Chapter 2 - Events and Demonstrations

1 Planning

1.1 Hosting a planning meeting

Try to have open meetings when planning events. Open meetings mean that more people can get involved and gives people a sense of ownership, so they are more likely to help publicise and attend. Advertising meetings also acts as publicity for the event itself – getting the idea of it into people’s heads and building momentum.

Key Questions to Consider at a Planning Meeting

1.2 Picking a time/date

This is common sense really, but: the time and date of your event is important if you want lots of people. Here’s some things we’ve learnt...

1.3 Picking an event name

An event name needs to be get people’s attention – to draw them in and get them interested. So keep it snappy, and that controversy gets people’s attention. It’s okay to exaggerate or be playful with a topic – people expect that, and it makes the event sound interesting. A common mistake people make is to pick a name that’s really accurate – but that just makes the event sound bland. Really long titles with long words that don’t relate to people are a definite no-no! Basically, work out your “target audience” and imagine yourself in their shoes.

1.4 Location

2 Publicity

The key to publicity is getting it out there, and into people’s heads! That means hitting the streets, talking to people, flyering, sticking your posters everywhere, even announcing your event in lectures if it’s important enough! Make your publicity as memorable as possible, and as clear as possible. Everyone who sees and hears it should be able to work out ‘what, when, where’ without any effort. Note that while this section tries to give useful pointers and tips for publicising events, it isn’t an entire guide to marketing – that kind of thing is already out there. You should try to read up on it, as well as how to use desktop publishing, how to write good text, and how to design good flyers. Research it! See the appendix for useful resources.

Note that timing is a really important part of publicity – so plan it carefully! If no-one hears about your event until half an hour before it starts, it will be empty. At the same time, people forget about it if they hear about it too far in advance. Students are especially bad at this. Ideally, you should aim to do your publicity in several waves - get something out a couple weeks before (or more!) so that people know it’s happening and can plan ahead. Then hit the streets with flyers and posters in the days leading up to the event. That way you get the best of both early and late publicity.

2.1 Using the Interwebs

Although we’ve found that the internet can help with publicity, on it’s own it isn’t very effective at all. What works best is combining different methods. That way they reinforce each other and remind people to go.

Writing up an event so that it’s easy to see all the key information, getting it to look nice, and then sending it out over email lists and Facebook actually takes a fair bit of time. So – make a couple of standard event pictures to be re-used for smaller events (for example, meetings) – this will save time. Keep a set of ‘templates’ for emails and Facebook, so you always remember to include key information. For social media you’ll want to assemble a list of places to share info, with links to each group and page you normally post your events to.

For maintaining an email list, you should never just copy a list of emails into the ‘to’ box and click send! This is bad for privacy as everyone can then see each other’s emails. Instead, put the list of emails into the ‘bcc’ box – this stands for ‘blind carbon copy’ and will protect privacy a bit, put your group’s email address in the ’to’ field. Even better, set up a proper mailing list with an email list provider. One of the best is the riseup list service So as not to overload people, it’s best to limit emails to one per week, and group any events you are publicising into a ‘weekly email’, possibly with a reminder the day before the event. (us students don’t seem very good at planning ahead or remembering things, so some kind of reminder a day or two before is always very useful!)

As well as publicising events ourselves, we’ve found getting together with friendly groups and sending out information about each other’s events on our mailing lists to be very effective – or even running joint events.

2.2 Designing Posters and Flyers

2.3 Flypostering

Putting posters in places without permission can lead to fines and prosecution if you are caught. It can also lead to trouble for your event, the venue it’s in, or it’s organisers if you are unlucky. Of course many people fly poster anyway. For example, by making a mix of either wallpaper paste or wheat-flour, then painting it on to a surface, putting the poster on, then painting over the poster, they can put up hundreds of posters in one night. All that’s needed is a small bucket, big brush, a hoody and a baseball cap. Wear dark, nondescript clothing. Normally this is done on a bike to ease escape should they be detected. Event organisers can write ‘not to be flyposted’ on all of their posters in order to make it less likely they will have trouble if anyone decides to do this with their posters.

2.4 Leafleting

Leafleting is pretty simple, you print a ton of leaflets and then give them to people! The best times on a university campus seem to be during lunch breaks, and the ten minutes before and after lectures. Early in the morning more people are rushing, but it can still be worthwhile. If there are lots of commercial leafleters at your university (eg. advertising club nights), then you may have trouble getting people to take leaflets, as they’ll just assume you want them to buy something. There’s two things you can do to get people’s attention. The first is to work on your style – make eye contact with people as they approach, smile, and say a memorable tagline so they know it’s not an advert. The second trick is to get people’s attention by doing something big and visible, thus ‘creating a spectacle’. For example you might bring a big protest banner with you, or get together with someone else and shout information to each other (“When’s the protest next week?” “5.30pm at college green, everyone’s going!”).

