mass action handbook
getting your community on the road and into the street


[what is a spokescouncil? where is it happening? how can I participate?]

Central to a spokescouncil is an AGENDA that frames the forum. The spokescouncil framework at first glance can seem highly rigid and inflexible, so a few notes about the importance of the agenda are worth emphasizing.

  • there IS an agenda and most people in the room will be taking it quite seriously

  • the agenda items and order in which the items will be discussed are announced at the start of a meeting. if you think there is something missing from the night’s agenda, bring it up at when the facilitators present the agenda and ask what people think of it.

  • pay attention to the agenda because people are likely to get mad at other people who bring up issues that are either (1) not on the agenda; or (2) at the wrong time. Think about when/if your issue/question is appropriate to bring up.

  • most of the items on the agenda will be logistical type of items, like discussing an action framework; an update from the legal and media teams about key happenings from that day.

  • since the focus of these meetings is on organizing ourselves, as opposed to rallying around our causes, there are some topics you won’t find on the agenda.

  • spokescouncil is not the place to learn about how the WTO works or why so many people are mobilizing around water privatization

  • people are unlikely to devote precious organizing time to discussing how screwed up the world is

  • if your group still needs housing, don’t try to get this on the agenda. do pay attention and find out who is housing coordinator and check in with her/him directly

  • if a ‘legal’ update is not on the agenda, do ask if legal can be added to the agenda if you are interested but don’t ask the legal rep. about your friend who got arrested during the meeting

Large actions need a forum to discuss actions, enable co-operation and share information between lots of different groups—this is typically done at what are called ‘spokescouncils’, sort of like big meetings that are run according to particular procedures. knowing a bit about how these things you will
  • know what to expect;
  • help your group figure out how to participate if and when you want to;
  • better understand what’s going on.

A spokescouncil does not take away an individual affinity group's autonomy within an action; affinity groups make there own decisions about what they want to do on the streets (as long as it fits in with any action guidelines.) Direct democracy is an essential component to the spokescouncil meetings. All decisions in spokescouncils are made by consensus, so that all affinity groups have agreed and are committed to the mass direct action.

  • spokes’: Each affinity group (or cluster) empowers a representative, called a "spoke", to go to a spokescouncil meeting to participate in making important decisions on behalf of the group. however, spokecouncils are not just for the spokes—the participation of all protest attendees is crucial (and therefore encouraged) to their effective functioning. at certain times during the meeting, though, only the spokes will be allowed to speak. this makes participatory meetings with tons of people possible.

  • security: Media and police aren’t invited to spokescouncils but they are still not considered secure. oftentimes, meeting facilitators will ask media and law enforcement officers to identify themselves and then ask them to leave before the meeting starts. but sometimes this doesn’t happen [the announcement, people id’ing themselves, and the leaving]. because we assume there are members of both groups present, sometimes spokespeople will talk in vague terms about plans.

  • procedures: A typical spokescouncil involves suggesting and modifying an agenda—which can include prioritizing and setting time limits, introductions, followed by reportbacks), discussion of the agenda items and will end with any final announcements. spokescouncils usually last for several hours, sometimes going late into the evening… so be prepared for this time commitment and pay attention to your transportation plans (i.e., if you are planning to take public transportation back to where you are staying, pay attention to the bus/train schedules.

    • a variety of hand signals are often used to make the process smoother. for instance, snapping or “twinkling” of hands [sort of like holding up your hands and waving your fingers a bit] is used to indicate agreement with a speaker or an idea or proposal. using two hands when indicating to speak can be used to make a 'direct response' to a speaker.

    • purpose. The purpose of the spokescouncil is not to 'make decisions' that everyone is expected to implement, but rather to create a framework into which autonomous actions can fit.

    • a facilitator [often 2 or even 3 during a big spokescouncil] has given the responsibility of steering the meeting, keeping to an agenda, and keeping discussion relevant and keeping everyone focused on task. S/he must try to bring discussions to resolution, whether through reaching a consensus or a clarification of the issue at hand. this can be challenging and tiring so it is best if spokescouncil facilitators have some experience facilitating. a facilitator’s role is not to make the decisions but to help provide some structure to a discussion that will conclude with decisions that everyone will feel good about. for this reason, good facilitators will not add their own opinions or ideas to the discussion unless they indicate that they are ‘stepping out of their facilitator role’ and facilitators try to minimize their own comments in order to give others the chance to shape the discussion.

