Tips on Organizing a Rally

by Preston Schiller

As someone who organized the first on-campus protest at the University of Illinois in 1961 (a peace march) and has been involved in several causes and organization efforts over subsequent decades I offer a few tips that I hope may be helpful.

Use a dedicated website as your primary information (dispensing and gathering) vehicle.

There are many good reasons to not use FB (or any major social media) for anything other than sharing your recent faved dessert (if even that), especially anything involving political or social controversy — as many activists around the world, including the Arab Spring, have learned the hard way.

Facebook is not always transparent or easy to navigate; there were several FB entries that came up when I first searched for “March for Our Lives” and Bellingham. It took some time to sort out the differences between the local march, the national march, MFOL merchandise sales, fundraising to send some local high schoolers to D.C., and the Bellingham March iself. The message threads, themselves, were not easy to find or follow.

A dedicated website, or even a separate page on a sympathetic organization’s website, would allow for better information dissemination and collection, or the creation of an e-mail list safe from others who might want to use such for mischief. It is instructive that there does not seem to be any activity at March for Our Lives — Bellingham’s Facebook page since March 26.

 Be prepared for technical problems; it helps to have a back-up handy, such as a powerful megaphone attached to a fully charged battery.

 Hold a press conference; send off several press releases. When planning an event that you hope will attract a large crowd — and there was good reason to believe that Bellingham’s citizenry would be responsive, it is a good idea to hold a press conference at least a week or more in advance, and to send out brief and carefully-crafted press releases including details, purposes, and persons to contact for more information. Do follow-up releases.

Have a variety of speakers at the podium; all youth, yes, but include representatives from middle and elementary schools around the county. Remember how inspiring speakers such as Naomi Wadler and Yolanda Renee King (the granddaughter of Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King, Jr.) were at the D.C. March 24 event?

Preston Schiller has taught courses in transportion and transit planning and sustainable transportation at WWU’s Huxley College of the Environment, Queen’s University School of Urban and Regional Planning and, currently, the University of Washington’s Civil and Environmental Engineering School’s Master’s in Sustainable Transportation.