WeAreChangeLA on Street Activism– Suggestions for Organizing Effectively
By Katy Kurtzman and Bruno Bruhwiler
The realization that 9/11 was an inside job and that the global elite are on the fast track to a new world order is a potentially paralyzing downer. However, there is within the Truth Movement a joyous bunch. Street Activists; we are not a glum lot.
WeAreChangeLA has been in existence for two years now. In that relatively short time we have learned a few lessons. Both Bruno and I came to the job of organizing 9/11 Truth activities with some management and production experience, so we had a bit of a head start. Still, the people we serve are a passionate and demanding group of individuals, and we have made our share of mistakes. This article is meant to lay out what, in our experience, works. We hope that you will find it helpful with the organizing of your groups.
First I would like to make an observation about 9/11 Truth Street Activists; they are extraordinary people. These people put their bodies and faces out to the world for all to see. They spread the truth face to face with perfect strangers in public. They regularly deal with police of all attitudes and rabid Sheeple hell bent on defending their ignorance. They also get to experience the joy of saving person after person from the darkness, and they get to see the transformation with their own eyes.
The 9/11 Truth Street Activist ignores the threats of the Patriot Act and says, “Here I am, on the street with a sign and a bullhorn. I clearly state that 9/11 was an Inside Job as I demonstrate my heartfelt belief that I make a difference in this world.” While, still, millions of aware Americans sit at home or at work saying “someone should DO something about 9/11,” the 9/11 Truth Street Activist says, “Where is the next action? How many DVDs should I burn for this weekend? What am I doing for the 11th? And even, “Where’s the party?”
Organizers, these foot soldiers of the 9/11 Truth Movement deserve our best. Give them some structure and well organized events, so that they can shine the light of Truth unfettered by snafus like getting lost, dehydrated, hungry or arrested.
One of the best organizing tools out there is Meetup.com. We highly recommend it. That being said there is also Facebook, Myspace, TruthAction, Craig’s List and the good old fashioned website. Whatever Action you post make it sound fun, give good directions and tell people what they need to bring if anything.
Here are some suggestions if you want to be a leader people can count on:
1. You should be the first one to a street action and the last one to leave. Be where you said you would be and when you said you would be there. Never change plans at the last minute. If it’s on your Meetup, Facebook, Myspace, website, Craig’s List or TruthAction stick to the plan. If that location has fallen through somehow, gather your folks there first, and then move leaving at least one person to inform latecomers.
2. Do your research. Scout your location in person before you post it. Will you be within walking distance of a public bathroom, shade, and snacks? How is the parking and public transportation? What are the private property lines? What are the sound amplification statutes in the city where you plan to inform the public? What are the City or County Guidelines for protests and civil disobedience or leafleting? Have a printout to refer to when the police arrive. Get a permit if you need one or change your plans to fit the statutes with no permit. Check the weather forecast three to five days ahead of time and post that information or email it to your membership with recommendations.
3. Double check that all of your postings and flyers for an event match (time, place and address) before you launch an announcement. This may sound like a no-brainer, but when you have multiple people in charge of websites, Facebook, Meetup and graphic design, mistakes can easily happen.
4. Plan early and launch announcements in advance. Depending on the size of your event, make your announcement early enough for people to plan their calendar. Pretty much everyone knows that the 11th is a street action day. Still, post your action at least two weeks in advance as a rule. If you are holding an event on a ‘date night’ (Thurs, Fri, Sat) give it three weeks. If your event falls on a weekend and you want folks to be able to drive in from up to 50 miles away, post three to five weeks in advance. If your event is large enough to attract out of town, out of state, out of country and off continent attendees, post your announcement three to six months in advance. In that case you don’t need everything ironed out. You just want people to have it in their heads to save & plan on taking a trip to Sidney or Chicago or London six months down the road. Keep the buzz going with reminders and updates. Post early and more people will be able to come to your event.
5. Keep it simple, don’t produce an epic. Whether you’re doing a street action or a sit down event, less is more. Holding a two-mile long march, overpass blogging, street corner bull horning and rally on the same day is overkill. Likewise, expecting people to sit though 4 hours of lectures, candlelight vigil, songs, eight 5 minute speakers, bagpipes and a poem is frankly loopy. One 10 min speaker and one 1 hour lecture with a 1/2 hour for Q&A is perfect. Three hours of overpass bannering or street corner informationing is plenty.
