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
after brief discussions of
security culture and diversity of tactics, the rest of this
page introduce you to the infrastructure, essential roles, and
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:
 respect people's boundaries
 don't take suspicion
 don't change your personality
just because other people are unfriendly.
 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.
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.
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.
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
media center (imc):
every action has its own independent media center, which is set up to
help people be
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.
within the group (these
can be rotated day by day)
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
- 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
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.
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
- buying local newspapers
- taping the local TV
- cleaning up the space
- helping people with
- being at a land line
phone to accept calls from jail (you can't call cell phones from
- a mama could also be
the legal support person
- rounding people up for
- conveying information
to people who show up late, etc.
- emotional support, conflict
- 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
- who is legal to drive
- 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
- 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
- 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:
prepares foods for activists
provide basic street care to activists (training is usually provided
in the days before the action)
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
- organizing jail
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
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
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
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
- errands, photocopies