The Lesbian Avengers are a direct-action group focused on issues vital to lesbian survival and visibility.
Formed in 1992, The Lesbian Avengers are not part of ACT UP, but there is a good deal of cross membership between ACT UP/NY and the NY Avengers. Below is their action outline about how they plan and conduct actions. It is included here because many of the underlying principles are the same and plus it's really good!
More information about the Avengers and ACT UP/NY can be found in Sarah Schulman's My American History (from which this is taken).
Lesbian Avenger Action Outline
The purpose of an action is to make our demands known, win change, and involve as many as lesbians as possible in all aspects of organizing.
Actions should be as well-planned as possible so everyone knows why we are there and feels involved. But, there is no way we can know everything in advance so we also have to be ready to make decisions on the spot in a quick and supportive way.
When Avengers have an idea for an action they can bring it to the group in two ways.
1) Bring a precise, specific proposal to the floor.
2) Come to the floor with a vague idea. Pass around a sign-up sheet for those interested in developing the project. Then meet as a committee separately and return to the group with a specific proposal.
This way the large group discussion will revolve around a concrete proposal creating a framework for a more constructive and satisfying, task-oriented discussion. Once the large picture of an action is approved by the Avengers, the committee gets to work on specifics. Every action needs two coordinators who are responsible for following up everyone who took on tasks, and for presenting the action to the floor at every step. It is in committee that all the brilliant, wacky ideas can come to fruition.
Coordinators need to address the following questions.
What is the goal of this action?
Who are we trying to reach?
What is our message?
Time, date, and length of action. Why?
the location needs to be scouted as early as possible. How much space do we have/ Inside or outside? Obstructions? Entrances and exits? Security? Public or private property? How wide is the street for banners and props?
What is the visual design of the action going to be? It should let people know clearly and quickly who we are and why we are there. NY Avengers have used a wide range of visuals such as fire eating, a twelve-foot shrine, a huge bomb, a ten-foot plaster statue, flaming torches, etc. The more fabulous, witty, and original, the better.
Type of action. Avoid old stale tactics at al costs. Chanting and picketing no longer make an impression. Standing passively still and listening to speakers is boring and disempowering. Look for daring, new participatory tactics depending on the nature of your action. NY Avengers have used overnight encampments, daring Zaps in the halls of the Plaza Hotel, an invasion of the offices of Self magazine, a torchlight parade down fifth avenue at rush hour without a permit, handing out balloons to school children in an anti-gay district that said "Ask about Lesbian Lives, etc."
Type of Action: Symbolic? Disruption? Interference? Education? Group size and composition: Avengers only? Lesbians? anyone?
CONTINGENCIES (WHAT IF?)
1. We can't get the spot we planned for?
2. Group is smaller/larger than we planned?
3. Bad weather?
4. Police interference?
5. Decisions about arrest need to be made on the spot?
How do we end the action?
Every task should be supervised by a member of the organizing committee. The two coordinators are responsible to follow up with each member of the committee and their responsibilities.
Remember - the point is to involve as many Avengers as possible in the organizing. One easy way to do this is if each committee member responsible for a task comes to the large group with a sign-up sheet (i.e. "Sign up to distribute flyers at the lesbian bars," "Sign up to learn baton twirling for the action," etc.) and then calls each person on the sheet to remind them of the time and place where the work will get done. The more organized the coordinators are, the easier it will be for people to participate.
A preliminary List of Tasks for your Action
Someone needs to take responsibility for each task. The coordinators will follow up.
· Flyer Production (advertising the action)
· Flyer Reproduction (xerox)
· Flyer Distribution: (mailing, wheat-pasting)
· Fact Sheet (translation if necessary to give out at the action)
