How to Plan a March or Rally
by the organizers of the March on Lansing
We six organizers planned the March on Lansing in about two months. There are lots of reasons to march and rally (!) and we hope that our experiences can help you plan your event. Here is some advice that we can share with you.
Have a team (if you can), but set individual tasks.
• If you’re lucky to have a few people to help you, terrific!
• Is your event a quick response to a news event? Is it tied to a date (anniversary, public event)? Match your event to the timeline you have for planning.
• Agree on area assignments so people know for what they are responsible. We assigned people to website updates, volunteer coordination, graphic design, finances, point of contact for the speakers, point of contact for the organizations, point of contact for the media, and supplies and equipment. There were only six of us, so some of us took on multiple roles.
• Communicate regularly. We used www.freeconferencecall.com for weekly or as-needed real-time discussions. We also used project organization software to help us keep track of documents, expenses, and share information. We used Basecamp (which is not free). The Women’s March on Washington is using Slack (free). Another is Asana (free). Each of them has advantages and disadvantages. Pick one, and have everyone use it. It’s VERY helpful.
• Encourage each other and remember to be kind, even when tensions are high. Everyone will be stressed at some point. It’s a big thing you’re doing! Take breaks when you can.
What should your event be?
• Do you want to energize people to action? What action or actions? Thinking about your goals can help you figure out what type of event you want, and what you will need to be there.
• If you’re planning to have speakers at your event, start inviting them as early as possible. Brainstorm more names than you need. We had about twenty names on our first list. Not everyone will be interested or available.
• If you can, invite speakers to a lunch or a meeting immediately preceding your event, to ensure everyone will be at your event on time.
• Create a “run of show” as soon as you get a rough list of speakers. This helps you plan the order and length of speakers. This will help keep you on a timetable.
• If you have multiple topics, diversify your speaker pool. Don’t be afraid to ask speakers to speak on a particular topic.
• Actually, in general, diversify your speaker pool.
• Do you want to encourage people to specific actions? Brainstorm what actions attendees can take while they’re at the event. Register to vote? Write post cards to representatives? Get in touch with organizations?
• If you want attendees to connect with activist organizations, invite these organizations to attend your event, to speak, engage with attendees, share information, sign people up, etc. If you do this, make sure you plan space for tables, and time for attendees to visit with organizations. If you provide tables, plan for this in your budget. Many (but not all!) organizations will have tables and chairs they can bring with them. Brainstorm more names than you need. We contacted more than 50 organizations, and about 30 organizations attended. Not everyone will be interested or available.
• Tips to engage organizations: E-mail and call them. Be persistent. Try to identify a particular person as a contact, and follow up with that person right away. Ask organizations to help you develop your platform, promote the event, and engage with attendees.
• Be aware of issues of intersectionality. Don’t be surprised if people you think should be your allies might feel differently about your event than you expect. They may have excellent reasons for feeling this way. Invite some of these folks to organize your event with you. Read up on intersectionality if you’re unfamiliar. Here are a couple of sources: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/intersectionality-101-understanding-your-privilege-oppression; http://www.tolerance.org/intersectionality.
Plan a budget and fundraise.
• Set up a website or Facebook page and provide as much information as possible about your event. Update it regularly.
• Open a crowdfunding account for your event. There are many of them out there. Each will likely take a portion of donations, but the ease of supporters clicking from your website/Facebook page to make a donation online will likely make up for that.
• Tell people how their donation will be used. Tell them what/who will be at your event, and what it will cost. People are more likely to contribute when they know how the money will be used (a sound system, portable restrooms, or whatever).
• Make a budget, and revise it regularly.
• Costs will scale up depending on your size. A sound system serving 500 people is waaaaay cheaper than a sound system serving 5,000 people.
• Things in our budget:
o ASL interpreters
o Tent and chair rental
o Podium rental
o Sound system rental
o Volunteer vests
o Ambulance service
o Portable restrooms
o Lunch for the speakers prior to the event (all donated their time)
o Poster signs mounted on foam core
o Easels to set posters on
o Stanchions and chains for crowd control
o Cases of water
o Application costs for the city
o Facilities rental
o Software to help us plan the event.
• Try to solicit in-kind donations from businesses supportive of your event/cause. These might be free services, donations, or deep discounts of services and items you need. Don’t be afraid to ask for donations or discounts.
• Does your event need insurance coverage? If so, budget it in!
• T-shirts or other memorabilia make great fundraisers and souvenirs for attendees. If you’re running this yourself, you will need to purchase items beforehand (front-end costs) and then have tables staffed with people doing the selling. You will need to plan ahead (we didn’t have time to arrange for this). For a one-time sale (in MI), you don’t need a Tax ID but you will have to charge and send in the 6% sales tax (the form is here: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/taxes/5089_508986_7.pdf). You will need someone to handle cash, and have a plan for what to do with extra stock. If you have a third party wanting to sell items at your event, they may need to arrange a sales permit.
• Fun fact: we originally thought we would be able to do our event on $2,000. This would have been fine if our event was about 500 people. Since our event drew 9,000 plus people, our final budget was almost 5x that original budget. We had to fundraise and adjust on the fly.
Think about accessibility.
• You want your event to be accessible for people under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
• Arrange for an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for your deaf and hard of hearing attendees. You can find interpreters through local agencies, or through word of mouth. Interpreters are nationally certified.
• Consider a captioning service for deaf and hard of hearing attendees. Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) services is a real-time speech-to-text captioning system the can display text on a projection screen or mobile device (like a phone). A trained captioner with a stenography machine provides this service. You will need a computer with an internet connection, remote captioning software (a free download), a high-quality microphone, and a wifi hotspot. For information on CART, visit: http://ccacaptioning.org/faqs-cart/.
