Public events are one way that you can raise consciousness around a specific issue, cause discussion of your issue on campus, broadcast opposition to a government or corporate policy, or win new recruits. While there are many kinds of events panel discussions, film showings, outdoor rallies, benefit concerts, speakers, etc. they all demand the same general principles of planning and execution.

Panel Discussions are excellent ways to generate dialogue around a specific issue. A panel discussion is typically a series of invited speakers who each make 5-10 minute presentations on a topic, then take questions from each other and the audience. It is important for panel discussions to be well-framed and topical. Invite professors at your school and prominent local activists.

Film Showings are excellent ways to educate current activists and to recruit uninvolved students. Show political documentaries or feature films with a socially-conscious theme, either on a TV or, if available, your campus movie theater. The film could be used as a build up to a larger action (be sure to announce the action before and after the film starts). You can also order pizza and invite people to stay after the film to discuss it.

Band benefits are both great fundraising events and a way to reach out to new constituencies. The important rule of thumb with band benefits is to plan to make much more than you invested. Try to get everything donated: performance space, sound equipment, bands, food. If a club owner or musician is reluctant to donate an evening, then rap with them about the important work that you are doing and how social justice groups can't function without money. Tell them that it's what they can do for the movement, which is the truth. Afterwards, thank the bands and owners, and offer to take them out to dinner so they will be receptive to working with you in the future. During the show, be sure to schedule short and punchy political speeches while the bands are setting up, and make a pitch to raise more money, but remember that people are there to have fun. If you can, display a large banner behind the bands that advertises the name of your group and the issue you are raising money for.

Informational Pickets can be used to keep an issue in the news and to reach out to people involved in a particular institution or business (e.g., picketing outside of a weapons plant will enable you to talk to the employees). All you need is a dozen or more participants with signs and leaflets, who are willing to walk in circles for an hour, two hours, or all day. Sometimes, it is best to work in shifts. Consult with a lawyer or experienced activist to find out the local laws that regulate picketing. Hold signs, pass out literature, but most of all, talk to passerby in a nonthreatening and informative way. If your picket is part of a boycott effort, then be persistent, regular, and creative, to keep the boycott target off-balance and pressured.

Outdoor Rallies can garner considerable attention for your issue through the media, bring new people out of the woodwork, and empower people already involved in an issue. A large and militant rally will make the powers-that-be very nervous, and therefore more accountable. All you need to organize a rally is a few people who have something meaningful to say, and a microphone. In some locations, you may need to get a rally permit; look into it and get one well in advance of the rally itself. Rallies work best if you can mix substantive speeches with music and participatory exercises to loosen up the crowd ("What do we want?" "Tuition Freeze!" "When do we want it?" "Now!"). You can schedule and advertise several speakers in advance, then follow with an open-mic discussion, or you can just stick with one speaker schedule. Remember to circulate a sign-up sheet; be sure to announce your next meeting more than once! Be sure that representation of women and people of color on your speakers' list at least matches that of your campus. Ask other activists, or the women's studies program, or your chaplain's office if you need suggestions for potential speakers.

  1. Setting Goals: Public events are often the result of inspired brainstorming sessions, but when the dust settles, a difficult question must be asked: what are our goals for this event? Your group should set concrete goals for attendance and intended impact. This will give direction to your planning and a criteria for evaluating the event.
  2. Planning: Now that you have an idea and a set of goals, you should define your event. Why are you doing it? Who is it for? Where is it? When is it? After thorough planning, you may want to revise your goals.
  3. Dividing up responsibilities: Make a list of everything that will need to be done and divide up responsibilities among members of the group: getting a rally permit, reserving rooms, filling out forms for student government, making food, etc. Core members and leaders should be sure to delegate tasks, so that one small clique doesn't end up monopolizing all the power and burning themselves out. If possible, devise a system to back up people who don't follow through with their responsibilities.
  4. Logistics, organizing, and networking: Reserve rooms and get permits well in advance; make sure that speakers know what they will be speaking on; arrange transportation for participants. Ask other organizations on your campus to endorse the event or help to organize it. This will build support for your action and broaden its impact.
  5. Outreach/Publicity: See the section on Media and Press Releases.
  6. Last minute preparation: What needs to be done on the day of the event? Make sure that a designated group of activists know what they need to do: calling the media, microphone, setup/ cleanup, literature/donation/ signup table, food, etc.
  7. Evaluation: This step is sometimes skipped because of exhaustion, but it is important for the core organizers to sit down and engage in self-criticism: What did we do right? What could we do better? This will build the cohesiveness of your group and allow you to improve your public events over time.