Planning an Action

Planning an Action

So you want to plan an action. There's a government official who needs to get zapped, a policy that needs changing, a company making huge profits on AIDS drugs, and important health care services that are not being provided-AND IT'S TIME TO TAKE ACTION.

Here are some ideas and suggestions to help you plan and focus your action.

First ask yourself some very basic questions:

What is the goal of your action? What do you want?

Who is the target? Who is the action for or against?

Who is your audience? Who do you want to reach or who will actually see your action?

What is your message? What do you want to say?

What is your tactic? How will you achieve your goal, hit your target, reach your audience and get your message across?

The simpler your answers to these questions, the easier it will be for you to come up with your plan, or scenario.

There are many types of actions.

The most basic is the moving picket line.

This is a legal demonstration consisting of a group of people with fact sheets, posters, and other visuals walking and chanting in a circle in front of a specific site. The First Amendment guarantees you the right to free speech, and as long as you are on public property, keep the line moving, and leave some room for pedestrians, you are not doing anything unlawful. Similarly, handing out flyers and fact sheets at the demo site or across the street (or in any public space) is perfectly legal.

If you decide to move your picket from one site to another, you have a march. Other popular variations on the moving picket include sit-ins, kiss-ins and the ever-popular (and very photogenic) die-ins. A die-in is when protesters lie down on the ground to represent the thousands who have died or are being killed by the policies and neglect of the government or your target. Often people chant ("How many more have to die," "We die, they do nothing," etc.). Sometimes protesters carry cardboard tombstones with names or slogans, creating an instant AIDS cemetery, and others times the "dead" bodies are outlined in chalk with massages written in.

Actions can be planned as large demonstrations or as smaller, more focused zaps.
Whereas larger demonstrations and pickets tend to be symbolic, the zap is often focused on a specific target or goal. Zaps can take any form from pickets to disruptions of speeches and meetings, or simply the disruption caused by distributing information (safe sex information, condoms, flyers or fact sheets). A zap is also an excellent form for civil disobedience (CD).

Civil disobedience is purposeful direct action in which the participants risk arrest by disobeying the law. This can include everything from blocking traffic (often a component of larger picket actions) to a sit-in at some official's office.

Though all demonstrations should have a support plan, CD requires more sophisticated support. Support is the main link between the arrestees and the outside world. People planning to do support must be willing to track the arrestees through the entire arrest process and plan not to get arrested themselves. They observe the arrest of the demonstrators, noting who is arrested and whether unnecessary force is being used, and then follow them to wherever they are being held and wait at the site for all arestees to be released. They coordinate with the lawyers and/or legal support and support central-an off-site support designate who has a copy of the support information and access to a phone and emergency phone numbers.

Support is best done in teams. Under no circumstances should anyone go to a police precinct house or jail alone.

Members planning to get arrested should fill out a support sheet with their name, home phone, address, date of birth, emergency phone numbers, and 24-hour needs (medicine, etc.). This sheet is handed in to the designated support person and used for identification purposes.

This list is kept internally and is not given over to the police. Everyone wishing to risk arrest (or even participate as support) is also encouraged to go through a CD training, if possible. Of course, sometimes the police don't give you that option.

Whatever the action, you will probably need fact sheets, chants, and visuals.

Fact sheets are information sheets briefly outlining why you are protesting and what your demands are. Chants help get your information out to the public (and the media) in small memorable soundbites ("What do we want? Money for AIDS! When do we want it? Now!") and keepmomentum going in the group.

Sympathetic visuals are extremely important in getting your message across to the public, and for the media they are essential.

A picture is worth a thousand words, especially if your reporters are not terribly AIDS-literate. Visuals can include posters, banners (both carried or hung from sympathetic windows, rooftops, or scaffoldings or, when indoors, suspended aloft by helium balloons), red tape, handcuffs, bed sheets, clown masks, toteboards, or even people-driven visuals (die-ins, kiss-ins, costumes, etc.).

Have fun, be creative-just get your message out.

Another key component in planning an action is logistics, or the "where" and "when" of your action. Try to scout out the location of your action ahead of time preferably at the same time of day as your action. This will give you a truer picture of traffic and security concerns and help you decide on the appropriate scenario.

Pay special attention to the layout of the proposed space-is it a good location for your action? Is it accessible, easy to get into or out of? Is it visible to pedestrian/auto traffic? Is there a place for a good "photo opportunity?" Is it on private or public property? If your action is indoors, make sure to check all of your possible routes of entry and exit. What is the building security situation? If you are making an "unscheduled appearance" at a hearing or function, do you need a pass or ticket or a costume (corporate or Republican drag) to get in?

Also, when selecting a day and time for your action, remember that certain times (and days) are better for media coverage (Monday through Thursday, earlier in the day are best, or you can try to get a live feed on the evening news), traffic (rush hours and lunchtime) and group turn-out (before or after work, lunch hours, and weekends).

At the action itself, it is important to have members of your group acting as marshals, or peace-keepers, to help facilitate the demonstration. Their job is to serve as a buffer between the demonstrators and the police or any other unfriendly presence. They are also an important communications link, and can be used to keep all participants informed of changing plans or emergencies.

They do not control or police the demo.

Another on-site job is that of legal support. Their job is to observe the action and write down any "happenings" or interactions with police, paying particular attention to names and badge numbers. They do not participate in the action, they are just interested bystanders with pen and paper. They do not have to be lawyers, though it is a good idea to have a lawyer either on site or on call, just in case.

Trainings for marshalls and legal observers, as well as training for CD, is encouraged.

Finally, when planning a demonstration, it is a good idea to make some contingency plans. What if you can't get your preferred site, or the group is larger or smaller than planned? What if it rains, or you've got to get out of there quickly, etc. The biggest "what if" is always the police, which is why marshalls, legal, and a support system are always your best contingency.

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