HOW TO START A NON-HIERARCHICAL DIRECT ACTION GROUP
Direct action * Why non-hierarchical organizing? * Consensus process * Working It Out * Fundraising Is No Fun * Should You Approach the Media? * Planning the Action * Creating Propaganda * Strategy/Logistics * Making Props * Arrestability and Jail Support Discussion * Emergency Press Conference (In Case People Are Kept in Jail * Post-Action Discussion * P.A.D.S.
The following are suggestions for direct action organizing. These are meant as guidelines—feel free to improvise process as necessary.
Direct action utilizes hands-onintervention to directly challenge hierarchies. By using spectacle to expose hypocrisies, direct action terrorizes the status quo and revitalizes public space. In the process, it builds a delicious and defiant culture of resistance. Direct action encourages people to push the boundaries of acceptable behavior in order to create new possibilities for organizing, self-determination and activism.
Why non-hierarchical organizing?
In this country we are encouraged to think that voting is a participatory act of “democratic” choice, when in reality it means that a majority controls the agenda. Non-hierarchical organizing means that everyone participates in the process. Though there may be other models for non-hierarchical organizing, we have found consensus to be the most effective.
Consensus means everyone comes to agreement before any decision can be made. In order for meetings to run as smoothly as possible, at the beginning of each meeting, someone volunteers to facilitate. The facilitator compiles a list of agenda items at the start of the meeting, keeps track of who wants to speak, calls on speakers, makes sure speakers stay on topic and keeps the agenda moving. After a proposal for action and a discussion of this proposal, the facilitator calls for consensus when a decision seems imminent; this involves asking who is in favor, who objects and who abstains. If there are any objections, the group formulates alternate proposals until consensus can be reached. Some groups have a formal process for tallying abstentions in order to decide if a proposal should be revisited. In the case of GAY SHAME, we have found that consensus occurs remarkably easily, since we have worked through our common politics and we discuss issues extensively prior to calling for consensus. We only use the more formal consensus process in the case of extreme disagreement.
If someone believes that a decision close to consensus is contradictory to the goals of the action or group, that person can block consensus. In the case of GAY SHAME, this has only happened one time in our four-year history. Of course, consensus decisions may always be revisited in the future. Usually, though, it’s all flower power and SSRIs here at GAY SHAME.
There are many different effective models for creating consensus-- feel free to share your strategies with us.
Working It Out
- If you know people who share common goals, politics and strategies then contact them to arrange a time/place to meet and brainstorm ideas for a call to plan an action. If you don’t know anyone else who shares your politics, skip to step 2.
- Make a call to plan an action: including a purpose/target (for example, GAY SHAME’s all to challenge the rabid consumerist monster that is corporate pride).
- Create regular, free, public, accessible, meeting time and space (for example, GAY SHAME started meeting in a café with a lot of empty meeting space, now we meet in the back room of a sympathetic bookstore). Assume that all meetings are being surveilled by law enforcement and concerned citizens and plan separate spaces for organizing covert aspects of actions.
Fundraising is No Fun
True, the world is run on money and that does not exclude your direct action, but it is important to figure out ways to avoid spending money in order to further your critique of capitalism. Many people have boring day jobs that give them access to many useful resources, such as: paint, paper, markers, copies, food, etc. Borrowing, stealing and sharing can build relationships that grant writing, silent auctions and walk-a-thons never can. As a last resort, if you must shell out money then try to figure out ways to best distribute the costs.
Should You Approach the Media?
The mainstream media will probably not be on your side, especially when you’re doing something that actually challenges the existing power structure that controls most media outlets. Always remember that the mainstream media consists of corporate hacks, vultures and ghouls all vying for a chance to exploit you into your grave. Therefore, it is important to discuss early on whether you want to approach the mainstream media at all, and if so, how to ensure that your message gets across, if at all possible. Also, discuss alternative media such as “progressive” newspapers, pirate or non-commercial radio, “public” television, indymedia or any other options that may or may not be better than the corporate crap. Of course, you can also make your own media (take this web site, for example).
