The primary purpose of a rally is to gather as many people as possible to show how much support a particular issue has. Ideally, this will in turn generate publicity through the mass media, depending on the numbers, the issue, who is speaking, etc.

Rallies also educate, stimulate further action, raise money, energize supporters, serve notice on the opposition, and help build coalitions. Compared to many other types of actions, rallies involve little risk, have high visibility, and are often fun.

However, rallies involve a number of potential problems. They are particularly weather sensitive- bad weather can lower the turnout precipitously. Because numbers are important, a poor turnout can be disastrous politically (it may appear the cause has little support, thereby encouraging your opponents), financially (collections and sales at the rally are critical in overcoming the debt mounted in organizing), and emotionally (organizers and supporters who do show may be demoralized). Even a good turnout does not guarantee mass media coverage.

In addition, rallies are often long, usually have too many speakers and not enough music, the speakers frequently say nothing new, and the whole event is passive and evokes a party-image atmosphere to many onlookers.

Recognizing that there are different considerations for different rallies, some items in the checklist below will not be appropriate or feasible for some events.

Resources for becoming an activist
Preliminary Logistics

Initial Meeting
Develop structure for overall coordination
Select date with minimal conflicts and a lot of symbolism
Set a time which will avoid darkness and allow people to arrive and return

Is it accessible? For the handicapped?
Sufficient parking? Shuttling necessary?
Any problems with sound?
Is it too big or too small?
What permits are necessary?
Are exits adequate for dispersal?

Brainstorm tasks that need to be done, and pit on timeline
Set up task forces for specific areas needing coordination (e.g., program, logistics, housing, finances, peacekeepers, media, outreach, sales)
Recruit staff

The Office
Open and equip an office
Select a staff
Put in phones
Print up stationary
Find rooms for meetings and training

Leaflets, posters, buttons, stickers, ads, camera-ready materials for organizers
Articles in newsletters; mailings to sympathetic lists
Leaflet other events
Traveling organizer

Is it necessary to rent buses to get people there?
Reserve buses and print bus tickets
Where will buses unload people and park?

Prominent individuals to "legitimize" the rally and attract people
Organizations- coalition building to secure material, political, staff, and monetary support

Fund Raising
Get loans and contributions to front money for event
Prepare for a post-rally fund appeal

Initial press release/conference
Ongoing work: contacts, releases interview programs
Site Logistics

Locate or build suitable stage
Chairs for speakers/entertainers
Rain and sun protection
Establish press area near stage
Sound system- sufficient microphones for musicians
A security system to limit access to stage

Obtain permits well in advance
Are insurance or clean-up deposits necessary?

If long rally with a lot of people, you need to rent toilets

Nurse/doctor and first aid equipment (ambulance for very large rally)

Food Vendors
Set up booths for food and drinks- good way to raise money

If location not obvious, put up signs or station people to direct participants

Stage Decorations
Make banner(s) for stage with official slogans/name

Clean up
Have trash cans available at site
Bring bags and brooms to help collect trash
Have a crew (e.g., peacekeepers) who will stay to help clean up

Have legal team/observers assembled if expecting any trouble from authorities or counter-demonstrators

Have vehicles available for speakers, money, material transportation

Line up speakers well in advance, especially celebrities
Determine hoe long program is to be, and how many speakers, how long they are to speak (1 minute to 10 minutes, usually)
Get proper balances: female/male, minorities, labor, scientists, sponsoring groups, dramatic speakers, organizational speakers
Plan for problem of speakers running over schedule
Sign language interpreters/foreign language interpreters

Line up well in advance; could be key attraction to rally

Fund Appeal
Have person near middle of program give pitch, after a particularly moving speech; make several appeals
Have volunteers with properly marked buckets cover the crowd thoroughly, more than once

Emergency Decisions
Determine mechanism to make last minute decisions (e.g., someone, who is not scheduled, demands to speak)

Crowd Control
For large rallies, organizers must be prepared to deal with the usual problems of crowds: guiding people to and from the site, providing information (medical, buses, etc.), minimize crowding, secure press and stage areas, and minimize impact of hostile folds and counter-demonstrators.
Peacekeepers or even small affinity groups could be used
Set up training sessions for peacekeepers

Literature and Money

Literature Tables
Buttons, posters, T-shirts, follow-up leaflet, stickers, cheap or popular booklets
Have at key and visible locations
Get tables, chairs, signs, tape, string in advance (rent to others)

Button Sellers
Establish system to cover crowd adequately
Recruit people in advance to sell buttons
Aprons to make change
Buttons on apron or on cardboard with price clearly visible

Money Collectors
Get buckets (or bags) and trusted people to cover the audience during the fund appeal
Provide a safe place to hold, count, and transport money

Marches give participants something to do rather than just standing around listening to speeches. Marches expose your views to more of the general public. Marches also have the distinct advantage of being able to link sites. The items listed below are in addition to the considerations above.

The Route
Decide plan, make up charts, and go over route (by walking) check for…
Rest stops (if a long march), breaks because of traffic signals
How long it takes; don’t make it too long or you’ll lose people

Miscellaneous Points

  • Street permits (if not walking on sidewalks) and sound permits
  • Vehicles to carry medical equipment, sound equipment, and leaflets
  • People to leaflet during march
  • Publicize route and timetable (noting breaks for people to join late)
  • Line of march- if arranging march by constituency, issue, organization, etc., have signs and people to mark off each segment
  • Money collection- barrels across line of march
  • Assembly- allow for half hour to assemble; for large march, allow 1 hour
  • Legal observers can be recruited from a nearby law school, or can be simply volunteers with arm bands, placed along the march
  • Peacekeepers are needed to aid in directing march, helping pace it, and distracting any hostile onlookers away from march
  • Communications system is desirable so line of march can operate smoothly (e.g., using runners, bicyclists, roller skates, walkie talkies)
  • Finale—every march should have an ending, other than simply dispersing, e.g., rally, sit-in, rousing speech, or song

Follow Up
Clean up site
Clean up debts, deposit money from sales and collections
Thank you’s to speakers, big contributors, volunteers, et al.
Gather mailing list for fund appeals and future actions

By Ed Hedemann

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