Thinking of putting on a marijuana march or pot protest in your hometown? I have been organizing rallies and events for 10 years, both in Edmonton and Vancouver. Here’s some advice based on my experience and past mistakes.
* Accept the possibility of arrest. First of all, you must accept arrest as the possible price of pot activism. Remember that it is better to get busted out in the open with all your friends watching and the cameras rolling and the media there, than late at night, all alone, with no one watching. Once you have accepted arrest as inevitable (and our foes promise this is true), then you can decide to get arrested on your terms, not theirs. You are then free to crank the dignity and fun level up to “11” ? have a bud raffle, best plant contest, and so on.
* Learn from others. Plenty of event organizers are floating around who have hard-earned and valuable insights. Join the discussion at cannabisculture.com/chat, and get in touch with activists in your area.
* Pick the right time and date. A good time to start your event is 2pm. Any earlier and you will have smaller crowd. Remember that most people have jobs and cannot attend events during their workday. The Global Marijuana March is always the first Saturday in May. Other good dates are July 4 in the US and July 1 in Canada.
The best opportunities for a successful smoke-in are when another large crowd is keeping the police busy and the streets are full of curious onlookers ? like holidays, fireworks, etc. However, you don’t want to compete with other major events that might draw away your crowd. Try to work synergistically; perhaps you can time your event so that you get people who are just leaving an earlier event.
* Make a poster. Find someone who can design a poster with eye-catching graphics and easy-to-read text. List the event’s time and place clearly, as well as attractions like speakers, drummers, marching bands, face painters, circus performers, free marijuana, and so on.
Your poster should say “prizes will be handed out for best costume and sign” and “no booze or anger, but bring all your buds.” It should also include a contact number “to volunteer, or for more information.”
Posters stay up longer with a 10:1 mix of water and wood glue. They stay up even longer if you haul a ladder around with you and put them high up. Have smaller posters ready for small poles. Add a dash of color to the posters by coloring the pot leaves.
Print a leaflet (mini-poster) to hand out at rock concerts, skate demos, festivals and other youth-culture activities. Distribute posters and leaflets to all compassion clubs, hemp stores, youth retail stores, clubs, alternative and campus radio, and newspapers.
Print as many posters and leaflets as possible, but use what you print. 10,000 leaflets and 1,000 posters can cover a major city. Distribute them through school, work, and activist networks.
Posters and leaflets should be printed and ready at least eight weeks before your event. Your entire city or region should be covered by them at least one month before the day of the smoke-in.
* Make banners. Banners can be hung behind and around the speakers and any musicians. They can also be carried during a parade. Simple slogans and big pot leaves always work well.
* Try to get a permit. Your permit will almost certainly be denied, but you should ask anyways. If a permit is denied, hold the smoke-in regardless, citing your constitutional right to free expression.
Either way, send out a press release immediately ? it’s an opportunity for advance publicity for the rally.
Do not sacrifice any previously-gained tolerance (such as glass pipe sales) to gain a permit ? it is better to go without a permit than without dignity. Trying to work within the bureaucracy can often drain your energy and dilute your focus.
If a permit is obtained, think about obtaining a real sound system and some rock bands. If you are planning a very large event, then insurance should be considered.
Try to get a sympathetic lawyer to agree to help out if something goes wrong with the permit application or if someone gets busted.
* Send out a press release. All local and regional media should be told of the event at least one week before the event. Make sure your fax press release has the date, place, time, reason for being and contact info. You should also call up sympathetic reporters to tell them personally about your event and invite them to attend.
When being interviewed by the media, pick a simple theme in advance and keep repeating it.
* Keep it peaceful. Make an announcement at the beginning of the smoke-in that everyone there swears on their honor to not hurt anyone, not break anything, but to just make a whole lot of noise. That really gets the crowd going and deters provocateurs.
* Plan out your parade. If there is to be a parade, make sure the most stoned people are not leading the crowd. Have some solid folks out front, carrying a big banner. Make sure they pull it tight so people can read it. Also ensure that they walk really slowly, to keep your mob tight.