· Legal Observers
· Video Team
· Marching Band
· Contacting other groups before your action
· Transportation of materials
Avenger Action Checklist
1. Why are we doing this action and what are we trying to achieve?
2. Who do we want to include?
3. Why this time, date, and location?
4. What is the action scenario from beginning to end?
5. Who are the coordinators?
6. What are the logistics of the location?
7. Who are our legal observers and what are our legal rights?
8. What decisions and preparations have we made about arrests?
9. Where and how are our flyers being distributed, wheat-pasted, and mailed? (At least ten days before the action.)
10. What other groups have we contacted?
11. When is the Marshall training/pre-action meeting? Who will coordinate and chair it?
12. When are the poster/prop parties?
13. If needed, who is coordinating the civil disobedience training?
14. Who will interact with the police on site?
15. How are we letting people know about the action and encouraging them to attend?
HOW TO RUN MEETINGS
The point of the meetings is to keep them as short as possible, get work done in an effective manner, but still give people time for productive discussion about the politics and creation of the action. Since most of the hammering out of details and brainstorming for creative silliness happens outside the general meeting in committees, the role of the facilitator is crucially important for keeping things focused.
Facilitators volunteer from the floor and usually serve four weeks. We offer a facilitation training every few months, and women without experience cannot facilitate without first going through a training. We also ask people facilitating for the first time to invite someone more experienced to sit next to them and help them through the first few weeks.
The facilitator is responsible for setting the agenda at the next meeting. But more importantly, she is responsible for creating an atmosphere of efficient respect. If people in the meeting that night are vague and inexperienced, the facilitator must listen closely and try to focus discussion around specific proposals for action. If people come to the meeting with rigidity or negativity, the facilitator needs to diffuse the tension and insure that the Avenger meeting is a place for the free exchange of ideas. People have to be able to offer their perspectives without being jumped on and have space to explore ideas. Our meetings need to be flexible, negotiable, and conducive to creative thought. It is the facilitator's job to keep people pro-active, encourage them to make concrete suggestions, propose alternatives, and take responsibility for their ideas. She must insure that proposals are presented in a way that allows the largest number of Avengers to get involved.
The facilitator should set an agenda focused around the most important business-keeping things like teach-ins and announcements until the end. She needs to keep the meeting running smoothly and with focus on the task at hand. Usually discussion should not run longer that ten or fifteen minutes at which point she can offer the room the option to vote or continue discussion. If she sees that people are repeating each other, she can ask anyone has something new to add.
Often the meeting will begin with people going around and introducing themselves. Sometimes we end with going around but to say how we felt about the meeting. Instead each person says what tasks and responsibilities they have taken on for the following week. Hopefully everyone in the room will have taken on some kind of responsibility.
We decided from the beginning that we did not want to apply for to foundations for grants, and instead would raise money in a grass-roots way from the community. We throw wild, creative, insane parties on a regular basis with really creative posters-usually following a great action. The better our action, the more people from the community attend to support us. Most of us are poor so our events never cost more than we can pay. On New Year's Eve we charged five dollar's admission, twenty-five cents for coat check and two dollars for beer-and took in $5,000.
At parties we usually come up with a fun theme, do really good preparation, have great music, and also provide a media room with videos and flyers from The Avengers. parties become an organizing tool because we see how well the community likes us, have a chance to let them know what we are doing while they've having fun, and we get them to sign up on our mailing lists.
A good party takes about a month to organize. It requires two coordinators. The first thing they should do is come up with specific tasks and bring sign-up sheets to the large meeting so that as many Avengers as possible are involved in its creation.
THINGS TO TAKE CARE OF:
Venue: Locate an unusual space, not familiar to your audience but large enough for dancing, lounging, and hanging out.
Publicity: Generate n eye-catching flyer early enough to claim that date. Mail it to the mailing list. Distribute huge numbers of them early. Let newsletters, newspapers, and radio shows know in advance. Wheat-paste vigorously.
Music: Music is the key to a great party. If no live DJ will volunteer her time then get someone with diverse and extensive musical knowledge. A good sound system.
Door and security: Two women at the door to collect money and to be sure that every person who enters signs up on the mailing list. Someone else should pick up the cash regularly and store it in a safe place. A few Avengers on alert for security problems at all times.
Food and Drink: Locate nearest all-nit deli for extra ice and beer. Provide some non-alcoholic beverages as well. Large plastic cans and bags are best for ice control.
Set-up: Create clean-up, set-up, and decorating shifts. Have people working at different times to clear up bottles, etc. have plenty of toilet paper and towels on hand.
