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Holding a demonstration is a visual way to call attention to a problem or issue. To plan a demonstration, you need to answer these questions:

    What do you want your opponent or target to do? What are your demands?

    What do you want the public to do or learn?

    Will it be silent, noisy, raucous, or peaceful?

    Will you need a permit from the police or city hall? Do you need to reserve a space on campus? Will you accept these regulations or choose to violate them?

    What types of visual aids (posters, banners, costumes) will you need?

    What type of leaflets will you hand out?

Chances are better for media coverage if you stage the event during work hours on weekdays. During the weekend you may get a better turnout of demonstrators, but media coverage is less predictable. Although a demonstration is usually worthwhile, you’ll be less in the public eye without media coverage. Don’t overlook holidays. They’re light news days and a nice public interest story might be appealing to the media. Pick your time carefully so you don’t conflict with a major sporting or community event, unless you’re responding to an emergency situation which gives you little choice.

Allow a few weeks to secure any permits you may need, but don’t hesitate to organize a demonstration on a day’s notice if you have to. You don’t need a permit to hold a picket line on a public sidewalk, as long as you don’t block the traffic on the sidewalk or go into the street. On campus you don’t need a permit, but there are only two places where you can use amplified sound, the West Mall steps (AKA the “Rally Space”), and the area in front of Gregory Gym. You have to reserve these spaces in order to use them. To reserve these spaces, talk to Cheryl Wood in the SSB. Permits for street marches are usually needed weeks in advance.

Make some posters to display, or order some from national organizations. Prepare a short handout that explains the issue. Make sure your leaflet lists your demands and what the public can do to help.

Before you hold your demonstration, you can get your group together for a sign making party. It’s a good way to bring new people into the campaign, and make them feel that they are involved. Use pictures and slogans that illustrate the issue simply and dramatically. Stay away from offensive language that will turn people off. Use stencils (but fill in those gaps) so the lettering looks neat, and make sure the signs will be readable from a distance.

Decide ahead of time who will be the media spokesperson for the group, but make sure everyone has a short statement prepared for the media or a bystander’s question. If you are going to wear a mask or any type of costume, do not be the spokesperson; the audience will want to hear from an authority figure. Keep in mind that you may be photographed by the media. Make sure your group dresses neatly and conservatively (unless you decide to wear costumes). Any look far outside of the mainstream may only draw attention away from the important issue at hand. Your audience will trust you more if you look like them.

Prepare short and easy-to-understand chants ahead of time. Chants make more people take notice and want to know what is going on, in addition to making good audio background for the media. Chants should be well thought out, as this may be the only thing people hear from you ­- make them meaningful. It’s a good idea to assign someone to keep the chants going throughout the demo.

Remind people not to smile or laugh if they’re protesting a serious abuse and ask them ahead of time not to chat, smoke or look bored during a demonstration. Make sure everyone knows never to argue or make derogatory comments to bystanders, even if they are rude or hostile to you. You don’t want potential allies or the media to see you looking less than controlled.

Notify the media (see Section X).

Keep your group together, and remind them discretely to hold their signs so that they can be clearly seen and photographed.

Take photographs so future members can see what you did. Post them on your website.

Afterward, evaluate the event. Note what worked well and what could have been done better.

Dressing Nicely For Demos Doesn't Make You A Sellout

Some people get very angry at our suggestion that people dress conservatively for demos. "I won't change who I am," they say, "If people don't accept how I look, screw 'em."

Yes, we live in a beauty culture with rigidly defined social norms. Yes, that must be changed. No, you shouldn't shop at the Gap and try to fit in with that. However, we want people to pay attention to our message, not our clothes. When people see someone punked or hippied out, they don't think, "Wow, that student is so independent." They think, "Wow, what a wacko, I would never agree with what they're saying."

Covering tattoos, removing piercings, and dressing mainstream for a few hours does not make you a sellout. It just means that you are willing to put the campaign before fashion.

Using Civil Disobedience

As your campaign continues to escalate, you may want to consider doing a civil disobedience (CD). CD is the open, deliberate, and non-violent violation of the law for political or social reasons. It can be either direct or symbolic action or non-cooperation and usually leads to an arrest.

Try not to be afraid of it. The powers that be depend on the fear of arrest and jail to maintain the status quo. CD breaks that power and creates a sense of fearlessness in people trying to make a change.