6. Have all of the equipment you will need for the street action or know who is bringing it; flyers, DVDs, video camera, banners, signs, bullhorn, batteries, water, first aid kit, sunscreen, duct tape, staple gun, zip ties, clippers… whatever it is you need or might need. If you are doing a march then bring printed maps.
7. Know your rights, be informed and speak respectfully, but firmly to any one who questions the lawfulness of your activity. We have found that it works to have one or two calm and informed members deal with the police. ALWAYS USE VIDEO CAMERAS TO DOCUMENT INTERACTIONS WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT. It will put you on more equal ground and it is your right to do so. It’s a tool for your protection, use it. Your people will have way more fun and be way more productive if they know that there is little to no chance that they will be arrested. If an officer presses the issue and threatens arrest, tell them that you will comply but ask for a citation so that you can get a ruling from a judge. In most every circumstance, it is better to walk away than get arrested.
Exceptions: Police target some activist leaders because of their notoriety and persistence. You may choose to stand your ground as a matter of principle. If you are seen as the leader, you may find yourself arrested as an example to others even if you are attempting to comply. An example of this is the arrest of Luke Rudkowski, a founder of WeAreChange and of Lee (We Are Change Chicago) at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh.
8. Have a good time. Street Actions are a 9/11 Truth Activist’s paradise. Keep it fun. When you get flipped off by that Sheeple in the Hummer, smile and wave. They hate that. Yelling angrily into a bullhorn is hard on everyone. Lead by example, be a happy Truther.
9. Leave the location cleaner than how you found it. Pick up after yourselves and then some.
10. Schedule in meal breaks. If you are engaged in all day actions or your Street Action is followed by a 9/11 Truth event such as a film screening or lecture, schedule in enough time to let people sit and eat a good meal and then get to the next location. If a meal break is not an option or if food/water is not within walking distance of your action, encourage people to bring a sack lunch. It’s always nice to plan a get together over food and drink afterward at a local spot. Post it along with your meetup including address and phone number. Make a reservation or at least call in advance to be sure they will be open, and remember that most Activists are on a budget.
11. Provocateurs: It really does not matter if they are paid opposition or just a clueless Truther with social problems; that new guy yelling at police officers, using foul language or picking up a brick near a store window needs to be dealt with promptly and decisively. At the beginning of any action with new people, take a moment to give general directions on how to deal with Provocateurs. Direct everyone to step away from and isolate the Provocateur, pointing at them. Observe, photograph and video their every move. Have a volunteer, preferably female, let the nearest officer (or security guard) know that “That person is not with us and may become violent.” You or another leader should address the Provocateur directly. Tell them that they are out of line, and ask them to leave. Keep the cameras rolling until they are gone.
12. First impressions are everything. It matters not if you are tattooed head to toe or you are in a three-piece suit. You are representing the Truth Movement, and if you speak intelligently from the facts, then you will get through to the public. Likewise, if you have gin on your breath, or you smell of bong water, then you’ll blow your credibility no matter how you dress. You may be the only Truther the person in front of you will ever meet. Leave the spleef and the beer for another time.
Furthermore, not all Truthers party. If your social gatherings center around alcohol, then expect some of your membership to be left out. Include good food and/or some other activity to be more inclusive when socializing. If there is partying to be done, do it after all of your scheduled actions and not the night before.
13. As with Planning Meetings and General Meetings, keep personal drama away from the space. Have a separate meeting with your core group specifically to deal with conflicts away from the greater group of volunteers. Your core group personality conflicts are not everyone’s problem. Keep that energy from getting on the greater group. Never let your planning meetings degenerate into a bitch session or people will stop having a good time.
14. WeAreChangeLA holds a General Meetup Meeting every month at the same time and at the same location. We keep it to two hours. Our agenda consists of announcing what was accomplished in the last month, announcing what’s on the calendar for the current month, passing the hat, hearing progress reports from project heads, going around the room for general introductions and then opening the floor for general discussion. That’s how we do it, in that order. Find what works for you and your group.
15. Delegate! Don’t try to do everything yourself or you will burn out. People want to contribute, let them. WeAreChangeLA has several projects running all at the same time with different project heads. It has become a running joke at our Monthly General Meetings; when someone comes up with a great idea for a project we say, “Great idea! Are you up for leading that effort? Let’s pass around a project sign-in sheet for anyone who wants to help you with that.” We then pass around a sheet and hand it to the person. “Okay, you’re it.” We will, of course, support that person, but we will not do it for them. It’s not that we are being mean; we just don’t have the time to take on and produce every great idea. Some amazing accomplishments have been made using this method and members cultivate their leadership skills in the process.
