular people about what and why you are working for equality and how it affects them.
Building context can take place any number of ways — by releasing a report, advertising your event, posting to social networks, doing a radio interview, making a YouTube video, etc. The better you build context, the better your event can be. EVENTS ARE NOT JUST ABOUT ADVERTISING A TIME AND LOCATION—YOU MUST BUILD CONTEXT.
Logistics for your event
Some groups choose committees to take charge of each area. Logistics are a big piece of the planning work, and it helps to break it up into smaller chunks so everyone can take a piece of the work. No part is more important than the others and each part of logistics needs to be in communication with the others.
There are generally a few main areas for you to focus on for your event planning. Here’s what we came up with:
Event Site and Permits
This is generally the first thing you have to worry about due to permitting deadlines (usually about 2 weeks prior to your requested event date, though some places are willing to make exceptions).
Some low to no-cost event/meeting locations which may be available to you are your local affirming church, LGBT or non-LGBT Community Center, library, park (generally getting a permit for a city or state park is handled by your city Parks and Rec. Department and often getting a permit for an event has costs associated with it).
You may need to fundraise to pay for permitting (for larger marches where you need to shut down streets or intersections there are costs associated with that, too–you will likely need to contact the police department in your city or town to work out a route and closure schedule). Also, please realize that you may also need a permit for sound, depending on city/county guidelines.
Sound and Equipment
Before contacting your local audio-visual company for equipment rental, first do some research to see if there are local agencies who have them to loan out—sometimes local churches, bands, political groups, nonprofits or community centers will loan equipment for free—and it’s a great way to make connections with other groups. Here are some tips for what kind of sound system you will need:
- For marches and events in the daytime from 0-200 people (if you only need it for chants or short speeches) —we recommend a megaphone. They are easy to buy, easy to use and generally work for events where there is not a lot of speaking involved.
- For evening sit-down events where lecturing or speaking will be the centerpiece we recommend a simple mic and amplifier setup. These are available at most AV rental companies, and many even have smaller portable amps and mics available Keep in mind that any time you use an amp you will need electricity to power it, unless the amp has a separate battery pack (Note: it is possible to address crowds or groups of up to 50 at an indoor event without amplification, especially if the speakers project well, but we encourage placing mics on the speakers in groups larger than 30 to be inclusive of those who may be hard of hearing. Many indoor event spaces have existing sound systems and support people: so be sure to ask your event space about sound and cost.
At GetEQUAL we encourage you to use your creativity and unconventionality to make your event the participatory and artistic creation that truly represents our community. Feel free to break up your speeches with music, chants and crowd participation. There are no rules set that a rally must only be speeches, in fact your audience may stay longer and is more likely to stay engaged if that is not the case.
- For outdoor events where you are expecting more than 200 people, or where you are dependent on speakers being well-heard, we recommend a full sound setup with an amplifier and mic (and a power source). You can always add speakers for added amplification of your sound (recommended for any gathering over 500).
- If you plan to have a larger rally, you may want to think about elevating your speakers, if you are planning on renting a stage (again available via sound and event rental companies) make sure you list that you are doing so on your permit, many places have different rules for setting up structures.
- Some outdoor permits or events require portable toilets onsite. These are generally reasonably-priced for smaller events and can be delivered to your site by truck. Handicapped-accessible and gender-neutral toilets are always recommended. Use your judgement here on when one is needed or not, you can also check with businesses near your event to see if they will allow people to use their restrooms in exchange for a plug for their business—consider asking them to make gender-segregated bathrooms neutral for the day in the interests of inclusivity.
Tips: ALWAYS check the weather if you are having an outdoor event. Sound equipment and water do NOT mix . Also, if you are having an outdoor event at a location you MUST think about how you will transport and set up your sound—it’s helpful to have one person assigned to this task with some helpers. Some sound companies will deliver and have someone on hand to deal with problems, but you want to be ready for technical difficulties.
Tip for college students: Your campus activities office (or student groups) may have equipment you can use or will know where to get it.
Tip for non-students: If you have done coalition-building work well, you might have pulled local college students into your organizing group. Ask them if they would be willing to co-sponsor the event – which will likely open up space options and equipment options to you.
