What it Takes to be an Activist

What it Takes to be an Activist:

Installment 1 – “To Do Lists”

by Laurie Veninger

During Sunday night’s meeting of IOC, I shared with the group the importance of setting goals with strategies and tactics. Now, I want to share with you a peek at my To Do List! Not to scare you, but to show you there’s nothing mystical about it!

Since I have been involved with the Cape-wide (now nation-wide!) rallies supporting immigrant families at our nation’s Southern border, I will use this as a model to show you the kinds of steps taken on the road to achieving a goal.

Based on my experience of doing this before, I knew I had to set up a checklist of things to do so that IOC could participate with other like-minded groups on June 30th. This is what my checklist over the past two-three weeks has looked like:

  • Locate Ptown volunteers: IOC members and Racial Justice/UU to see if they would anchor Town Hall
  • Same for Truro
  • Same for Wellfleet, except there were two possible locations, set up volunteers for each
  • Secure/pay for permit for Truro location; speak to police department
  • Speak to Wellfleet police department
  • Contact CC Women for Change (as I am also a member of this) about some mid-cape locations
  • Stay in touch with LCI and Coalition for Safe Communities (daily email updates)
  • Coordinate with LCI on poster wording; help edit and contribute to leaflet message
  • Purchase poster board and paint for large two-way signs
  • Meet other organizer in mid-cape to pick up frames for lawn signs
  • Assist other organizer in countering push-back from County officials; discuss if we wanted to engage in active opposition if we were not given permission to use County grounds
  • Put out announcements on all our social media and share; update as information changes
  • Confirm with CC Women for Change mid Cape locations and volunteers
  • Get posters printed/funds for printing
  • Find volunteers to distribute and hang posters in the three towns
  • Once MoveOn.org announced a nation-wide rally on the same day and time (phew!), register our locations on their website
  • Manage the incoming emails from the MoveOn.org website
  • Coordinate with LCI on press release/handout
  • Write and format small safety instruction sheets for protesters; include rally chants on back side
  • Print safety instruction sheets (4 to a page); Cut into four
  • Print handouts for pedestrians/find funds for
  • Distribute handouts, safety instruction sheets, signage to anchor volunteers for IOC three locations
  • Follow MA State legislation on progress of Amendment #1147 which was likely to change between printing leaflets and the rallies
  • On the day, visit the three locations; assist anchor people; be sure volunteers follow all safety instructions

As you can see, there can be many small tasks behind every tactic we choose to employ. The lists may seem daunting, but actually each item on the list is very simple and mundane. There’s nothing glamorous about it!

These To Do lists support the tactics that we use in the strategies we have to reach our GOALS. Developing strategies to reach our GOALS includes drawing a lot of attention to the issues, swaying public opinion in our favor, and trying to force a backtracking or change of policy at the top. These are very heavy things to do, so we look for power in numbers.

I collaborated with other like-minded groups beginning the week of June 4.  IOC, LCI and CC Coalition for Safe Communities began talking about a joint tactic. LCI quickly put together a spontaneous rally at the Orleans rotary on June 9th (this kind of tactic is considered passive opposition) and then we met to discuss further possibilities with other groups who were there.  Forging these bonds is a strategy that makes all the groups and our message stronger.

Once we had several groups collaborating, we discussed and agreed a tactic that included a series of Cape-wide rallies. These items were discussed:

  • Would Cape-wide rallies ‘dilute’ the action or make it more visible? We decided the latter, because of the combined reach of all these groups as well as the press coverage received for events like Standout for Students and Cape and Islands Vote.
  • Did we have enough people/groups to pull off a Cape-wide event? We knew we definitely had seven outer cape towns and folks from mid-cape to Falmouth felt they could step up so we decided we did.
  • A date that would leave us enough time to plan, but not lose momentum
  • Joint messaging and signage
  • We divided the Cape and chose locations for rallies in towns and for roadsides and which groups would take responsibility for each location.
  • We divided tasks: Who would write leaflets for pedestrians? Who could make signs? Who would handle press and posters?

This did not happen in one afternoon, but carried on via email and phone calls. I include this information because I want to show how organizers may have already considered in their planning some of the very things (like dilution or momentum) that people criticize later.

Something that is very important to remember is that by working on one GOAL, Equality, we may be addressing other GOALS, for example, our first goal of Democracy. The refugee abuses at the border deny asylum seekers basic human and civil rights and this offends our values about Equality but it also poses a threat to our first GOAL, Democracy. Organizing in this way brings attention to both these GOALS. The outrage the public feels will likely motivate them to vote for progressive, humane, candidates in November.

I hope this has helped de-mystify what it means to be an activist. As I said, there is nothing glamorous about it; it’s all in the nitty-gritty work!

If you feel as though you can do the kinds of things on my To Do List, let me know!

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