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

get ready!
what you need to know to make your participation effective

you and your community are about to (or already have) spent a lot of energy getting you to this action. once you're there, you want to make sure that your participation is effective. you are not going all that way to "check it out". you are there to make a contribution. you can do this in a lot of ways, and these different ways can involve a range of risk. be aware that your perception of risk and your willingness to take it will change constantly during the action.

the most important part of being effective is understanding that you cannot change this world alone - you will have to work with other people. the work of learning to work together is the biggest and hardest piece of activist work. learn how to become an affinity group.

after brief discussions of security culture and diversity of tactics, the rest of this page introduce you to the infrastructure, essential roles, and action opportunities.

security culture

it's becoming more common for activists to operate in an atmosphere of secrecy and suspicion bordering on paranoia. it's just our [not original] opinion, but we think security culture is very destructive. here are some [not necessarily original] notes, from this perspective:

  • security concerns have become excessive when they obstruct people from doing what they came here to do.
  • security culture is totally counterproductive when it leads us to treat each other with suspicion rather than embracing one another joyously as valued comrades
  • we might as well assume that almost all of our meetings are infiltrated and that police know what we are doing. since what we're doing is expressing our free speech rights in creative ways, we shouldn't feel that we have anything to hide. besides the more they hang out in our meetings the more they'll know (and we'll know that they know) that we are non-violent, democratic, and have some pretty interesting ideas about the world...
  • if we are particularly concerned to keep knowledge of an action away from the police, we organize it with a very small group of people who we trust, and then we don't have to do security culture.

you will encounter some security culture while at the action. some people are very nervous about police surveillance and infiltration. they treat all strangers (and some of their friends) as if they are cops. other people feel that treating one another with suspicion is counterproductive. when dealing with security culture, remember these three points:

[1] respect people's boundaries

[2] don't take suspicion personally

[3] don't change your personality just because other people are unfriendly.

[4] don't incriminate other activists! be aware that felony conspiracy is a serious charge which could get some activists some very long jail time. never, ever, ever, ever indicate that you know who organized, planned, or led an action. don't allow yourself to think or feel that it's really "cool" that you know. the "cool" thing to do is be in solidarity with all other activists and treat any information you have as sacred and private, not to be shown off or shared. if anyone (even your mama) asks you whose idea an action was or who organized it, change the subject. it is illegal to lie to a police (even though it's legal for them to lie to you!) it is legal for you to refuse to talk to them. if a policeperson asks you who organized an action, say "i am not going to talk about that." feel free to repeat that line over and over and over until s/he gets bored. also check out the Just Cause guide to talking to the media without causing legal problems for yourself or your friends.

diversity of tactics

at protests you will see a lot of different tactics being used. we use the phrase "diversity of tactics" to express a variety of recognitions:

  • every tactic accomplishes something and makes a contribution to the larger struggle as we converge.
  • every tactic successfully speaks to some of the people we want to organize and not to others.
  • “diversity of tactics” is an experiential lesson in “what democracy looks like”. what appears to be messy, disorganized, and even contradictory is the social process of solidarity with respect for the contributions of all the people coming together to work it out.
  • diverse analyses strengthen the analysis of the larger movement, while also making protest much more fun and culturally up-to-date.


convergence/welcome center: this is sort of activist headquarters, where you'll find maps, schedules of events, fliers, an announcement board, important phone numbers, and lots of opportunities to get involved. we've created some more information on what to expect at convergence, if you've never been to one before.

other centers: a number of other centers may be housed with the convergence/welcome center or may be in separate buildings. these are:

  • meeting space (for spokescouncil and other meetings)
  • puppet/art factory
  • medical clinic
  • food not bombs food preparation space
  • independent media center (imc): every action has its own independent media center, which is set up to help people be the media.

spokescouncil: this is a big nightly meeting at which every affinity group is supposed to have representation. this meeting is closed to media (even indymedia) and police, but it is not secure. generally, it is assumed that police infiltrators are present. at this meeting, action working groups such as medics and legal make reports on the current situation and plans are made for a "framework" of action. this means that some decisions are made about where large groups will meet, and whether certain times and spaces will be "green" (non-confrontational, hence as "safe" as possible for unarrestables, children, etc.), or "yellow" (including direct action which might attract police reaction). often speaking at a spokescouncil is restricted to spokes representing affinity groups.

teach-ins and other educational events: there are extensive educational events provided as part of mass actions. be sure to take advantage of this information so that you can understand the latest analyses and frameworks of resistance developed by movements all over the world.

roles within the group (these can be rotated day by day)