Be sure to have your simple message or demand feature prominently in your event, via banners, handouts, stickers, etc. If you are having an outdoor event in need of signs and big visuals, think about getting together and creating puppets, banners and signs. Please see The Ruckus Society’s handbook for creative visuals. If you need signs or banner, think about having a party to make them the night before, simply provide some posterboard, markers, poster paint and supplies and a few sample slogans for signs and banners.
See The Ruckus Society Manual for Creative Direct Action Visuals.
Roles for the event
Remember that no role listed below is more important than any other. Each role functions as part of a team and all must function together to make a solid event.
Site coordinator/permitee: Coordinates the setup and cleanup teams, deals with any problems onsite regarding permit issues, etc.
Speakers/presenters/panelists: These are the faces that your event attendees will see. Make sure they are the faces that truly represent the message and vision of your group: please re-read and apply our resources on radical inclusivity when thinking about your speakers and presenters. Speakers and presenters should know why they are at the event and what the goals and vision of the event are.
MC/Announcer: Again, think about radical inclusivity. This is the person or persons who announce speakers, lead chants and deal with pauses, speaker changes and unexpected happenings at your event. Generally solid MCs are talented, charismatic and able to improvise.
Police Liaison (optional for some events and meetings): At larger events with permitting (and ones which will involve counterprotesting or counterprotestors) it may be necessary to interface with law enforcement. It is always helpful to have one person designated to carry messages between the police and the site coordinator/permitee and the police. This person is not responsible for decision-making, only an open line of communication between the police and the protestors.
Marshal/deescalation coordinator: Will direct and lead (and sometimes train) a crew of people prepared to deescalate situations that may arise between protesters and counterprotesters, passersby, etc, and also to serve as a buffer in the case of a counterprotest. Training for these people often involves role-playing potential scenarios and brainstorming ways of deescalating them.
Marshals/deescalation team: Team of 2-20 people (depending on the size of your event) who will act as listed above as directed by the team coordinator. Should be identified by vests, tshirts or armbands. The deescalation team should NEVER interfere with the police, and should not consider themselves to be law enforcement of any kind.
Legal Observer Coordinator: Directs, organizes and sometimes trains legal observation team.
Legal Observers: People trained to observe and record all happenings (especially those involving police, counterprotesers and any confrontations) as neutral observers and to serve as potential witnesses in the case of some sort of brutality or false claim against you or your event. Law students make great legal observers and local chapters of the National Lawyers Guild may be able to provide them of training for them. Legal observers should be identified by NLG Green hats or some other green attire and carry cameras and notepads for documenting events. See the National Lawyers Guild Materials for more information.
Media contact: This can be the person listed on your press materials, with a contact number for the press to reach them at during and after the event. The media contact does not have to speak to the media, only be a point of contact to connect presspeople with those they should be interviewing at your event (hopefully people you have prepped with your talking points beforehand)
Social Media/Documentation: Tweeters, Facebook posters, also video, sound and picture people. You should have at least one person tweeting your event to a pre-decided hashtag and accounts. More accounts tweeting to the hashtag are better, and photos are much better! Make sure someone takes pictures and/or video that can be posted online after your event.
Cleanup team: A group of people who can stay after the event to break it down, pick up trash, return equipment and make sure your event has left a low impact on the environment of outside spaces. Should be prepared to spend at least an hour after the event.
Setup team: Should arrive at least and hour before the event to set up equipment, distribute fliers and do whatever else needs to be done.
Sound/multi-media tech: Responsible for directing the sound equipment setup and breakdown as well as troubleshooting sound quality and volume as well as trouble during the event.
Vibes Watcher (optional for some events and meetings): Vibes watchers are a wonderful and under-utilized role at events and meetings. Having a designated person in the room who is paying attention the “vibes” or energy of a space is important, especially for difficult or tense conversations or meetings. Knowing when the vibes of a room become oppressive or when people are being hurt by what others are saying and being able to own and deal with that is crucial to having difficult conversations. Consider having a vibes watcher at your debrief, speak to them beforehand and make sure they are able to be called on immediately during a meeting.