The other way to do leafleting is door-to-door. For a niche event this isn’t worth all the printing, but otherwise it is one of the best ways to get lots of people to an event who would not otherwise have heard about it. For most student residences you will need to know at least one person in the building to be able to get in, but people will often help out if you explain to them. It’s also not usually all that hard to tailgate in behind someone else – trespass is not a criminal offence in the UK so you shouldn’t get into too much trouble if anyone complains, which is unlikely anyway :)

Try your best to source free printing. Many PhD students get free basic printing, which is suitable for basic black and white posters and flyers. Suss out and compare all your local printshops, and memorise their opening and closing times. For small print runs of basic black and white A4 posters or flyers it is often cheaper to use your university/college printers. If you’re planning a big event requiring loads of flyers then consider using an online supplier.

2.5 Stalls

Stalls give you a chance to show a visible presence on campus and meet new people. Although you reach less people than with leafleting, you can have more material and normally get longer conversations. For reasons we do not understand, two seems to be the best number of people for a stall – 1 or 3 and less people approach to talk. Anyway, the first thing to do is to pick a location – it needs to be a wider bit of pavement so you don’t obstruct people walking, and to be somewhere visible that lots of people go past. Have a back-up plan in case you get moved on by university/college security or police. Next, you will need materials for the stall. Try to have a reasonable selection – too few leaflets will look bad, but too many will be confusing. The best thing is to have a mix of leaflets that are easy to pick up and read, and a few bigger things (eg books, zines) for anyone who is more keen. Bring paper and pens so you can take down the details of anyone interested in your group, to put them on your email list. It’s good to have a banner to cover the table – as well as looking better it makes it clear who you are. Finally, don’t forget to bring tape and weights – on a windy day the banner will flap and all the leaflets will blow away if there is nothing holding them down!

2.6 Media

How to engage with media needs careful thought. Newspapers, radio and TV can be a massive help publicising events and getting a message out. However, the media have their own agenda which more often than not is opposed to ours – they can twist what you say, make things up, and portray you in a negative light if they wish. So be careful! How you engage with media can also disempower people – you don’t want it to look like you have a leader or spokesperson who is more important than everyone else! This article from the road protest movement of the 90’s, exposes some of the pitfalls of engaging with the media – However, at the same time many lazy journalists will simply repeat a press release word-for-word rather than writing an article – which is how the police get them to publish misinformation about protests. For example, after the April 2011 riots in Bristol, local press published a story condemning a radical poster campaign telling people not to talk to police – but in doing so they repeated all the advice word for word!

Anyway, if you do decide to engage with the media, be very clear what your purpose is – for example, do you want to get them to publish details of your event in order to get people there, or do you want them to report about it after it has happened in order to get a message out? They might not do what you expect! Once you have that worked out, there are a lot of guides to dealing with the media that have already been written – some of them linked to in the Appendix. However, here are some of the basics...

Example press release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Students Plan “Day of Rage” Against Student Debt

Students at scumbag college are planning a “day of rage” against student debt this week – and are organising a march starting in the town centre at 2pm on Tuesday. According to organiser Em Goldman “the cost of student life and student debt is too damn high. We’re fed up of asking nicely for change. Join us on Tuesday to demand the education we deserve!”

The march organisers have not announced their route to the police, and are encouraging school and university students to walk out of class and take part.


Please contact our spokesperson on [email protected] or 07313371337 for more information or to arrange an interview

3 Demonstrations

3.1 Why?

It is rare that a peaceful protest march will change anything by itself, unless the target is very small – for example, one shop or an individual landlord. When it does, it is normally because the people who change fear that the protest will lead to something more if demands aren’t met – like a strike or a riot. It’s important not to simply organise a protest because something is bad or because lots of people will come. Instead, have some clear goals and an idea of where you want to go with it afterwards. Anything else is likely to just make people cynical and to tire you out. With that in mind, here are some of the reasons people organise protests:

3.2 Things to consider when planning any protest or rally

3.3 Further things to consider, when planning a big one

3.4 Livening up demonstrations

Ideas to liven up a boring (ie NUS) demo…

3.5 Strike Solidarity

Students can provide valuable support to university staff during disputes with management. Past tactics have included road blockades and occupations. However, it’s important that this is all done in a sensitive way. We suggest reading the following SolFed article: “How Students Can Support Striking Higher Education Staff”

4 Ideas and Tips

4.1 Film Nights

Film nights are very simple, and are a good social event. The main thing that can go wrong is your equipment not working, so make sure you do a test run with the projector and sound system you’re using before you start.

Really Political stuff

Vaguely Political stuff

4.2 Talks and Panels

If you invite someone to speak, here are some things you will need to talk over with them:

Don’t forget to look through the checklist at the end of this chapter – especially the part about checking sound!

4.3 Debates

Organising debates can be a really useful way to raise an issue. The best way to do this is jointly with your university’s debating society, if it has one, since they have experience facilitating debates, finding speakers, publicising, etc. Apart from that...

5 Checklists

5.1 Planning

5.2 Resources

5.3 Publicity

5.4 On the Day