Spearhead a Cause
If you have looked around and there just isn't an organization that seems to fit with your beliefs, or if a specific issue has come up that hasn't been addressed publicly before, you can consider spearheading a cause of your own. You can use some of the tactics mentioned in this chapter, such as writing letters to companies or encouraging politicians to become involved. There are other steps that can be taken to increase awareness and get others involved.
The Michigan Land Use Institute offers activists a tool kit for getting people involved. The group offers a variety of sample documents, including a sample Freedom of Information Act letter, a sample news release, and samples of testimony letters on their Web site at www.mlui.org.
Web sites are a great way to disseminate information to the masses. It's a way to link up with other organizations. Creating a Web site is not something everyone feels comfortable with, so it might be worthwhile to search out other group members willing to do it for free. Some Web site designers work regularly with nonprofits, usually charging lower rates than those working with for-profit companies. Web sites should provide up-to-date information on the organization and contact information.
The Internet is also a way to set up regular communications with members through e-mail lists, bulletin boards, and blogs. Online petitions can be developed that tally responses and send them on to recipients, such as politicians and corporate leaders. A Web site can be used not just to advertise an organization, but also to allow back-and-forth communication between members and others looking for information.
NetAction assists activists with communicating via the Internet. Its Web site (www.netaction.org) includes tips on making good use of the Internet and using e-mail as a primary method of communication.
Affordable Internet Services, Inc. (AISO) is a green energy hosting company that runs its data center and offices on solar power. A green roof is being constructed for the data center that includes three to four inches of dirt topped with drought-resistant plants. The new roof is expected to reduce energy use by 50 percent.
It's important to designate a point person within your group to respond to e-mails and to agree on a response time. Unanswered or late communications are liable to make an organization look disorganized and slapdash. A member should also be responsible for maintaining an updated e-mail list of members and those on the mailing list. This list can be used to send out newsletters and announcements and keep everyone up-to-date.
Well-run demonstrations can be vital tools in getting the word out to people, sending a message to politicians and community leaders, and giving credibility to a cause. Poorly organized and unattended demonstrations may make the cause appear disorganized and unimportant. Here are some tips for getting the most out of a demonstration:
Contact the local media well in advance of the demonstration and then follow up with reminder e-mails or phone calls.
Post flyers strategically in areas where they will be well received.
Consider contacting another organization to attend, bringing in warm bodies. Be prepared to reciprocate when the request is made.
Prepare signs that convey the message. Make sure there are enough for people who will spontaneously join in.
Have a catchy chant ready to call attention to the demonstration. There's always the fall back on the “Hey, hey, ho, ho, so and so has got to go.”
Be prepared to speak. Leaders should make an announcement at the gathering, and if possible, try to schedule community leaders or other activists to speak as well. An unexpected benefit of the karaoke craze is the availability of easily portable microphones and speakers.
If the demonstration involves a march or a walk, clear it through the proper channels. The finish line should be festive and, if possible, should have booths from other organizations that can offer support and show solidarity. This might be a great opportunity to bring together religious, activist, and public organizations.
Invite vendors to sell T-shirts and bumper stickers. They should pay an entry fee and/or a percentage of their sales.
Demonstrations can be a fun and motivating experience for those involved as well as for those on the sidelines.
Get on Television
Many cable networks provide local access channels at no cost. You will need to contact the cable provider to find out what is available and what the requirements are for getting on the air. Air time can be used to show a video made by a larger organization or produced by the local organization. If you plan on producing the video, the station will likely have requirements for content and format. The network will most likely provide minimal advertising for the program, so publicize the show much as you would a demonstration. Other ways of getting the word out include newspaper advertisements or even announcements in special-interest newsletters.
Bring together others to watch a special video or movie either at someone's house or in a larger facility. Professionally produced movies could be used to spearhead a more local issue. By watching the movie together, members can discuss the relevant issues, how they apply locally, and the actions to be taken. Having a theme and asking attendees to bring along a potluck dish to share can add a little creativity.
Organize a Lecture or Workshop
One way to promote a cause and give an organization standing is to bring in a well-known expert. Schedule a lecture or workshop featuring a notable speaker or educator, preferably in a low-cost or no-cost location such as a school auditorium, a church fellowship hall, or a lodge. For best attendance, be sure to publicize the event.