Facilitator(s) (depending on your event format you may need facilitators or not): Having a good facilitator often makes or breaks a good meeting. A facilitator is often mistaken for a manager or authority figure but they are neither—a facilitator is responsible for making sure the group adheres to its own rules. Good facilitation takes into account and tries to lessen the impacts of power dynamics in a space. They make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak, that no one is dominating a conversation and that the group meets it’s own expectations and tasklists. Ideally, the same person should not facilitate every meeting, the responsibilities should be rotated among different people, for events, think about using a few different facilitators to break up monotony. Make sure the facilitator can summarize group norms for those who might be new before our meeting or event, and discuss a plan in case the conversation becomes dominated by one, or a few, voices. Doing a go-around, partner dialogue, or small group discussions are a great way to get every voice heard and cut down on dominating voices.
Remember proper context for events — it must be clear what you are doing, who you will feature and why you are doing it.
If you have speakers or guests at your event, explain who they are and why they are there (or have them do it). Asking a member of another organization to speak at an event is a great way to start building relationships—make sure you go out of your way to make sure your speakers are approached and treated with respect and care and that you reflect the true diversity of your community in the make-up of the line-up of speakers and performers.
Whether we like it or not, as activists sometimes we are much too formulaic. Not every meeting or event we have has to look like a college lecture. Why not break people into groups, ask them each a different question and have them report back to the whole group? How about doing a skillshare where your constituents share their skills and get to know each other? There are lots of formats for events out there, make sure you are utilizing your (and your communities’) creativity and desire to be actively involved in the event. Again, remember, many people just won’t sit through speeches.
Make sure you prepare your speakers or presenters — tell them about your event and about your goals, so that they are both integrated into the event and can remain on message.
Tip: Having an open planning process for your event is a great way to get people engaged and get buy-in for future projects. You’ll likely meet new people while planning and make great connections for the future!
By this point, you should have a good sense of how your event will go. We like to get together with our volunteers and do something called “running a time line.” That is where you talk through your entire event from start to finish chronologically, step by step. This will clarify what everyone’s roles and responsibilities are and will flesh out anything you have not yet covered.
Some tips for successful event execution:
- Have a backup plan if a speaker does not show up—have a backup speaker or activity planned just in case
- Have a more intimate and involved plan/schedule for if only a few people show up to your event—if only a few people show up, why not make a circle with the chairs and introduce yourselves to each other? Make the best of every situation!
- Think about access for differently-abled participants. Is your event upstairs in a building without elevators? Do you have access to a sign-language interpreter for your event? Do you have chairs for those who have trouble standing for long periods of time?
- What will your event environment portray – banners, signs, etc?
- Will you provide resource materials?
Please see Resource B: Sample Event Timeline at the end of this tookit for a step by step checklist of to-do’s on your event day
Follow-up and reflection
We at GetEQUAL are big believers that successful events include reflection and follow-up. After all, without reflection and follow up, how do we learn to do a better event next time? Get together with everyone involved in your event, figure out what worked, what didn’t, and ideas for next time. Follow up with people you met and answer questions — including those who participated and those who supported the planning of the event as allies. We recommend setting up a debrief session during your planning (not afterwards) as part of your to-do list. Make sure everyone involved knows they need to show up to the debrief after your event up front.
How to run a Debrief Session
To start, lay down some ground rules such as confidentiality, making sure people are not arguing or responding to each other directly and assign someone to take notes. List out all your goals for the action then ask three questions: What went well? What didn’t go so well? What are your ideas for the future? Make sure you ask these questions for each goal and in general, then next to each thing that didn’t go well, brainstorm a way it could be fixed for next time. Keep your notes from these sessions so you can use them in your next organizing effort.
Organizing successfully is about a lot more than putting on a single successful event. Being strategic means that all your events build on one another toward a common cause or set of causes. This is strategy. Strategy also means digging in for the long haul, building relationships, making connections and learning to build—not burn—bridges. Organizing is serious work, and in order to make our groups as just and inclusive as possible we must strive to go the extra mile—we must create the world in which we want to live and organizing in, without compromise of a clear value for all. If we work together and utilize the creativity and diversity (diversity of race, gender, sexuality and tactic) of our community we can all GetEQUAL. We hope you will begin your organizing, network and join us in our efforts to GetEQUAL.
