Chapter Nine – What Does It Take to Make A Good Action?

OK, so we have gone over the theory of many of the parts of organizing and how these work.  By now hopefully you have in mind some change you want to see; very likely you want to get the ball rolling and do an action.  That’s great.  If you have jumped ahead to this chapter go back; it really helps to have a good grasp of why you are doing what you are doing.


Here are some nuts and bolts for putting your actions together.  It might seem long and intensive, sure shortcuts can be taken, but in my experience – especially when you are starting out – you will get MUCH better results if you are thorough in your planning and implementation.  And success breeds success.  Victories will bring more people to you.


Who can give us what we want?

The first question you need to answer is “who is the enemy?”  Who can give you what you want?  Remember; make it a person, not a building, not an agency, not a business.  Someone, some person, is in charge of each of these.  You want to find out about this person.  Where does he or she live?  Is she or he on any boards or lead any other organizations? Where does he or she worship (church, synagogue, temple, mosque, woodland glade, whatever)?  Does she or he belong to any clubs, etc.  The answers to these questions will give you ideas for targets for your actions, maybe ways you might want to phrase your demands and flyers.  Don’t research to death, but gather some of this information so you can proceed.


What are our demands?

Next question is “what specifically are the demands? What do you want done?  If you can’t say what you want, they will not be able to fix the problem.  Sounds easy but, in my experience training, it is not easy.  You want to demand action solutions, not “will you work with us/help us/cooperate with us?”  It’s easy for the enemy to say yes to these kinds of demands and then do little to nothing and say “well I am cooperating”, or send a subordinate to some meetings that lead to nothing and yet claim they are working with you.  You want to frame the demands so they require yes or no answers, anything less is a maybe.  If the enemy tries to wriggle out of it or be wishy-washy you can simply say “we will have to take that as a ‘no.’” Then, if they mean yes, they will clarify that is their intension.  You want time-frames, with deadlines, for any agreements.  You want to write these demands down BEFORE you go on the action in case your negotiations begin then and there, as sometimes happens. If things change at the action, you learn more, something happens, then you can always revise the demands with your folks after the action.


 ADAPT members blocked HUD’s doors, covered them with posters turned so those inside could get our messages.  “On a mission from ADAPT” emergency tape and replacing HUD with ADAPT on the welcome sign completed the re-do.   Photo: Tim Wheat  

colorful posters over the heads of ADAPT folks blocking entryway to HUD HQ.

Scouting the hit.

You want to scout the hit, in other words go and look at where you will be doing the action.  Make sure it is the right place with your own ears, eyes and whatever.  Once at a national action in Houston my partner and I went to see the location way ahead so we wouldn’t tip anyone off we were coming.  We re-confirmed we had the correct person by phone the day before BUT when our 250 activists arrived, a stranger came out from the house just having stepped out of her shower.  Turned out the opponent had recently moved but had his old phone number switched to the new location (something that had just recently become possible), so when we called we had the right people but not the right place.  Save yourself this embarrassment, scout the hit thoroughly.    


Find out as much as possible, as many details as you can.  How many doors does the place have and where are they?  I can’t count the number of times an enemy has tried to slip out a side door, only to be greeted by some of our smiling crowd; they would have gotten away had we not been prepared.  How many of the doors are accessible?  You potentially may need to deal with all the doors but you want to know where your folks can get in.  How many are locked and how many are unlocked?  Slipping in a small back door is a tried and true way to use the element of surprise. Where are the stairs?  Are they locked? There is a classic ADAPT story from our Montreal action where Wade Blank scouted the APTA[1] hotel and found a locked back stairway that led to the basement.  He put a book of matches in the latch and when the group returned later that evening all the folks in manual wheelchairs went in that door and were bumped down a flight of stairs into the basement and entered the lobby coming up on the elevators, while those in motorized chairs went in the front door, through an unsuccessful blockade of baggage carts.


If your target is in a larger building, where inside the building is your target located?  What is the fastest accessible way to get to there?  You don’t want to be consulting the building directory with your group of folks around you while the security guards are getting alarmed and coming over, shutting down the elevators, etc. or your target is slipping out the service entrance.  Nor do you want to scuttle off down a hallway only to be confronted by stairs or a locked door

How many elevators and how big are they?  How many people will fit in an elevator will give you an idea of how much time you need to get everyone upstairs, and the likelihood of everyone getting up – the most committed and assertive should go first, those who can help others might want to be spread throughout the group.  Where are the elevators located, do they go to all floors?  Sometimes only certain elevators go to certain floors, sometimes you need a key to get to certain floors.  Where are the ones that go to your target?  You don’t want to be heading for the 5th floor and some people get on the elevator for floors 7 -15, get up, realize their mistake, wait for the elevator to return, get on, then have to take that elevator back down to the first floor, get off, get on the floors 1-6 elevators – if the security doesn’t stop them.


