Why put on a Teach-In?
When preparing to travel to a far away location to protest you are inevitably going to get questions. Why in the hell would you want to sacrifice your time to go protest? What are you protesting? Why is that bad? You can either deal with these questions one by one, or your affinity group can host a teach-in. Coming from a radical tradition of the sixties in which students would walk out of classes to educate themselves, a teach-in provides you the opportunity to reach a lot of people in your community, educating them about the issue at hand and encouraging them to take action. You can help people understand how free trade, debt, imperialism, and war affects their lives as well as the lives of those throughout the world. Students, workers, educators, and everyday Janes can participate in teach-ins, not only by being educated, but by doing the education. Including diverse local people as educators allows new alliances to be built, provides interesting opportunity for fundraising, and may even bring new folk into your affinity group. Using non-professional educators can lend an air of validity to your teach-in by removing education from being a solely academic experience into a world of experienced hardship. This creates a direct corralation between the issue and how the issue impacts peoples lives.
you don't need "experts", paid speakers, or people from outside your community: we have organized ten teach-ins without paying anyone or bringing anyone in from outside our community. in the process, many activists have spoken in front of a group for the first time, and many more have become skilled and confident speakers.
we modeled our teach-ins on the ones put on by the international forum on globalization. using this model we have helped inexperienced speakers to give excellent presentations. we ask people speak for only ten minutes on a very specific issue. the "teach-in committee" provides a lot of guidance for speakers as to what needs to be covered, and helps them find research resources. what we have found is that it's not that difficult to do the amount of research needed to give a precise 10-minute introduction to an issue like water privatization. our experience has shown that often experienced speakers (like professors) tend to talk for too long and tend not to update their research before presenting. almost always, undergraduate students and "organic intellectuals" from the community present more clearly and bring more up-to-date information.
organizing a teach-in is cheap & easy
day & time: first we figure out a good day for our community. our teach-ins usually last all day, from about 9:30-6:30 pm and are followed by fundraising parties, because people have had such a great time learning all day. for some communities, a weekend is better, and for some a weekday is better. we try to make the lunchtiime panel really good so that people can come on their lunchbreaks. we also try to have at least one panel start after 5:30 so that people who work 9-5 can come after work.
location: needs to be free, easy to find, and familiar and comfortable for folks who might not come otherwise.
the content: the teach-in organizing committee should begin by breaking the day into 1.5 hour blocks with 10-15 minutes breaks. then create panel topics. realize that some people will come and stay all day, others will come for particular panels, and others will just come by when they can. we title the panels and then brainstorm the different issues that should be covered. once we have ideas about that, we put out a call to speakers to the activist community. we usually include a panel on activism, which presents a lot of different ideas about how people cn take action. we also usually include something about alternative media and indymedia somewhere.
the teach-in organizing committee then needs to work with the speakers who volunteer and their schedules. we usually have 3-5 speakers on each panel. (which is a total of 15 or 20 speakers for the day.) they each speak for 10 minutes and then the rest of the time is easily used up with questions and discussion. this enables audience members who are also knowledgeable to share their knowledge, in the real spirit of a "teach-in".
after making a schedule with all the volunteers on it, there will still be a lot of important issues not covered. at this point, the teach-in committee can then contact more experienced activists and ask them to fill specific gaps. sometimes a few people have to speak on more than one panel.
it's also nice to have moderators on the panel who enforce the 10-minute time limit and facilitate the discussion part of the panel. this is a role that helps people get people involved who aren't yet ready to make a presentation.
tabling: invite local
activist groups to table in the back of the room. it's great if a local
progressive book comes and sets up a table to sell books relevant to the
topic. sometimes they may even give you a % of their profits!