• Cordon off space near the front for attendees in wheelchairs. Provide chairs for the elderly or people with limited mobility; make sure the chairs arranged so they will have a clear view of events.
• Be sure that you have adequate toilet facilities available for mobility-impaired attendees!
• Arrange for space for the press. You will want them to be able to take lots of pictures to cover your event.
Work as best you can with the people managing the facilities.
• The facility wants your event to run as smoothly and as safely as possible.
• To access a location, start with the Parks and Recreation department for your city. You will likely need to apply for a special event permit, which may have a fee. Often the application will have to be approved within a certain number of days of your event (such as 90 days). Plan ahead!
• Depending on the event, the permitting agency may require insurance. The “March on Lansing” was a symbolic march and actual rally because the cost for insurance was prohibitively high.
• If appropriate, communicate with the local police and emergency staff the date and time, location, and expected size of your event. They will be best able to advise you as to whether you need to request road closures or emergency vehicles to stand by. These things come with a cost.
• Consider including emergency medical services on site during your event. The facility may have existing rules about this. Consider how EMS needs might scale up with the size of your event.
• You may be communicating with more than one group of people, like the state and the city. Do not assume they are communicating with each other. You will be the go-between.
• Fun fact: we reserved the whole State Capitol grounds. That meant that protesters to our event could be removed from the property. Since the streets were NOT closed, that meant that protesters would have to stand across the street to protest our event. Had we closed the street, they could have stood much closer.
Communicate regularly with your potential attendees.
• Update your website regularly. Clearly let people know the details and updates for your event. Keep folks engaged with new information whenever possible. Provide an e-mail address or phone number they can use to contact someone if they have questions.
• Set the tone of your event. Our website repeatedly stressed that this was designed to be a peaceful, inclusive event, and it was. Your attendees will read your tone from your webpage, Facebook page, and correspondence. Be mindful of the tone you are setting with all your communications.
• Set up an EventBrite or Action Network page to ask people to RSVP and give their e-mails. This is useful in case there is a last-minute change or update that needs to be made. It also helps you estimate crowd size. Remember not everyone who comes will RSVP, and not everyone who RSVPs will come. We were told to estimate that about a third of Facebook RSVPs will actually attend. We had about 4,000 people RSVP on Action Network, and about 11,000 people through Facebook. Many of them were the same people. Our actual attendance was estimated at between 9,000-10,000 people.
• Write an FAQ page, with basic information (day, time, location) as well as questions you’re getting or likely to get. Lots of people asked us about parking for cars and buses, public transportation, local restaurants and hotels, rules for signs and backpacks, security, what would be happening/who will be speaking, seating availability, and ASL interpretation. Because our event was a sister event to the Women’s March on Washington, we were also often asked whether children or men were invited. Because we were an outdoor event in January, we were asked about warming stations (a local church agreed to serve in that capacity).
Tips on dealing with trolls and threats.
• Use the Michelle Obama Rule: when they go low, we go high. Demonstrate leadership and set the tone by calmly, respectfully shutting down trolls. You will need to reign in your supporters who may take the bait. Try to judge when someone is actually asking a question or open to engaging in a productive discussion from an opposing viewpoint, versus just trying to be inflammatory; react accordingly. If people are not engaging productively, delete/block/shut down comments accordingly.
• If you receive threats or threatening language from trolls, don’t delete them. Screenshot the post and report to the appropriate authorities (local or state police, FBI if appropriate). Even if you don’t think the threats are serious, it is better to be safe than sorry. Plus, these people will learn the hard way that threatening people is illegal. It is also a good idea to communicate with your supporters regarding any threats that they might see in your social media feed to reassure them of safety and again, to set the correct tone.
Work with the press on their timetable.
• Progress Michigan http://www.progressmichigan.org/ provides media relations services for progressive organizations, groups, and events within the state. They are experts and have extensive existing media contacts. They can help with the following:
o drafting press releases
o contacting state and local media
o training you on how to deal with media interviews.
• Designate at least two team members as media liaisons, as it can sometimes be a lot of calls/emails to respond to.
• Be prepared for the media to have their own slant/agenda when covering your event. The best defense against this is to have a clear, concise message and to stay on message. You get to control the conversation. You don’t have to talk about their angle if it is off-message or off-topic.
• As a general rule with the media, in both interviews and press releases/statements: keep it concise, specific, and direct.
Ensure adequate toilet facilities are available.
• Things to ask yourself: How many people do you expect to attend your event? How long is your event? Will food/drink be available? Are there public restrooms available for the entire length of the event? If so, how many? Are there ADA-compliant restrooms very nearby? All of these factors can affect the number of portable restrooms you might want to rent.
• Nearby public buildings or businesses with private bathrooms might not be happy about lots of people asking to use their restrooms. Let local businesses know about your event.
• There are lots of online calculators available to help you determine how many bathrooms you should rent. It’s a good idea to consult a few of them. Costs of portable restrooms range from $100-$200 each (ADA-compliant bathrooms will cost more). You should have a minimum of 1 ADA-compliant restroom, and how many more will depend on the size and demographics of your expected crowd.
Ask for help.
• Volunteers can help with setup and cleanup as well as running errands and crowd control.
• Ask for more volunteers than you need. Life can interfere with even the best intentions, and there are always no shows and cancellations.
• Set up a plan for where and how to check in volunteers at your event. Let all the organizers know this plan, so everyone can direct people if needed.
• If your event is large, you might consider something volunteers can wear to easily identify them to each other and to attendees needing assistance. We had bright yellow vests that said “Volunteer” on the back. These items are inexpensive ($4 each, excluding shipping) but costs can add up if you need a lot of them.
Finally: enjoy your event, and know that people are grateful for your time and efforts. We are proud of you for putting forth all the effort on behalf of your cause.