What types of security do they have (people, desks, cameras…)?  Different types of buildings will have different kinds of security.  Post 9-11 security is increased somewhat, but you can plan for this with use of different doors, groups entering from different directions, or simply bold face brazening through.  Sometimes in ADAPT we call this “water around the rock” where the group bypasses one or more members who are hung up by the guard discussing our desire to visit this or that office or perhaps signing everyone in a visitors log or guestbook, being told they can’t come in or some such thing.  In some places where people entering must have bags x-rayed or scanned your folks will want to make a point of carrying minimal stuff.  Some places present so many problems it might be better to pick another location to encounter your target.   What about the garage if you know where the target’s parking space is?  Or their country club?  Or their house?


Don’t Forget the Outside

The same is true of routes to the building, what is the best route to take?  You don’t want to have to backtrack a block because there is not curb cut at the far end of the block or the sidewalk stops.  You don’t want to think Elm Street takes you to Main Street, only to find (with all your group following and muttering under their breath) you really wanted to be two blocks over on Maple Street.  Also, make sure the person leading the group knows the correct route.  Too many times I have been on actions where the leader of the march does not know the route for one reason or another; bad plan!


You will probably be at this location for a while, and your folks are only human.  Where are nearest bathrooms?  Food (if you don’t bring your own)?  Water?  People will eventually need these things and if you don’t have a plan some may wander off, perhaps deciding not to return or being prevented from returning by some cop or other authority figure.  Perhaps worse, they cannot find anything nearby that they are allowed to use.  When we have neglected this in the past we have even lost people (temporarily) who could not find their way back once their urgent mission was completed.  You don’t want people just leaving for these things.  Even when you tell them where to find the restroom, you want them to tell you they are leaving to go there.  And you don’t want everyone going at once. 


You don’t want people going off to get their own food and drink because this spoils your group cohesion in a number of ways.  First, you have less folks there; they may not be able to rejoin you, etc.  Second, some folks may be able to afford to get snacks nearby while others may not; that attacks your group cohesion because then some folks are fed while others are hungry or thirsty with nothing, or people watch each other get different quality stuff and it starts bad feelings.  You can plan for snacks if you think you may be there for a while.


Find a place where your folks can meet up ahead of time. You want a place that is nearby but not in sight of the target, and that is public enough that you will not be bothered by security type folks.  You want to arrive at your target location in an organized fashion; a gathering place allows you to wait for everyone to get there, so you can arrive at your goal together.  (We neglected to do this here in Austin one time and a new member of our group arrived early and went into the office we were planning to hit and started asking everyone where the ADAPT meeting was going to be; talk about tipping your hand!)  This is also sometimes a good opportunity to put on signs, get your theater stuff ready, etc.  (Distribute water, snacks, whatever throughout the group so when you get there it won’t be stuck in the backpack of the one person who got locked out of the building while everyone else is inside.)  In addition, we have found it’s helpful to go over demands, the plan and the “what if questions” one more time so — as much as possible — everyone is on the same page.  You don’t want people getting off subject and discussing other problems and issues while you are trying to drive home your point, so it’s best that everyone has the goals fresh in their minds.


One last point about scouting: done indiscreetly, scouting itself can tip off the opposition.  Going well ahead of time lets your reconnaissance visit fade from everyone’s mind before you arrive.  Another way to be discreet is to have your scout not look like you, dress in a suit or something.   If you have a disability group you may want to have an able bodied person do the scouting so you don’t forewarn anyone that you are coming.


Babs Johnson heads a long line of marchers in wheelchairs heading down a highway.  Folks are wearing orange safety vests.

Babs Johnson and Daniese McMullin-Powell lead a long line of marchers on ADAPT’s famous 144 mile March from Philly to DC to set our people free!  


Marching is a good way to make sure everyone arrives at your destination together and safe.  (Put an experience person at the start and end of the line.)  The line adds drama but often takes away the element of surprise.  Single file makes you look longer and organized. 


Photo: Tim Wheat.



Production is about getting people involved and getting people to turn out.  How are you going to get folks in your group to come to the action?  You have to tell them, but sometimes you need to do more.  You want to show how each action is very important (if it isn’t why do it?) and how that person is really needed, and why they should really care about it.  The more people are involved in an issue the more likely they are to turn out for the actions.  Some people love the excitement of it, other people may not but you want them all there.  How you cut the issue to your folks plays a big part in getting folks to participate.