Planning the Action
Start with an issue/target/theme, decide upon appropriate tactics to make action as effective as possible. Of course, each of these tactics requires advance planning and a clearly understood logistical structure (see list of suggested roles below). Different types of actions may include: propaganda distribution, redecoration and public demonstration. Tactics include the following:
Wheatpasting: the act of gluing flyers in public spaces, such as street poles, abandoned buildings, billboards, newspaper boxes, etc. This is useful for getting the word out about demonstrations as well as creating media satire and political critique. This could also be useful for participating in boring mass demonstrations where hordes of liberals can serve as useful cover for meaningful dialogue.
Stenciling: the act of spray-painting messages through handmade cutouts made of cardboard, folder-paper or plastic. This is useful for longer term messages in public spaces such as sidewalks, abandoned buildings, trashcans, etc.
Marching in the streets: this is a confrontational, fun and participatory way to get from starting point to destination. Marches are useful for drawing people’s attention to the spectacle, and usually work best when there are large numbers of participants. Whenever possible, we suggest marching in the streets and not on the sidewalk—in order to energize, excite and aggravate as much as possible.
Blocking traffic / Preventing entrance into buildings: We love cars and corporations! Blocking the flow of traffic (human and vehicle) increases the disruptive potential of a march, and makes that dreary commute so much more enticing. Of course, this requires advance planning and a clearly understood logistical structure (see list of suggested roles below).
Noise: Pump up the volume! Noise amplifies the mood and tone of a protest. Some tools for noise may include: bullhorns, sound systems, whistles, air horns, handmade drums, screaming, musical instruments and those throat muscles.
Property redecoration: This usually works best to brighten up drearystorefronts, billboards, police cars and other capitalist enterprises by cover of night. Liberating glass from the confines of selected window frames often facilitates transparency and free speech. Use your imagination!
Building or office take-over or squatting: Office take-over involves occupying a hostile work environment in order to disrupt business as usual. An office take-over requires an outside action/media plan that directs attention to the spectacle. Building take-over or squatting involves a prolonged stay in an unoccupied edifice, for housing or to make the space an accessible resource for free community building activities, such as sex, gardening, cooking, art, frolicking, shitting, sleeping, or hiding from parents or other abusers.
Harassing public figures: Is something we would never do. Just kidding—this is a fun way to scare and impair the people in power. Try your local Hall of Records for updating your Kwanzaa card list.
Getting arrested to make a political point: This must be planned well ahead of time, with all support roles listed below.
After the discussion of tactics is completed, it is time to make some gorgeous propaganda.
When we say propaganda, we mean written materials that clearly represent the group’s consensed agenda. Propaganda distribution can be its own action, as with a wheatpasted flier or a stencil addressing a particular issue. Propaganda is also useful for getting people to a public demonstration or disseminating information. Propaganda may include:
Fliers: Put as much information as you have on them in as interesting and concise and glamorous way as possible.
Zines: Derived from "magazine," these are a form of handmade self-publishing and are often photocopied, but can be silkscreened, printed, painted, handwritten, etc., and may involve mixed media. This information made its first debut in a zine!
Stickers: Fun to hand out at demos or stick them in places where wheatpasting or stenciling are not viable options.
Patches: People love free art.
Website: You're on one right now. Great for disseminating information, but never rely on it.
Press release: To get those horrible media monsters to cover your brilliant, courageous action or intervention. A press release should always be succinct and inflammatory. Send out before deadline (call each outlet for specifics) and always include phone number for the designated media liaison.
Start planning as far ahead as possible. Discuss how best to confront the planned issue/target/theme. Figure out how to make the action as direct and confrontational as possible. Create a plan of action, including: meeting place/destination, route (if necessary), itinerary, theatrics, timing specifics and plans for alternate options. It is important to walk the route and assess the conditions ahead of time (take note of traffic, pedestrians, visibility, police presence, nearby events, the latest greatest Harry Potter pajama party, etc.) Decide how to effectively communicate the plan and objectives of the action to the crowd. Figure out what to do in case participants depart from the plan or unnecessarily endanger other protesters or bystanders. Review the entire strategy multiple times, devising pre-scouted alternate plans in case the original plan becomes too difficult or dangerous to pull off.
