Types of Actions

Intro | Types of Actions | Case Studies

We've begun compiling a list of action ideas for all types of campaigns and situations. Click on an action for in-depth descriptions and tips! Let's make this an even better resource -- send in your ideas for new actions, or add to what's already here! E-mail lwac@livingwageaction.org

Educational Tactics

Teach-in & Speakers
Canvassing
Leaflets
Posters & Flyers
Classroom Presentations

Stepping up the Pressure

The "Bomb"
Letter-Writing
Petitions
Banner Drops
March
Rally
Guerrilla/Street Theatre           
Caroling and singing      Radical Cheerleading
Buttons/T-Shirts
Vigil
Classroom Invasions & more

Direct Action

Student Strike
Sit-In
Hunger Strike/Fast
Hacktivism
Building Invasion


- Educational Tactics -

Teach-in & Speakers

Description:
An educational event about your campaign which can be run by students in your group or featuring invited outside speakers. They can be as short as having a single speaker, but can also last an entire afternoon with multiple speakers. An interesting format is to set up a debate style teach-in, either with your own group members filling both roles or inviting outside speakers to speak for and against. Invite workers after or before their shifts to come tell their stories in a safe space. Provide translators if needed, and translate English part of program to worker as well as workers' stories into English for the audience.

Goal:
To provide an array of opinions about your issue. Teach-ins are good for dispelling myths about your campaign.

Tips:
If your campus is a bit reluctant about your campaign it helps to bring in outside speakers who may lend more credibility to your group. Make sure you flyer like crazy for this event, bring it up in classes, send information out on email lists.

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Canvassing

Description:
This means going door to door to door and talking to as many people as possible. You can do this both on campus and off campus.

It helps to have a "rap". This is a structured, yet flexible and open 'speech' of sorts that you say to the people you talk to (i.e. other students). Every rap at every door is different, but they all include the same basic elements which include:
who you are, what your group is, discussion of your issue as well as issues your 'door' is interested in, ask them if they'd like to sign your petition or write a letter or even get involved by coming to your next event or general meeting. Have scripted talking points and responses to questions.. UNIFY your message!!

Canvassers should go out with plenty of materials to hand out and they should keep track of who they speak with and what the conversation was like. It's best to have one person bottom-line keeping track of all this info.

Goal:
Build your group by canvassing on campus, raise money or community ties by canvassing off-campus. If you want to ask for money, some towns might make you get a permit; contact the town clerk.

Tips:
Its a good idea to carry a clipboard. It might be good for new canvassers to go out paired with someone with experience. For examples of Canvassing materials check out the Action Resources page.

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Leaflets

Description:
Leaflets might include any of the following: information on an issue, arguments for your position, suggestions for action, sources, references for further reading, announcement of a rally or event or information on when and where your group meets.

Goals:
Leafleting gets to people who would not come to your meetings or stop at your information table.

Tips:
Many leaflets will be thrown away immediately -- you might be able to retrieve these and reuse them. Also, try using recycled paper. Depending on how much you want to say, using 1/4, 1/6 or 1/8 sized sheets works fine. Use the backs of discarded flyers from other groups if they're left in the recycling bin or around the copier.

At a busy time, one person can hand out several hundred per hour. Be friendly but aggressive and people will be more likely to take a sheet. Stand directly in their path and give a big friendly "Hello!" to get their attention.Have several people leafleting together to catch people moving in all directions.

Its a good idea to have a basic leaflet with information about your group, when and where it meets - especially in the beginning of the year when there are new students on campus.

Post leaflets in unusual places! Explore bathroom stalls, make tiny slips of paper that you tape EVERYWHERE, flyer bikes, TVs, anywhere an everywhere. Keep in mind your campus's flyering policies and how strictly they are enforced. If you're disciplined or fined, it might not be worth it.

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Posters & Flyers

Description:
Posters and flyers are things that you can all over campus.

Goal:
Announcements, wittily stated facts, information...

Tips:
Make your flyer or poster creative -- it needs to stand out from all the others hanging on your campus. The text should be large, clear and concise. Have an artistic friend or activist do your posters by hand; they'll stand out more.

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Classroom Presentations

Description: Ask your professors or progressive faculty on campus and ask them if you can give a 5-10 minute presentation on the campaign. Some groups have also had workers come in to classes to speak with a student from the campaign.

Goals: Often times groups will host a teach-in and you just don't get the numbers you were hoping for, right? So instead of waiting for folks to come to y'all, go to them. Use this time to get folks excited about the campaign and interested in getting involved. Give them a concrete thing that they can do- come to a meeting or an action, sign-up for tabling or flyering. Be creative about the ask- people will be less likely to come to a meeting.