Media Room: Two Avengers in charge of fabulous video and propaganda devices.
Special Events: Go-go girls, kissing booths, Tarot cards, etc. etc.
Other Fundraising Ideas:
-At every Meeting we pass around an envelope labeled Actions and ask each person to throw in a dollar or two.
-We sell t-shirts and videos but they are also organizing tools. We don't want to get too weighted down in merchandise business.
-People can throw private parties for birthdays or whatever and ask friends to make a donation to the Avengers instead of presents.
Lots of lesbians have resources they are willing to share with the Avengers, even if they don't know want to come to meetings and organize actions. Find out who has access to free xeroxing at their offices, or a fax machine. Someone may be willing to do legal support or design flyers or just wheat-paste. In order to involve as many women as possible. AVENGERS have to be cooperative, organized and-more importantly-know how to use mailing lists as an organizing tool.
YOUR MAILING LIST IS YOUR FRIEND
At every Avenger meeting we pass around a mailing list with names and phone numbers. New members are invited to add their names to the list. An updated activist list is presented every week. This is our activist pool. Whenever we have an action we call everyone on the list. Whenever we need people to leaflet, wheat-paste, work on a dance, or build props, we call the list.
At every dance or public event we are since to have a supportive mailing list t the door. This is our constituent base. They receive mailings for all actions and events. Since these people have never come to meetings we wouldn't call them for activist tasks-but when it comes to filling the streets or our bank account-they are the ones we count on most.
One Avenger is responsible for coordinating a phone tree, in which other Avengers are responsible for contacting groups of ten off of our activist list. Every action or call for help goes out over the phone tree. The main coordinator is responsible for keeping the phone tree updated each week and for being sure that the callers are following through. the phone tree can only be activated by a decision from the big group-that way arbitrary, half-assed, rumor-based attempts can be avoided. Ideally everyone who has ever come to a meeting will receive both a mailing and a phone call for every one of our actions. Anyone who has only come to our events will receive a mailing.
Actions need marshals-that is, a group of women who take responsibility for big decisions like when to go into the street, when to sit down in traffic. marshals need to do a training before an action, learning legal issues involved, developing a method of communication and cooperation with each other. And preferably undergoing civil disobedience training (invite a trainer from your local ACT UP, Quakers, or peace group). Usually they are identifiable by brightly colored ribbons tied around their forearms. They serve as the wall between demonstrators and the police and also are the people who block traffic as the procession peacefully moves by.
A coordinated support effort is necessary when there is the possibility/probability of arrest.
The goal of those doing support is to track the arrestees through the system and wait for them to be released. Support tpeople have a responsibility and an obligation to remain until the last person is released. It is important for those on the inside to know that they have the support of those on the outside.
Get support sheets filled out in duplicate. One copy is for the support person on-site and one copy should be kept off-site in case the support person gets arrested by mistake.
Try to avoid getting arrested. Keep a list of people as they are being arrested. Ask them to shout out their names if you don't recognize them. If you see any violence by police try to get badge numbers. Politely ask police (white shirt if possible) what precinct they are being taken to. Once the arrestees are taken away, go meet them at the precinct. When the paddy wagons arrive, try to let the people inside know that you are there for them.
Hang out and wait until the very last person is released. Check off their names as they come out and get information (i.e., are people being treated well, etc.). Contact attorney. Collect summonses for attorney while making sure that the arrestees know when to appear in court.
AVENGER SUPPORT SHEET (fill out both halves. Both halves have same questions)
Date of Birth
Place of employment
Person to notify in case of emergency (name and phone number)
Person to notify if you must spend the night in jail (name and phone number)
Other (specify medical consideration, notify work, etc.)
A marching band, drum corps, rhythm, section, etc. can really aids all actions. call them at least two weeks in advance.
Fact sheets and press releases tot he Spanish language press should be translated into Spanish. Translators need enough advance time to do a good job and get their draft to the designer without cramping her schedule either.
POLICE AND PERMITS
In general Lesbian Avengers do not apply for permits, do not ask for permission to do actions, and do not negotiate with the police in advance. Of course special circumstances may require changing this approach. All is subject to discussion in the group.