After initial difficulties with the law, GAY SHAME decided to plan each action as if it is a planned civil disobedience arrest scenario, just in case of the likely event that the cops get violent. Therefore, we almost always include the following roles:
Marshals are the front line between the crowd and the police— usually we arrange for front, back and side marshals. Front marshals make sure the crowd gets moving and moves slowly enough that there are no gaps and that people do not get divided from one another (by traffic, stoplights, cops, vigilantes, etc.). Back marshals ensure that the crowd keeps moving and that nobody gets left behind. Side marshals stand between the crowd and the cops, make sure no one gets singled out for arrest or police violence and facilitate route maneuvering. Marshals are the first people to take the street and encourage the crowd to join in. They facilitate the flow of the crowd along the planned route. Just before the festivities begin, the marshals meet to review the plan for the action. Sometimes the hysteria of “action day” inspires people to try nonconsensed plans that could jeopardize the effectiveness of the action and unnecessarily endanger people. If the original plan becomes too risky to execute, it is good to have a reliable system of communication in order to decide when to use one of the consensed alternate plans (for example, if the police are blocking your route and arrests are not part of your strategy).
Police Negotiators talk to the cops in charge in order to make them less likely to get violent. Only designated police negotiators communicate with the cops so that they don’t get wary of sudden shifts in the action. Police negotiators never reveal the true plan of the action, but instead try to make the cops comfortable enough to allow plans to progress. Tactics may include pretending to be law-abiding, or claiming not to know what’s really going on. (“I don’t know who’s in charge, but let me go find out.”)
Lawyers can help you break the law. Before your action, it is good to find an activist attorney who is ready and willing to represent you in case of arrest. Make sure to distribute a legal contact number to everyone at the action—this could be the direct number for a lawyer or a legal support team. It is a good idea to hand out permanent markers so that everyone can write the legal number on their bodies, in case personal effects get lost in a scuffle or confiscated after detainment or arrest. Lawyers often know how harshly certain acts may be punished, and can offer advice as long as (for legal purposes) you speak as if you have no real intention of getting involved in those acts. This conversation should happen outside of the office or any other location likely to be under surveillance.
Legal Observers stand outside of the action to make sure that the police are behaving. Designated legal observers wear an item of clothing that indicates their status—police are not supposed to arrest them. Legal observers inform activists of their rights and document arrests and police abuse. Legal observers make sure to find out the name and contact person for every arrestee. They also write down badge numbers of all police in attendance as well as noting license plate numbers of any violent motorists or vigilantes and take notes on the progression of events. Legal observers should preferably be lawyers or those who’ve been through legal observer training.
Media Liaison communicates directly with the media. This person volunteers ahead of time, and makes sure to familiarize themselves with the consensed-upon issues and message of the group, and agrees to talk primarily along the lines of the press release. It is a good idea to think of catchy soundbites ahead of time, since this is probably all that will be reported. Media liason directly approaches any identified media persons and hands them press packet if available. Since the media liason’s job is to talk to the press, it is not a good idea for them to get arrested. Other participants approached by media should direct them to the media liason.
Food service Everybody loves free food, so it’s always a good idea to provide it. We like to serve vegan food! Arrange ahead of time for a cooking plan, serving arrangement, and a way to keep track of the food during the action.
Medics provide first-aid in case of emergency, and generally wear glamorous medical gear to call attention to their duties.
Scouts generally dress relatively “normal,” in order to discreetly travel ahead on the route and look for police activity or other problems or unexpected changes and communicate this information to the marshals.
Communication specialists run from front to back and side to side of the demonstration in order to assess the situation and communicate directly with marshals and the crowd. If possible, it is good to designate one communication specialist to deliver messages and information between marshals and one to communicate messages from marshals to the crowd. Communication specialists should always attempt to avoid arrest, and wear comfortable shoes.
Documentation specialists make sure that the cops are being watched so that everyone stays as safe as possible. It is generally a good idea to have several video cameras, still cameras and other recording devices. This work also serves to document the action for the public record, since the media isn’t going to do it for us. It is always a good idea to make our own media so that we aren’t so swiftly disappeared from history.
Direct action can often become hierarchical, since there is usually a group of activists who have planned the action ahead of time and are familiar with the goals, tactics and strategies. Therefore, at the action it is important to remain conscious of things to do in order to create a participatory environment and break down the division between organizers and participants. In spite of much work around this issue, we have not always succeeded in bridging this divide—we would love to hear your ideas.