Tips: Don't forget to pass around a sign-in sheet that asks for email and phone numbers. Make sure you have translators available if necessary.

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- Stepping Up the Pressure -

The "Bomb" (aka Fax Bomb, Phone Bomb, "Get Active", etc.)

Description:
Gather together various ways to contact your president or other administrative targets including fax, telephone and/or email. Make flyers announcing a specific day that you intend to do the action giving out all the information and asking folks to call throughout the day.

The president (or other targeted person) receives emails and faxes and phone calls all day long from concerned individuals at your school or in the community.

Context:
This action can be used on its own and during a larger more intense action like a sit-in. You want to disturb your target as well as make them realize how much support you have from the student body as well as from outside groups.

Tips:
United Students against Sweatshops (USAS) has a great resource similar to the 'bomb' called the Get Active.

To send out a Get Active about a campaign, USAS needs:
1. Short description/call to action
2. Longer, background section - "What's at Stake"
3. Sample email to be sent to target(s)
4. Target(s) and their valid email addresses/phone #s
5. Relevant graphics or pictures
If you think your campaign is at a point that merits a Get Active being sent to everybody in USAS, we can help facilitate the process, or you can get in touch with USAS organize(at)usasnet.org

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Letter-Writing

Description:
This Action can go several ways. You can get people to write letters by tabling and canvassing or you can take a few minutes at a meeting and have everyone write one to your target and other important administrative figures, including the Board of Trustees. Ask supportive faculty and staff to write letters too!

Letters to the Editor are also a good idea. Get in touch with the editorial board of the newspapers on your campus (see more on Media Strategy). Generally these letters are short, so make it exciting to read and to the point. Newspapers also print longer opinion pieces, try and have one written every week. If your letter or opinion piece is for a school paper you can usually make a request that they print it on a specific date. You can also ask faculty to write letters to campus newspapers and local papers in your school's town or perhaps in other publications as well.

A personally written letter is much better than a form letter, but the latter can be useful when going for volume. A good letter usually states its case quickly and concisely, examples of form letters can be found in the Action Resources page.

Context/Goal:
You want to get your message out far and wide. Your local community can be very supportive and might not find out about your campaign until they read about it in the daily paper. Also, universities tend to respond when they're getting bad press.

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Petitions

Description:
Petitions are a way to show that the public/student body supports you. They can be a tool for introducing people to an issue. Have petitions out when tabling, but don't just wait for people to come to you. Stand in high-traffic areas around campus and ask people passing by to sign on. It's a good idea to always have a few names at the top of the sheet, so no one is the first signer. Keep the original petition and send copies to your target(s). Have a spot for email address or telephone somewhere on the sheet so you can add the signers to your general database/mailing list.

See examples of petitions in the Action Resources page.

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Banner Drops

Description:
Drop a banner from a high spot. Remember the writing must be large enough to be seen from down below. Use bright colors and keep the text to a short punchy phrase. This is often a good photo-op.

Note: Possibility of disciplinary action or arrest (administrators may see your beautiful banner as a defacement of university property).

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March

coming soon

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Rally

Description:
A mass convergence of people in a central part of campus. Rallies can include chanting, signs, banners, music, marching, poetry, drumming, street theater, speeches, humor, singing and anything else you like. A rally can lead to a march which can lead to an invasion of an administrative building, which really ups the pressure. There should be intense and clear advertising including press releases (for how to write a press release, see Media), announcements in classes and to other groups, flyers and posters, chalking sidewalks and blackboards, emails and phone calls to support base, etc.

Choose an MC ["emcee"] for the rally and develop an order of events. Rallies usually begin with a short introduction by the MC and then a series of speakers, chants, songs, skits, and/or anything else you think of!

Tips:
Keep speakers on relatively strict time limits. Have a good diversity of speakers; don't always rely on the same people. Get new people to speak (sing, play an instrument, etc); empower all group members to develop their public speaking abilities. Look out for the press and have a media spokesperson on hand. It's good idea to have press packets available at all times (see Media Strategy). For good photo-ops, make the rally visually attractive with lots of signs and banners.

Worker Involvement:
This is a good event for workers to participate. Some may be willing to speak, others may just want to stand among the crowd, holding signs or wearing buttons. But as always, it is imperative to be aware of management pressure and harassment. Prioritize workers' voices! If folks don't feel comfortable speaking in public (make sure they know how important it is for them to be active in the campaign, though!) read anonymous testimonials from the stage!