Lawyers need to be contacted at least a week in advance. We usually need one lawyer and two students or observers for an action. Avengers need a clear understanding of our legal rights going into an event. Legal support Avengers should have ongoing communication with attorneys throughout the action.
There are Avengers who work in corporations with massive xerox possibilities. But they need ample advance warning and assistance transporting the guerrilla copies.
There are Avengers who work in corporations that have access to unlimited FAX. They need advance notice and cooperative assistance.
The Avengers have a bevy of gifted graphic artists who can design beautiful posters, but they need to be alerted at least a week in advance and cannot be expected to pick up and drop off copy in addition to executing their designs.
The visual design of our actions is a crucial part of Avenger work. In general we try to make each action look different from our previous events and have a style and presentation that has never been used by anyone before. Props play a huge part in this. Props, floats, shrines, burning torches, papier mache bombs, plaster statueswhatever! Demo-graphics need to be eye-catching, meaningful, and visually exciting.
The more creative, imaginative, and individual our actions look, the more eye-catching, inspiring, and fun they will be.
The design of an action usually begins with the preliminary flyer announcing the event to the community. Innovative design, contemporary, clever graphics, and even the color of the paper are all important ways to convey to the viewer how fearless, open, and new our approach is. To date our invitational leaflets have been one of the Avengers' strongest drawing cards.
Usually the flyer features a slogan or phrase that will be a consistent theme throughout the action. We try to never use a cliche or tired old rhetoric. Instead we've been able to come up with a wide range of eye-catching titles. When we built a shrine to the two gay people burned to death in Oregon, our demo posters said, "Do Not Let Them Rest in Peace." When we dogged the mayor of Denver for 48 hours the signs said "Boycott the Hate State." When we held our New Year's Eve Party, the poster featured a picture of seventies Blaxploitation film star Pam Grier, in hot pants, loading a rifle. The poster advertised "Activist a Go-Go." Our Valentine's Day Action honoring Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas celebrated "Politically Incorrect Domestic Bliss." Our demo banners favoring the MultiCultural Curriculum said "Lighten Up! Teach About Lesbian Lives." The banners for the torchlight parade down Fifth Avenue said "Wake Up! It's Happening Here" and for the March on Washington said "Lesbian Avengers: Out for Power." So whether the theme is whimsical or angry, our slogans have been clear, clever, and strong.
1. Standard Media
Good efficient Media work is essential to any activist organization. The first thing you need to do is amass a list of media contacts. Go through all the daily papers and weekly publications in your area and identify anyone who writes stories with gay/lesbian themes or people behind the scenes or in other departments who might be openly or discreetly lesbian and gay.
Call every radio and TV station and ask them directly for the names of people on staff (not only news staff) who are particularly interested in lesbian or gay stories. Make personal contacts with anyone in any media outlet who is openly lesbian.
Four day before your action, FAX out your press release to the entire media list and then spend the next few days making follow-up phone calls encouraging the press to attend your event.
Use the set Lesbian avenger press release format and letterhead.
At the action itself, speak to every member of the press, and get their name and number. That way you know who has responded, who to add to your list, and who you can call afterwards for more follow-up. Personal contact is the best way to get coverage.
Every single action should be covered by an Avenger video team. In this way, even if we don't get television coverage we can always provide TV stations with our own footage after the fact.
Even more importantly, Avenger video teams can put together our own video compilations to be shown across the country and around the world. These video as have proven to be our best organizing tools for starting new chapters. Since the Avenger phenomenon has never been seen before, it is often hard for people to imagine the type of actions and spirit that defines us. Videos are invaluable in communicating our work and attitude.
3. Gay and Lesbian Press
The gay and lesbian press ranges from glossy national magazines to typewritten bar rags. There are hundreds of newsletters and newspapers around the country and often they are the only way for gay people to communicate. FAXing and mailing press releases, communiques, and newspaper clippings to the gay media is another good way of encouraging new Avenger chapters and , more importantly, the spirit of activism among lesbians. It also provides crucial coverage of our issues, something that can't be expected of the mainstream.
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