Whiteness, White Privilege, Cis-Privilege and Anti-Racism:
Legal Resources and Training:
Strategy and Organizing:
Media, Messaging and Strategy:
Additional Resources and Examples
Resource A: GetEQUAL Strategy Chart | Printable Version
|Goals||Tactics||Resources You Bring||Constituents/Allies/Opponents||Targets|
|1. List the long-term objectives of your campaign
2. State the immediate goals for your campaign. What constitutes victory?
How will your campaign:
3. What short-term or partial victories can you win as steps toward your long-term goal?
|1. List the resources that your group brings to the campaign. Include money, hours, facilities, reputation, connections, etc.
2. List the specific ways in which you want your group to be strengthened by this campaign. Fill in numbers for each:
3. List internal problems that have to be considered if the campaign is to succeed and your group is to continue.
|1. Who cares about this issue enough to join in or help the organization?
2. Who are your opponents?
|1. Primary targets
A target is best if a person, not an institution or elected body.
2. Secondary targets
*Be very specific here.*
|For each target, list the tactics that each constituent group can best use to make its power felt.
Tactics might include:
Notes on this resource: Be sure to take notes when you fill out this chart and check back in with it every month or every few months, if you’re not meeting your goals, reorient or restructure!
*Gratefully adopted from Midwest Academy’s Strategy Chart, which can be located at http://www.midwestacademy.com
Resource B: Sample Event Timeline | Printable Version
(This event timetable is in a countdown format, the same one used by NASA to launch rockets. T represents your event, and the number of hours before your event is listed afterwards, for example T-24 would be 24 hours before your event)
T-48-24 (business hours)
- Contact Site and/or permitting office to check on sound, space, cleanup needs, etc (this should be done already, you are just double checking)
- Contact rental company for sound, porta-potties, stage, etc. Double check everything is paid for and is arriving on time AND has transportation to be returned
- Train or line up legal observers, a deescalation crew and your documentation crew, make sure they know when and where to be for the event
- Make sure you have at least a few people (up to 20 for larger events over 500 people) lined up to set up and clean up for your event. Make sure you ask them to arrive at least an hour ahead of time and stay an hour after the event to ensure they have enough time to do their work and account for any problems that may arise, have someone there to direct them once they show up (the permitee or logistics coordinator can do this, or delegate to another volunteer)
- Make sure you have contacted, trained and interfaced with your police liaison, sound technician, MC and other roles for the event. Everyone should be on the same page about where and when to meet, what they are responsible to do and potential problems that may arise
- Make sure you have all visuals, t-shirts, signs, banners, and handouts for your event ready to go with transportation TO the event
- Make a list of all that has to be set up and taken down at the event and communicate that to both your setup and cleanup crew coordinators/teams
- Check the weather—if your event is outdoors, watch for extreme weather like rain and extreme heat. Make contingency plans if there is a chance of either, and know to expect fewer people because of the weather
- Show up early to tour of the site; find out where the bathrooms are (are they gender-neutral and can they be made gender-neutral for your event?). Does the site have a person you can contact in case of emergency or questions? Know how to reach that person
- Make sure everything that needs to arrive and be set up is either on its way or already there, prepare to assist set-up team
- Your setup team should arrive at least one hour before your event (two for events where lots of setup is required). Your setup coordinator, site coordinator and others should assist in making sure the setup team starts on all the tasks that must get done. Put more setup members on tasks that are larger or more important
- You should also ask your speakers to arrive one hour before the start of the event. Speakers can be late and often need directions or other assistance for getting to your space. They may need to be prepped when they arrive. Make sure this happens and that you leave time for a speaker to be late
- Make sure your sound system is set up and that you know how to work it (turn it up or down as needed) for your event
- Make sure your stage area chairs and tables (if applicable) are set up as well. If you are doing an event which other organizations are invited to have a table at you will need to make sure that the tables are ready for the organizations to arrive—at least 1 hour ahead of time
- Make sure your speakers know the order in which they will speak (with any changes to the lineup for absent or alternate speakers)
- Turn over the event to the MC, and be vigilant for problems that could require quick solutions
After your event:
- Debrief, debrief, debrief. We can’t say this enough. You must get together to learn from what went well and what didn’t go well. Make sure you will use your event strategically in your campaign, and build upon the context you have created with it afterwards
- Thank your speakers, your volunteers, people who donated time and money to your event
- Maintain the relationships you built and connections you made with your event, in the future, be ready to return the favor to send speakers or participate in other groups’ work