Goal:
The purpose of a rally is to show your level of support to your target, invigorate your supporters and to attract media attention which can bring new people to the campaign.

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Guerrilla/Street Theatre

Description:
A short play or skits created for a specific issue. The message should be simple and clear, and mostly visual- thus creative costumes, props and signs are quite important. Perform it in your campus black box and/or in front of the president's office or in a high-traffic area of campus.

Goal:
Street Theater can do a lot. By using a new medium, your group can reach out to new people on campus. Get in touch with student theater groups and see if they'd like to work on a play about your issue. Theater is also great because its exciting, fun and as a visually attractive medium will attract people normally not drawn to your other events. Invite workers to come see it.

For an example of a living wage play see Action Resources.

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Caroling and Singing

Description: Appropriate pop culture! Singing and caroling is a creative way to get your message across in a catchy, familiar fashion. Pull together an instrument or two and rewrite songs everyone knows. Around holidays deck yourself out in costumes and carol campus. Try serenading administrators during important meetings or outside their offices, or form a roving choir at strategic times in the day. Have fun.

See Harvard's living wage songs here!

 

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Radical Cheerleading

Description:
Cheerleading squad pumped up and yelling and chanting about your campaign and your issue. You can get new folks involved this way. Come up with outfits, cheers and moves/routines. Perform anywhere you want. (For cheers and moves, check out Action Resources).

Goal:
A new fun way of getting your message out and getting new cheery people involved.

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Buttons/T-shirts

Description:
Find someone artistic to design a logo for your group or your campaign and plaster it on whatever you want. Silkscreen T-shirts, make buttons, print stickers, stencils (for more on all of these things, check out Action Resources). You can then sell these things while you're tabling. Have group members wear buttons as much as possible.

Goal:
This is a great low-commitment way to bring people into the campaign. No matter how busy folks are, they can wear your t-shirt or armband and feel like they're part of your coalition. Also, this can be a great way to show student support and make your campaign seem omnipresent on campus.

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Vigils

Description:
Vigils are a great way to gather people in a relaxed atmosphere to reflect upon the struggle that you're engaged in. Vigils may or may not be faith-based. Vigils are a time. They are good at night time, especially with candles. Gather folks in a circle and ask people to speak or contribute however they like (song, poetry, reading). All-night vigils also send powerful messages to the rest of the student body and the administration -- you might link an over-night visual to the workers who clean buildings all night on your campus.

Goal:
You want to make it clear that you're dealing with a serious issue. Vigils can create a safe space to share personal experiences, thoughts and feelings related to your campaign. If you choose to have a faith-based vigil, this can help your group reach out to religious organizations or congregations.

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Classroom Invasions & other uninvited publicity stunts

Description:
Speak out wherever your target goes and whenever the public will listen! You might interrupt a lecture given by a university administrator, or you might storm the stage when a famous speaker comes to campus and ask the speaker to demand a living wage.

Note: Risk of disciplinary action or arrest (don't be afraid, but be aware!).

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- Direct Action -

Student Strike

Description:
A very powerful tactic specifically among administrators is for students to not attend class. This removes all legitimacy from the administrative bureaucracy and places it in the hands of the students who can now use their time to organize. Many things can be happening during a strike including teach-ins, rallies, marches and other events to mobilize people. A student strike requires a very high level of support, as you want the majority of students to walk out. This is possible, but hard.

Goal:
Disrupt the status quo of your school, so that the power is in the hands of the students and the administration becomes desperate and is more apt to listen to you and take your campaign seriously.

Tips:
Get supportive professors involved, signing on to say they refuse to teach classes until the demands are met.

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Sit-In

Description:
Sit-ins are a tactic that first gained popularity in the thirties in the labor movement, then in the sixties in the civil rights movement. They have recently been used again on college campuses in the anti-sweatshop movement. Occupying a building is a very strong non-violent form of action that your group can take. By sitting in your school president's office, or an important part of the administration building, you exert power over your target by reducing its ability to operate. When you directly attack and challenge an institution's control system, the result can be anything from confusion, to intense hostility, to defeat. You risk punishment and arrest, but with a good strategy and tactics, you greatly increase the chance of negotiations and success.

You need a core group of people to start the effort. Organize a series of meetings over the course of which you introduce the sit-in option, and start MONTHS in advance. This takes serious planning. Don't force reluctant people to commit, but over a couple of weeks build up a list of people willing to do so. Members who do not want to sit-in will hopefully be supportive of those who do, and you need some activists on the outside to organize rallies and do the work behind the scenes. It is extremely imperative to work out various contingency plans in case things don't go exactly as planned.