    • A facilitator may also be assisted by someone (a “stack” taker) whose role is to keep track of whose turn it is to speak next. When a ‘stack’ is taken, a facilitator will give a small set of people numbers (1,2,3,…) to indicate who gets to speak next. when you want to ‘get on the stack’ you (or the spokes for your group) will arise her/his hand and wait to be called on. sometimes the facilitator keep time her/himself; or, there may be a separate timekeeper. some facilitators hate setting and keeping time, and you may even end up hearing several minutes of debate a the start of a meeting about the merits of keeping time!

    • where did these facilitators come from? who put them in charge? so, spokescouncil facilitators are usually folks who have training and experience with facilitation. good experiences with facilitation should convince you that the people who may appear to be ‘running the meeting’ are actually not ‘in charge’ in the usual hierarchical sense. instead, they do the stuff mentioned above. often spokescouncils are facilitated by local folks or others who have been organizing on the ground before the action, most protesters get to town. often, announcements will be made during spokescouncils about needing facilitators to volunteer.

    • when do I get to speak?! sometimes when people at spokescouncil get engaged in discussing something, they veer off topic. in order to have participatory meetings, facilitators will gently or not so gently cut off people who forget what the agenda item is being discussed. to participate effectively in the spokescouncil, it is best to figure out what you/your group wants to say at the beginning of the meeting (this also encourages people to be on time). then, see if it fits into an agenda item and plan to raise it at the appropriate time. if it does not fit into the agenda, request to add it to the agenda while the agenda is being finalized. if it doesn’t fit into the agenda, see if it can get put on the agenda for the next spokescouncil or ask the group when it might be discussed [e.g., is it an announcement? is it part of your group’s introduction? is it something new/different?]. so, a good way to speak is to raise your hand at the right part of the meeting, get called on, and pay attention to what the discussion is about. don’t try to give a report back during ‘intro’ time; you will probably be cut off. don’t try to state a new proposal if the group is working to clarify another one.

  • consensus process: what this is, why we use it, and how it works. Consensus decision-making is very important to many activists but making decisions through a consensus process can be confusing when you don’t understand what people are doing—especially since we’re not accustomed to using it in many areas of our lives. there are many resources about consensus process and how to use it (e.g., see this is just a quick overview with basic info so less-experienced-folks can participate.

    • What is it? Consensus is a decision making process based not on "majority rule," but the greater agreement of the community. Instead of a majority making a decision for the group, all people in the decision making body have equal voice and power. Consensus is reached when all members of a group, committee, or organization agree that a proposal is best for the group; individuals may not agree with everything in the proposal, but a commitment to community building and needs makes consensus work.

    • Why do it? There are many reasons. It allows people to collectively explore solutions until the best one for the group emerges. Consensus assures that everyone has a voice in the decision making process, synthesizing all ideas into one plan that all participants agree to implement. Since all participants agree to the decision, people are more invested in carrying out what has been decided. The process promotes commitment to carry out decisions. Consensus is important in allowing minority opinions and concerns to be heard and considered, and encourages cooperation among people with divergent views. It attempts to minimize domination and empowers the community in the process of making a decision.

    • How do we do it? Roughly… (1) a group must define the issue: what needs to be decided. (2) discuss the issue. After the group has had enough time to discuss the item, (3) someone makes a proposal (some proposals may be brought to a meeting beforehand) for a specific plan of action. The facilitator can ask for a proposal if she/he feel that people are repeating the same points. (4) After a proposal is made, people can offer clarifying questions. This is not the time to speak for or against the proposal. (5) list out all concerns people may have with the proposal. Attempt to resolve each individual concern through further discussion or amendments to the proposal. If there are no concerns, there is consensus. (6) The facilitator will ask for any “stand asides.” People who stand aside have concerns that have not been resolved, but will not block from moving forward. (7) The facilitator will then ask if there are any blocks. People who block have serious concerns that have not been resolved and cannot allow the decision to be made by the group; blocks are serious decisions, and they must be based on a belief that the proposal being put forward goes against the principles of the group or organization. If a block happens, the group will need to re-evaluate how to proceed. If there are no blocks, there is consensus.


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Table of Contents

  1. introduction/home page
  2. get ready! what you need to know to make your participation effective
  3. becoming an affinity group & living the world you want to see
  4. putting on a teach-in
  5. outreach is something that everyone does!
  6. trip logistics
  7. legal
  8. media
  9. at home, while the mass action is happening
  10. when you get to protest-town
  11. back home, after the action

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links you need:

international listing of major protests.


Video Activist Network,
Big Noise Films, Whispered Media, Cascadia Media, indymedia videos



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