Always make sure to talk to everyone in the crowd and make sure that people are aware of the goals and strategies of the action. Distribute propaganda as widely as possible and engage people in conversation about the issues. Move through the crowd to figure out who would like to wield a delicious accessory, sign or prop. Share tasks whenever possible and make new friends.
Permitted marches are ineffective. Black Blocs are boring. Speak-outs are tedious. Make your action festive, colorful, ridiculous and fierce by developing themes that engage the issue in the most direct manner possible. Once the group decides upon a strategy, then it is time to develop visual aids to emphasize the intended message of the action. These may include:
Signs should be clear, clever and concise.
Banners are good for blocking traffic and hanging off buildings.
Effigies are replicas of people made from flammable materials that are set on fire to make a statement against the person in question.
Costumes: dump out grandma’s steamer trunk, we’re going to church, Mary!
Art Objects: These are not just for the museum, darling. Always bring assorted theatrical toys to illuminate the theme and devastate the scene.
Keep track of banners, props, etc. for retrieval after action. We always forget this part and have to recreate our props, but it’s probably better to save them for use in the future, unless this involves risk of arrest.
Arrestibility and Jail Support Discussion:
Prior to the action, discuss comfort level of people in terms of arrest. It’s important to talk about how different people will experience jail differently along the lines of race, class, body type, gender, sexuality, age, ability, health, diet, education, religion, language, citizenship/immigration status, record of arrest/incarceration or ties with criminalized/targeted persons, etc.
Jail support means coming to consensus ahead of time about what to do when someone is detained, arrested, jailed or disappeared. This should include:
- Designated support people to make sure that no one is left to rot in jail
- Making arrangements ahead of time for legal representation
- Facilitating communication between people who are separated in different parts of the jail and between people inside and outside the jail
- Pressuring city officials to get people out of jail (this can include finding personal contact information for “sympathetic” elected officials and other people who have power to help get the people out of jail)
- Waiting outside of the jail until people get released—always bring food, water, love and other necessities
Emergency Press Conference (In Case People Are Kept in Jail)
GAY SHAME only stages a press conference in order to get people out of jail if they are not cited and released immediately—this is a post-action emergency procedure, since press conferences are generally a pointless waste of time or a way for non-profits to get more funding. The mainstream media is not your friend, but sometimes you can trick them.
- Create a press release about the events leading up to the incarceration, including the time and date of the press conference. A good place to hold a press conference may be the main entrance of the jail or in front of city hall.
- Sending out the press release to any and all forms of media. Also it is a good strategy to create a press packet containing a press release, photos of the incident (if they are not incriminating), the media liaison’s contact information and a copy of the press release for the original action.
- It’s good to have someone who is knowledgeable of the purpose of the original protest and what the issues were leading up to the arrest. Also it is good to have brutalized and/or indignant activists, “innocent” bystanders, lawyer(s) and stupid celebrities speak at the press conference.
Always meet as soon as possible after an action to discuss what worked brilliantly, what failed miserably, what worked miserably and what failed brilliantly. Figure out strategies for making the next action more effective, participatory and inspiring. Sometimes this discussion ends quickly and sometimes it lasts for weeks. Savor every minute of it.
P.A.D.S. (Post Action Depression Syndrome)
After your first action, you may find yourselves experiencing a wide range of extreme responses: mania, ecstasy, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, dysphoria, vomiting, rage, enlightenment, empowerment, inspiration, disappointment, confusion, numbness, betrayal, vulnerability, euphoria, sensitivity, awareness, invulnerability, wanderlust or enchantment. This is common. It is important to continue organizing. Brainstorm future projects to help keep the group focused, effective and inventive. Don’t be worried if people hate you—when you take an unpopular stance (and we certainly hope you do), expect to be unpopular.
This may be a great time to collectively write a statement of purpose in order to communicate the group’s politics. This may help build consensus within the group, encourage more people to get involved and create future actions that work together to build a sustainable culture of resistance. A statement of purpose may give the group focus and direction in order to work toward future actions that articulate the politics of the group in as many relevant directions as possible. Of course, this may also lead to arguing endlessly over differences instead of building an environment where direct action can flourish, so proceed with caution, creativity, glamour, intrigue and clamor.
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 spo
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.
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 to the 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.
[Originally published on the Lesbian Avengers's web site]