There are many roles in any direct action. Roles for folks to bottomline (keep in mind that bottomlining doesn't mean DOING everything the role entails, but just making sure it all gets done. Be the point person. Roles might include media, negotiation, student/faculty/faith/community outreach, health, rallies, finances, legal, parent/family contact, web, supplies, vigils, events, escalation, flyering, and so on.

Context/Goal:
You've worked on an issue for a substantial period and you feel like you are hitting an administrative brick wall thus you want to exert your power over your target by making it difficult for them to continue with business as usual. The sit-in may lead to press coverage, increased community and campus support and ultimately to negotiations. But don't let the administration trick you with setting up new meetings; look for something that proves that they are committed to your issue and to meeting your demands.

Tips:
You should not hold a sit-in until you have worked through the initial stages of educating people and building momentum on your campus.

Rely on word of mouth, avoid listservs and school email accounts (you should always be careful using online communication).

message this action as a last resort. as it is, make sure everyone knows why and what brought you to this point. use positive messaging whenever possible.

Risk:
This is a high-risk action. The administration can call the police and you can be forced (dragged) out of the building and possibly to jail. Knowing that this is an arrestable action, be aware that it will be even more difficult and dangerous for some folks to be involved because of race, sexuality, gender, visa status, etc.

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Hunger Strike/Fast

Description:
Students involved in a campaign who fast or go on a hunger strike refuse to eat for set amounts of time (fasts) or refuse to eat until their demands are met. The two can happen simultaneously by different people involved allowing for varied personal needs. (For a specific example, see the Georgetown hunger strike case study). Most people can go without food for several days without major consequences however for longer periods of time, it can become dangerous. (Everyone is different and reactions will vary, please be sure to spend adequate time discussing this strategy and consult a nurse or doctor if you decide to do anything which limits your daily food intake) Fasting is a traditional non-violent tactic that has been used by women suffragists, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, political prisoners and others. If you are going on a prolonged hunger strike, read up on it first, so you know what you're doing.

Goal:
Refusing to eat may not directly exert power over your target, but hunger strikes can be useful by demonstrating your commitment and will cause inactive people to join in on your side. It will very often get you media coverage (but don't count on this for the first few days). Hopefully, your target will accept your demand rather than see people suffer and risk their health.

Tips:
 

READ THE GEORGETOWN CASE STUDY!!!

If members of your group are going on an unlimited hunger strike, make sure that other members are eating so that they have the energy to organize support behind your struggle. You will need negotiators, media contacts, health coordinators, campus outreach people, etc.

Remember, many people deprive themselves of food because of eating disorders, especially on college campuses. Thus, it is imperative that you are cautious not to promote this. It is also important that potential strikers who may have or have had an eating disorder think about their role in this action.

If you are striking, make sure to be drinking lots of water as well as consuming 1-2 teaspoons of salt daily. This is by no means exhaustive advice- please talk about this action extensively within your group and with a supportive health professional.

Risk:
This action is very high-risk for health, both physical and psychological. If your group is thinking about this action, all members must read about the health/emotional issues around fasting, and you should coordinate a medical team long before the action begins.

This action is usually not illegal (depending on the specifics of the hunger strike) but be aware that the university can take action against you or might make academic threats (read about what Georgetown administrators did).

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Hacktivism (aka Electronic Civil Disobedience)

Description:
In recent years, "hacktivists" have used the internet as new medium for classic activist tactics. For example, you can stage a "virtual sit-in" whereby you shut down a target's website. We don't fully understand these techniques ourselves yet, so check out the links below and let us know if you can help us elaborate!

"Hacktivism" on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacktivism
"Denial-of-Service Attack": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denial-of-service_attack
the electrohippie collective: http://www.fraw.org.uk/ehippies/tools.shtml

Risk:
Many hackivist tactics are illegal, and use of your school's network to do anything related will definitely be against some rule or another.

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Building Invasion

Description:
Related to a sit-in, a building invasion might be a complement to any other action. For example, you may begin with a rally that leads to a march that leads to a building invasion, which could even lead to a extended sit-in. Ah, the possibilities!

Goal:
Demonstrate your support and ability to disrupt -- if you can stop the university from operating normally, the administration will have to take you seriously.

Risk:
Just like an extended sit-in, this action may end in you being dragged away by cops. As with any arrestable action, you need to be sensitive to the higher risk levels for people of color, queers, women, and others.

 

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