16. Ask for what you need. If you need blank DVDs, have a DVD Drive. If you need help stickering and sleeving 1000 DVDs then hold a meetup for that purpose. Pass the hat at monthly meetings. Get targeted donations for banners and signs. Don’t try to pay for it all yourself.
17. Say “Thank you” and “Job well done” whenever the opportunity presents itself. Always acknowledge the efforts of others with humility and gratitude.
18. Truthers are creative and often demanding. Occasionally we will get a new face at our meeting who insists that we stop doing what we are doing and start doing what they want us to do. Example; “Support Joe Schmo for Congress! I need canvassers and the 50 of you will do just fine.” Sometimes you just have to say “No.” While Mr. Schmo might make a great Representative, if you tell Truthers to radically change direction when all they want to do is wake up others to the truth about 9/11, your group will vanish like flight 77.
19. Quality Control: You should have a mission statement for your group. WeAreChangeLA’s can be found on wearechange.org under “Who is Change” and “Code of Conduct.” If your group is committed to non-violent peace and social justice, keep that in mind with whatever you produce or co-produce. Have a set of standards for whatever bears your name whether it is a youtube piece, flyer or event.
20. Keep the correspondence to the group at a minimum. Our general rule is no more than one email a day. People have lives. If they see 5 emails a day coming from you or your group, they will stop opening the messages. We all know them, the wild frothing email sending junkies. If you use meetup.com, you can filter email sent to the entire group if you choose. Never ever send a chain letter to your group. Keep the emails on mission and on subject, and keep them concise, clear and compelling. Categorize the type of message you are sending to your group in the subject line, i.e. “ONLINE ACTION ALERT – Support AE911TRUTH.org with your comments” or “New Flyer on the Pentagon UPLOADED.” As a side note, not everybody can come out to play every time, so we suggest you give them actions to do from the convenience of their home or office, either online or on the phone.
21. Receiving constructive feedback: Feedback is very important. Sometimes it is hard to see how we come across or how we affect others. As a leader what you say can be hurtful or out of line without you even knowing it. Then again you can’t please everyone, and the Truth Movement, by its nature, attracts folks who stand up to opposition. We all have control issues to varying degrees or we would be on the couch watching Dancing with The Stars. Sometimes when a person has a problem with you it is they and not you. Here is a good way to gage feedback: If one person calls you an ass, say “thank you for sharing.” If ten people call you an ass, buy a saddle. Another way to tell if the problem is coming from you is to notice how you perceive others. If your significant other, your boss, the mailman, the clerk at the store and the guy in the car next to you are all being unreasonable jerks, maybe the bad attitude is coming from you. Just a wild guess. You want your membership to give you feedback, good and bad. Constructive criticism gives you the opportunity to make corrections. If you offend someone, humble yourself and apologize. At the same time don’t be a doormat. Find the balance. You will know that you are doing a good job because people will come out to play and bring their friends with them. They will thank you for the good time and they will be smiling. If they come again to another event, Great! If they don’t come back, it may or may not be you. Some people sign up on the meetup all excited, RSVP yes for 5 meetups and never show up once. You will only know how you are doing if people tell you.
22. Collaborate with other groups. Find other groups with a similar mission and a good reputation and work on projects together every once in a while. If you like working with them once, chances are you will like working with them again.
23. Take care of yourself. Do only what you can do and let others do the rest. Get plenty of sleep. Eat right and be sure that your basics are taken care of. I’ve observed that every 3 to 4 months a new crisis tries to distract us with fear. We should be mindful of drills and such, but don’t let it stress you out or dictate your behavior. Have some storable food and water, a grab-and-go bag and leave it at that.
If you only take one thing away from this article, let it be this:
Remember that it is your job as a leader to create a context where your volunteers can express their Trutherness and have a good time. They are not working for you, you are working for them. It is about being of service. You create the space, the structure, the plan, and the event and then invite others to come and play with you. You will find that people will come and go and come back again. There will be new faces, and some long time members will burn out. People will rise up in your ranks and become leaders themselves. What a beautiful thing it is.
I hope that what we have suggested here helps you be a more productive, relaxed and happy Organizer. Look to the future with humility, love and service in your heart. Be the change you want to see in the world.