  • on-the-ground legal support person: this person will need to stay mostly green during the actions. see the legal page for detail.
  • media liaison: many people in your group will not feel comfortable talking to the media. while everyone should be responsible for being able to answer the question "why are you out here today?" intelligently if a microphone is stuck in their face, after that people can feel free to refer media inquiries to the group's media liaison. this person should be very familiar with the talking points (these are available online or may be written by your own group) and be comfortable speaking to the media. if your group is very visible (costumes, etc.) it is very likely you will get a lot of media attention and you will need to be ready for it. read the Just Cause guide to talking to the media without causing legal problems for yourself or your friends.
  • police liaison: if your group is doing an action on your own, you should appoint a police liaison. this person does NOT negotiate with the police, they just convey information back and forth between the police and the group doing the action. they are very important in maintaining safety if the police are confused or the group is unwilling to speak directly with the police.
  • art master: puppets, signs, and banners take a lot of abuse during transport and actions. the art master makes sure that all art and equipment are repaired at night and ready to go in the morning. s/he asks for help evaluating and repairing art after an action, getting art loaded into vehicles, and teaching people whatever they need to know about getting art set up and into the street.
  • literature master: if your action involves literature, the literature master keeps track of copies, and rounds up money and help to make more copies in a timely manner.
  • updater: it's crucial to get information out to friends and supporters, particularly the activists back home who made this trip possible. someone should take responsibility for making daily phone calls, email updates to lists, and/or website updates. it's best if a system like a phone tree, a special email list, or a website link is set up before you leave, so that activists at home know how they'll be getting information. this also helps keep the at-home legal support person calm and aids the at-home media team in doing effective media work. when setting up this system in advance, keep in mind that you may have very little time and access to internet.
  • spokescouncil reporter(s): not everyone has the time, energy, and patience for the large action spokescouncil, but everyone in the group needs the information. if a couple of people can go every night, they need to take responsibility for getting all the info so they can report back to the group.
  • mama: after extensive experience, we have concluded that activists and affinity groups are not that good at taking care of themselves when engaged in intense actions. we need mamas! since this role has some elements of hierarchy and is a lot of work, it is highly recommended that it rotate. however, we also suggest that groups consider taking a mama with them who is someone who really doesn't want to or can't be in the street. this person could play the mama role for the whole trip. here are some of the mama's roles:
    • getting people up in the morning at least 1.5 hours before time to go (no matter how little personal time folks think they need, we all underestimate. this is really how long it takes when there's too many people on a bathroom, you need to pack your lunch, repack your bag, and help get art and people organized into vehicles)
    • grocery shopping
    • [some of the] cooking
    • facilitating people packing lunches!
    • buying local newspapers
    • taping the local TV news
    • cleaning up the space
    • helping people with unexpected needs
    • being at a land line phone to accept calls from jail (you can't call cell phones from jail)
    • a mama could also be the legal support person
    • rounding people up for meetings
    • conveying information to people who show up late, etc.
    • emotional support, conflict resolution


  • transportation master: in our experience, getting people in & out of vehicles is a tremendous amount of work. the delays precipitated by use of the democratic process for organizing transportation rarely seem worth it. after extensive experience we recommend a rotating appointment of transportation master. this person is responsible for knowing at all times:
    • location of all vehicles
    • location of all sets of keys
    • who is legal to drive which vehicles
    • which subgroups need to be where at what time

    in addition to this knowledge, the transportation master should authoritatively:

    • assess subgroups needs and assign vehicles
    • get people out the door

action opportunities

  • affinity group direct actions: a great thing to do is a very clever direct action. some such actions are organized with a fair degree of secrecy only with people you trust. (example: banner-hang) others are organized to be open to wider participation and are announced at spokescouncil. (example: flier blitz at a corporate store). if your affinity group is organizing an action like this you'll need to do the following things:
    • scout for a good location
    • assemble materials
    • assign action roles (media liaison, police liaison, outreach to passersby...)
  • joining other actions: your affinity group or some members may get invited to join other group's direct actions. it is very important when doing so to take time to make this decision democratically as the decision may put group resources at risk.
  • permitted marches: these are cool because that's where you'll find the most people, and often the most diverse group of people. if your action involves educational outreach to moderate sectors of the movement, this is where you'll find them.
  • breakaway marches: before, during, after, or instead of permitted marches groups may stage unpermitted or "breakaway" marches. these are great because it's very empowering to take the streets and it's a lot of fun when they manage to "break away" from police control. sometimes unpermitted parches are pre-planned, other times they are completely impromptu. sometimes these marches are a way of trying to get a bunch of people to arrive together at a specific location.
  • barricades (building & dismantling): when people have taken the street, other folks may decide that building a barricade is a good way to protect the space from approaching police lines. they may appropriate public property, such as metal barricades, to enhance public safety.

    on the other hand, when barricades have been erected for the purpose of preventing citizens from exercising free speech, some folks may decide that it is their duty to dismantle such barricades. either way, it's good exercise and good practice with teamwork.

  • work with action working groups: activists in your group may decide to work with action working groups. it's best if people do this in duos or trios so they can watch out for each other. it's also important that folks continue to be accountable to the affinity group, available for group essential roles, in regular communication, and supportive of group actions even while they are also taking on responsibilities to action working groups. here are some of the action working groups and what they do:
    • food not bombs: prepares foods for activists
    • medics: provide basic street care to activists (training is usually provided in the days before the action)
    • legal team: provides legal support to activists. this group may not be open to join in, but if they are here's the kind of help they need:
      • helping with "know your rights" trainings
      • answering the phone at the legal team center
      • picking people up from jail
      • organizing jail solidarity
    • legal observers: the legal observer team provides information to the legal team, but they are separate groups. legal observers are trained, marked, independent observers, who take copious notes of any interactions between police and protesters. they carry cameras, tape recorders, and note pads and carefully collect evidence that can be used in court proceedings. lots of legal observers are needed at actions and training is provided in the days before the action. guides to being a legal observer from Midnight Special & Just Cause
    • imc: be the media with the imc! there are many roles to take.
      • join a team producing a video segment or a daily local newspaper
      • work security
      • do tech support for the imc computers
      • answer the phone, take street reports, and put them on the newswire
    • action media team: not the same as the imc. usually the organizing committee for the direct action has its own media team which deals with press inquiries and stages press conferences. they need help with:
      • media analysis
      • setting up & promoting press conferences
      • writing press releases
      • media appearances on phone or video
    • convergence/welcome center: this center is always short on folks willing to keep it going. here are some of the important roles:
      • working at the welcome desk, answering questions, helping people find the information they need (training is provided)
      • answering the phone
      • security (training is provided)
      • childcare
      • errands, photocopies


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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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let us know

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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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