Organizing a demonstration
“Meetings are the curse of the Left” would certainly seem to be true when it comes to planning demonstrations! We in ANSWER LA have had many planning meetings for the upcoming march and rally this Sunday in Hollywood.
For those who haven’t been involved in this process, the planning and logistics for a demo can be daunting. However some of the lead ANSWER organizers have been at this for decades and their experience helps us all. There’s also a committed core of a few dozen people in ANSWER LA. Within the past year we’ve worked together on several major demos as well as many smaller events. The teamwork and camaraderie we’ve developed helps enormously.
What’s involved in putting on a march and rally in Hollywood that will draw thousands of people? First off, city permits. Five or six different agencies. One agency issues permits for road closures, while another puts down the barricades for the closures.(Do not ask why can’t one agency do both, no one knows). Many different permits are needed. This requires meetings with city agencies and police, usually with our lawyers present.
Then there’s the stage, AKA a flatbed truck parked sideways in the street with a somewhat barricaded “back stage” area for speakers and performers to gather in, a check in area for press, someone at the gate controlling access, and a stage manager to juggle the schedule of the 30 or so speakers and performers. Plus, the really big name people never call in advance. They just appear and ask if they can speak, as happened at the CNN rally in March where Eddie Vedder, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins walked up and ask to speak. We of course happily let them, even if it did screw up our carefully planned schedule! The point is, you need to be highly organized AND flexible.
A stage needs good sound, so there are speakers to be put onstage, satellite speakers a few hundred feet out, hookups to be made so KPFK radio can simulcast the event and so on.
At the staging area, where people assemble to march, we put out several tables of merchandise for sale, sign up sheets, flyers, and an organizing area for the monitors and security. Monitors play many important roles. They run the lead ropes out from the lead banner, gently steering people off the street on onto the sidewalks so the march can proceed. The lead banner must always be in front. That’s what will be photographed. Nothing gets in front of it, period. There are also monitors who follow alongside the march as it goes.
The end of the march is a crucial spot. Hecklers and sometimes police sometimes push things along or otherwise create problems. We have walkie-talkies and the monitors are always in contact.
Security is a roving squad who looks for any possible problems then gently tries to defuse things as well as route the march around any problem. They also have walkie-talkies.
The lead truck goes a few hundred feet in front of the lead banner and has powerful audio and people leading chants.
Money. Demos cost $$$ to put on! So we ask for money twice; once during the march with plastic trash cans in the middle of the road, then later during the rally with buckets.
Everything I’ve discussed so far is just on the day of the demo!
We’ve also distributed thousands of flyers, hundreds of posters; have 12 co-sponsor groups and 80 endorsing organizations, all of whom need to be communicated with on a regular basis. There’s been regular phone banking, thousands of emails, and way too many meetings!
And that should give you an idea of what is takes to put on a major demo!