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So you're ready to start a movement!

Is something really bothering you? Do you want to change it? First, see if there's some organization already working towards this goal, get involved with them - no use in duplicating organizations - you'll just spread your numbers thin. If there's not, (which is much more likely for a local or single issue than for a national or broad one), you may want to start something on your own.

First, you'll need people to work with - no one can do it completely alone. You may want to start by talking with friends and seeing if anyone around you is interested in the issues you are. Keep your eyes and ears searching, and don't hesitate to approach someone who sounds motivated - even if you don't know them. You can place ads in papers, post to newsgroups, make up and hand out flyers, write on the ground in chalk, or anything else you can think of to find people. You can schedule a meeting and see what kind of response you get.

Once you have even two or three people to back you up, you're ready to get started working. More people will show up as your visibility rises.

Different types of problems call for different types of activism. You need to decide how you want to approach it. You should not simply say, "hey, let's do this." You should compare the problem to the situation to the message you want to send. There's no simple formula, and there are many complex, intertwined issues, but it is possible, and useful, to discuss what sorts of protest work best in what sorts of environments.

First, you must determine your problem. You need to be able to articulate what is wrong with how things presently are. Choose a specific, attackable issue. You can't say, "I don't like the Government". You can say, "I don't like the way the Government tries to silence us by having its controversial legislation rushed through Congress." It is often helpful to come up with some alternatives to be able to site to people who challenge you.

Write your own constitution with a mission statement and bylaws. Start by brainstorming among the members of your group. What are they there for? What do they want to see the group accomplish? What do they want to get out of the group for themselves? What values, standards and goals do they never want to lose sight of?

Write down everything people suggest at first, without debating the ideas. When you've run out of new thoughts, see if you can find some that are similar or have common themes. Try to come up with statements summarizing these concepts. Let people discuss and make adjustments until everyone can agree with, or at least not object to, what you've written.

Have someone put together a draft based on what you've agreed on, and bring it back to the group for final adjustments and approval.

Next, you must analyze the situation. How much power do you have? What kind of power is it? Economic, political? Who has the authority to change what you want changed? Is there a specific individual you can go to, or is your target dispersed? Who are your allies? Your enemies? Do you want to change one little things or do you want to create an entirely new system? Don't forget timing. Will people be available to help out? Will you be overshadowed by some other event?

Third, what sort of message do you want to send? Do you want to seem willing to work within the system? Do you want to reject the system? Do you want to make the public aware of the issues or do you want to target those in power? Do you want the media involved?

Once you've done this, you are ready to determine what the best tactic is in response to your issue. Here are some useful ones:

Meetings - Before holding a major demonstration, make sure that those in power know you feel something is wrong. This works best when there is a clear person in charge, but if not, meet with a representative who can them speak with the rest of those in power. This is a good starting place to find out how seriously those in power plan to take you.


Flyering - When informing the public and this issue is your goal, flyering is the tool. Make up sheets that are easy to read, and the people passing by you can't help but become informed. You can inform people orally as you pass out flyers, but you don't have to. It only takes 1-4 people, and it raises consciousness. It's also a good opportunity to help you find people interested in joining your cause.


Pamphlets - Pamphlets are a lost art today. Longer and more informative than flyers, they were several pages of informative or inspirational text. Sometimes, several would be put together into one product. The pamphlets were then sold for a quarter or so to pay for their production. They were most commonly sold to people interested in the topics, but not yet knowledgeable about them.


Letters to newspapers - Sending a letter to the editor is a more widespread way of informing the public, but often harder to achieve. This is mainly consciousness-raising and trying to get people interested. It works well on college campuses which have their own newspapers because you are likely to be published.


Educational workshops - Change the ideas within a society by educating its members. This is good when the problem is very widespread and there is no target. Prejudice and stereotypes can best be beaten in ways like this - by interacting directly with the public.


Petitions - Good when an individual or a group is in power and will benefit by listening to you. (Re-election, continued sales, etc.) The number in power is not important because you can send out many copies of the same petition. Your cause will not get much media, and may be ignored by those in power. However, petitions are beautiful, not in their immediate success, but because they inform all they are asked to sign that there is a problem, and gets people to make a written commitment towards the issue. Once they have done this, social psychology has shown that they will see themselves as more in favor of your cause. (Sabini, 1995, p. 551-552)


Letter-writing campaigns - Great when you know who is in power and you want to approach them directly, showing your willingness to work within the system. Works best when the person in power is an elected official who has shown himself to answer to his constituents. (Note the Electronic Activist as a way to e-mail members of Congress and here as a list of the snail mail addresses for all members of congress. Snail mail is more work, but is usually regarded more seriously than e-mail.)


Phone-in campaigns - Again, useful when there's specific elected official you can target. This tactic is more useful for people who seem not to respond to the public, because the phone calls can be quite a nuisance.


Boycotts - Ideal when money is involved. Take the customers away from a place, and what can they do but change? If they don't adapt, they'll fail. Of course, this only works when your cause if popular enough to get people to boycott a place.


Demonstrations - Ideal for informing the public and getting them involved. Useful when you want to show how many people are interested. Great in terms of media coverage. This tactic works well for organizations which really heavily upon public image for this reason. It works well in situations where power is in the hands of a committee, because it becomes their responsibility to communicate amongst themselves. You do not need to demonstrate in front of each person in power individually.


Picket lines - Traditionally used by unions, picket lines a great if you want to prevent people from using a service, patronizing a store, etc. It's very public and makes people think twice before entering. It works well with boycotts, again where the power is economic.


Sit-ins - Sit-ins try to stop the day-to-day actions of an organization. They work best of university campuses, where students have access to buildings, but also can work in offices, etc. However, you must beware that you can be declared trespassing and arrested. IF this is the image you want to portray, great! If not, make sure you are working with an institution which will not have you arrested, perhaps in the name of saving face.

There are also types of protests which are specific to the issue. Voter registration campaigns for underrepresented groups, strikes by workers, etc. are useful and should be considered based on your cause.