CD is usually considered one of the last resorts (besides covert, underground action) to escalate an ongoing campaign, used only after you have tried to negotiate legally and cooperatively with your opponent. Don’t expect the public (especially the employees of the target group) to be sympathetic unless you have educated them about the issue beforehand.

CD is used to dramatize an issue, to confront or shut down an abusive organization, to get publicity on an issue, or simply to energize a movement.

There are many types of CD. Three basic types are sit-ins, blockades, and occupations. For info. on other types of CD (i.e. banner drops, tri-pod sits, etc.), see the Ruckus Society ( and Earth First! direct action manuals. Sit-ins are usually announced and planned in secret. Publicity is essential when leaving (either voluntarily or under arrest) the sit-in. Blockades include blocking doors, roadways, or movement in general. Small blockades are usually planned in secret, while a large blockade may have to be announced in advance. Occupations are essentially mass sit-ins, which are most effective when planned in secret.

How to Plan for CD

Here are some factors to consider:

    How will you deal with police confrontations or citizen interactions? To make sure everyone in the group will react in the same way, work out various scenarios that could occur and how you’ll handle each one. (If you want to get arrested, what actions are you willing to take? If you don’t want to get arrested, how will your group proceed?)

    When will you hold the action and how long will you sustain it? Weekdays are best. Will you leave at a set time even if you haven’t been arrested? Do you have the people and resources to continue for several days?

    Is this a one-time event or do you anticipate future CDs?

    What would make you decide to postpone or stop the demonstration? What will you define as a victory?

    How will you publicize the action?

    Who will be the spokesperson for the group? One person should be assigned to do media work and nothing else.

    Who will be in charge of support people? Support people do not get arrested and are responsible for taking care of things like media, transportation, supplies, bail, legal problems, and caring for the children or animals of those in jail.

    You may want to consider having a CD training session. Just remember, even PLANNING a CD is a violation of the law, so you may not want to call it a training session…maybe you could call it “A History of Civil Disobedience” and describe tactics other people have used in the past.

Know Your Rights

When participating in demonstrations and/or CDs, it is very important to know your rights. If you plan on getting arrested, bring your ID and NOTHING else. Police should not have access to address books or phone numbers, so leave your bag or wallet at home! You should leave important information, such as any medications or food allergies you have, with support people. Write contact information in permanent marker on your arm.

The following are some of your basic legal rights:

    Disobeying a lawful order is a misdemeanor that can result in arrest. Orders such as “Empty your pockets” or “Let me see what’s in the bag” are not necessarily lawful demands; however, going limp, struggling or forcibly resisting an officer may result in a valid arrest, in which case a search CAN properly be made.

    A judicial officer determines bail (the conditions for release from jail before the trial) by considering the arrestee’s ties to the community (e.g., family, job) and whether the arrestee has shown up for previous court appearances.

    If questioned by the police prior to or after an arrest DO NOT ANSWER ANY QUESTIONS AND DO NOT TALK TO THEM. If you have been arrested, provide only your name and address (to speed up the booking process). Anything else you say, however innocuous, can be used against you in court later or could even result in you being subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. If you are asked further questions, simply say, “I wish to exercise my right to remain silent,” or “I wish to speak to my attorney.” Saying anything else could jeopardize your, as well as others’, security. You may need to give certain information, such as how long you have lived at your address, in order to get bail. Discuss this with your legal advisor before the action and give ONLY this information.

    A police officer can’t legally arrest you or search you or your property without reasonable cause. They can, however, search you or your property if you allow them to. DO NOT ALLOW THEM TO DO THIS. If you are not under arrest and they ask to search you or your property, simply say, “I do not consent to a search.” If they search you or arrest you without a reasonable cause, you can consider filing a civil suit against the officer.

    A misdemeanor is a “lesser” offense. Examples include posting fliers (defacing property) or interrupting a fur show (disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct).

    You are entitled to one phone call after your arrest. That call should be to your lawyer or to the head support person, depending on what arrangements w ere made in advance.

    A more serious crime-such as damaging property, or liberating animals- would be a felony in most jurisdictions. A felony is an offense punishable by a year or more in prison. If you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony and earn no more than the maximum income for your area, the state must appoint a lawyer to defend you.