Have a well-planned route that your front banner folks all know ahead of time. Make sure your route doesn’t send you head-on into oncoming traffic, that it is in a very public, high foot-traffic area, and that your route is given to the local fire department.
* Give away marijuana. If you can afford it and are brave, then joints or other canna-treats can be given out. Make sure this is done within the middle of the crowd, quietly, perhaps even with the distributor wearing a “Groucho” mask.
You can also ask the crowd to sit down in groups of five and pass them one joint each and ask them to share. Getting them to all sit down first is essential, as otherwise there will be a stampede.
* Film the police. Have some brave people designated to follow any “harassment” cops around with cameras. They should constantly ask the police officers questions, such as why there are “grow busters” but no “rape busters,” or their thoughts on the relative harm of cannabis as compared to caffeine, alcohol or tobacco.
The people wielding the cameras should be firm but polite with the police, and should not have any marijuana on their person. Their goal is not to enrage the police, but rather to keep them distracted and show them that they are being filmed.
* Get musicians. If you have money, pay talented musicians to perform drugpeace songs, or thespians to perform short drugpeace dramas. Otherwise convince them to perform for free. Have song sheets or programs to hand out with contact information on them.
* Have a literature table. You can get pamphlets from the BC Marijuana Party. Just give them a call or an email and with a request for a package of pamphlets to reproduce and hand out.
* Collect names and numbers. Remember to collect names and phone numbers of smoke-in attendees who want to help with the next smoke-in or other activism.
* Send it to Pot-TV. Send a well-edited five to 15-minute video of your rally to Pot-TV. We’ll put it online as an inspiration to other rally organizers.
* Keep it fun. It’s usually better to keep your event light and positive. Try to make your event a fun celebration rather than an angry protest.
Nobody is expecting perfection ? your best efforts will be more than enough to get the job done.
“Hug Power” is a technique that may be practiced in some of the more tolerant areas. It can be very effective in stopping police arrests, but it is a risky tactic that will only work under the right circumstances.
Hug Power is used when you wish to deter and prevent arrests, sometimes even resulting in an “un-arresting” or “de-arresting” of the cannabis criminal out of the hands of the police.
Hug Power is practiced simply by a group of people all hugging the person who is being unfairly arrested. If a large number of people are all holding on tightly to each other, with the intended arrestee in the middle, then the police have to pull off a large number of non-violent protesters to reach their target.
I have used this technique at a number of rallies in Edmonton and Vancouver. We have successfully stopped the police from making their arrest a number of times.
To practice Hug Power, you need the crowd to understand what to do. Make an announcement at the beginning of the rally after the anti-provocateur speech.
Take a poll and find out if people are prepared to defend each other using non-violent arrest-resistance tactics. Explain that Hug Power does not mean “hug the police” ? it means “hug the person getting arrested.”
Explain that Hug Power only works on victimless criminals, and only works when video cameras are around to record the unjustifiable use of force by police.
Explain that one is not to touch the police during Hug Power. The point is to obstruct the arrest only. Police should always be spoken to politely, but firmly.
If you are practicing Hug Power, be prepared for the real possibility of getting roughed up or beaten by the cops at some point.
The cops still have “Rodney King-o-phobia” ? they hate getting caught on film using force without clear justification. So be sure to have plenty of independent cameramen and videographers at all your events! The chance of being caught on film is the best deterrent to police violence and your ultimate victory.
As the Yippie writer Vinegar Ben wrote: “The smoke-in is a blank canvas. Be sure your message is in the final picture.”
? For more information and ideas, read Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, it’s a book which outlines methods that poor, unarmed, imaginative people can use to affect public opinion with. Also check out Douglas Rushkoff’s Media Virus ? same topic but more modern tactics.
? The best forum for activist discussion, and the best way to contact me, is the “Activists and Activism” discussion forum at the CC Forums.