In addition, maybe there are other groups that would support us such as: other disability organizations, centers for independent living, community groups, etc.  ADAPT has not always had the best luck in this regard partially because folks have heard about our civil disobedience arrest actions, but for rallies and press conferences and other events of that type we get more of these groups.  It’s my experience the less confrontational the event, the more people come.  Another issue that works at cross purposes to including other groups is secrecy because the more people know about something the more likely information will leak out to the wrong people, so you must balance these two needs.  Last but not least it is important to make sure these other groups are supporting groups and do not bring along a different set of demands.  We once were having a meeting with then Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and after the smaller meeting she was going to meet with our entire group.  She came out to announce the agreement we had come to (a good one) and two AIDS activists had come in and started chanting her down about some other issue.  Another way this can happen is that people come to your protest with signs or speakers on a different subject.  More people is terrific, but not if they are not supporting your issue.  That said, look for allies and try and include them.



Transportation is a big issue in getting groups of people to a location. This is especially true for people with certain kinds of disabilities (like folks who use wheelchairs, or folks who get lost easily). You want to ask and answer how, specifically, are we going to get our people there?  Who is going to pick up whom?


A proper address (for your meeting place, not your target – transit systems have been known to warn the enemy) for some kinds of public transit, like paratransit or cabs, is vital.  Helping folks who are coming on public mainline buses can help cut down on the wait time – with limited accessible seating on each bus only so many of your members can take that bus at one time and if you have more than a couple using the same bus line some are forced to wait for the next bus since the first one is full.  So looking for nearby bus routes, and alternative transit is very helpful.  Coordinate rides for people; if someone is driving maybe they can pick up some of the other people.


In your planning you will want to build in time for people using public transit.  Paratransit is notoriously late or early, some folks will be there hours ahead of time, while others will trickle in just as you are wondering if they are coming at all.  Folks riding the regular bus will also be held up.



We tell people to arrive at the gathering point a half hour to an hour early.  This allows for transit to take too long, as well as time for people to get their signs on, supplies distributed, to go over the demands and all the last minute preparations.   But if you do this, don’t say you are doing this, or everyone will come at the last minute and you will have blown the leeway you were trying to build in to your schedule.


Do we need anything special?

Think about anything you may want to be sure to bring.  It’s often good to have snacks and water in case you are there for a while and don’t have access to these things.  Will you need umbrellas for rain or sun, spray bottles to keep people cool if you are out in the sun, blankets if it is cold or you will be there all night?  Will you need an attendant or two to help folks with whatever they might need help with?


Divide these things up between your folks and tell people what to bring.  There will be some things you generally want to tell folks to bring like snacks or a raincoat or whatever, and there will be other specific assignments you will want to assign to specific people like “Janie you have a car so can you bring a case of water?”  Overlap is not bad because often people forget and also sometimes they don’t have or can’t afford the things you want them to bring.  This is not about embarrassing your folks or leaving people out, this is about making sure folks are equipped for the day as much as possible.  Think together about your plan and what you will need to accomplish it.



Theater is a great way to increase your impact and to make things more fun for your people.  I am not talking about writing a play about your issue, though you could do that.  Really I mean figuring out how are we going to dramatize the issue?  Blocking a bus so everyone experiences transit that is not available is a way to make your point.  Falling out of your chairs and crawling up the stairs demonstrates what wheelchair users must do to enter places that don’t provide access.  Bringing a coffin to symbolize those that have died waiting for services brings the message home in a strong way, as does hanging a wheelchair from a cross.  Wrapping someone in red crepe paper to show how they have become snarled in bureaucratic red tape shows how their life has become intolerable.  Snarling people in telephone cords demonstrated deaf people’s frustration with not having relay service for talking on the telephone.


The word demonstration means protest but it also means showing an example.  Theater allows you to combine the two for a message with real impact.  Rubber chickens, fake blood, locks and chains, giant scissors, hard hats, you imagination really is the limit.


Theater frequently requires props so you want to think through ahead of time what you will need to bring for successful theater.  Too much or poorly planned theater can swamp your message, but if you think it through, talk it through with your group, you can both make your action more fun for your folks and make it more memorable and create a bigger bang for your target.



Huge yellow billboard with old (access) and new (free our people) logos, Community Choice Act Free Our People and Desert ADAPT. Below the sign large group of Desert ADAPTers are posing with raised fists.

 El Paso’s Desert ADAPT gets out the word about our issues and the group!  Photo: Desert ADAPT


Making Our Message Known

Usually when we do an action we want other folks to know what we are doing and why.  Fliers are a good way to spread the message farther and let the public know what we are concerned about.  Members of the public may be curious but they are only so curious.  Five page screeds with teeny, tiny print covering all sides of the page will be thrown away, not read.  Make your flyers colorful, graphics are helpful (pictures, logos, etc.), not too many words.  Lately our folks have been experimenting with different sized flyers (quarter or one third page sizes).  Be sure to include your group’s name and contact information (phone and or email, website, etc.)  Remember, not all the calls will be friendly so use a phone number of someone who is thick skinned but who can answer questions of people who are really interested.


Posters too are a way to get the word out.  Here being brief is even more critical.  The less words you use the bigger you can write and other folks can read your message from farther away.  Strangers will not understand your jargon either so saying things plainly will help make your message understandable.  Reading and photographing signs on white poster board is harder than on light colored poster board (yellow, light blue).  Dark lettering on a dark background is not very readable either so generally you want to stay away from that.  If you are out by an open street it is often a morale booster for your folks if you have a “honk if you support us” sign.  It doesn’t hurt to bring a couple of markers with you in case you get a sudden inspiration or change of plan.


Bringing duct tape to affix the posters to folks is a good idea, across the knees of a wheelchair user allows them to keep their hands free for movement or whatever; just don’t block your message with the tape.  Long strips of duct tape work a lot better than small strips, especially if you are there for a while, because as a person moves around they tend to work the sign-tape off.  (Anyway, duct tape is good to have for just in case.)  Folks who walk sometimes prefer to have their signs on sticks, or sometimes duct taped to their shoulders and back.


Someone has to make the flyer; someone has to copy it. Just remember the old story about everybody, somebody, anybody, and nobody[2].  Posters need to be made ahead of time, and you need thick markers and poster board.  It’s fun to plan a poster party where you get the group together, brainstorm messages and write them down.  Maybe order some veggie burgers (don’t forget the vegetarians[3]) and go over the plans for the day.  Just make sure specific people are responsible for these tasks.


Another thing that can be done ahead of time at your poster party or whenever, is to make up chants, slogans, (songs?) for the action.  Trying to think of things on the spot can be hard as you are trying to keep track of 100 other things, get your message out, make sure everyone is ok and doing what they are supposed to be doing etc.  Chants can really help to get your message across, keep folks focused and on track and get the attention of your target.  Chanting is how I became totally engrossed in ADAPT organizing, but that is another story.  Suffice to say, chanting is more important than most people think. Get some volunteers to lead the chants (encourage them not to go too fast or change up the chant every four minutes.)


Social Media

Social Media is another way to spread the word about what is happening at your action.  Tweeting and uploading videos and stories, for folks who know what they are doing, can be another great way to get the word out and can keep your folks occupied in the lulls during an action.  Just don’t mistake internet involvement for face-time involvement.  When it comes to a good action you will want feet on the ground, bodies.  And you want folks paying attention.  If everyone is lost in the internet they won’t be ready to surround your target when he tries to slip through the side door.


Last but not least, don’t let the cat out of the bag too soon.  If your plan involves surprise you don’t want tweeted out ahead of time, because these little messages tend to travel faster and farther than anyone intended.




A cop leans up against the back of a car while protester's head sticks out from underneath the car.  Protester holds the cop's ankle.

     ASK THE “WHAT IF”                           QUESTIONS

What if the enemy isn’t there? 

What if they want to meet with just a couple of us?

What if they lock us out?

What if it’s really hot?

What if it’s raining?

What if people’s rides come before the action is done?

What if we need a bathroom?

What if we get stuck under a police car and don’t want to get run over? 

Photo: Tom Olin  









Who Does What?

During your planning decide who is going to do what, who will take on what jobs, what roles and that everyone is clear on what their roles and responsibilities are.  Spreading the work around lightens everyone’s load and it helps folks get invested in what you are doing together.

Through the years ADAPT has come to the use of leadership teams.  These allow folks to share responsibilities, for new people to get their feet wet without having to shoulder the whole thing right off the bat, for people with different talents to use those talents and for the old “two heads are better than one” rule to be used.  We usually have a team of three to five people, depending on the number of folks involved, the complexity of the plan and considerations like that.


The action leadership team members are usually the first ones in the door at your target.  Sometimes one will stay back in case not everyone gets inside (if possible you want leadership with all the parts of your group). Often they are also the negotiating team, especially for any negotiations at the action.  Often all of some of them will be the ones to talk to the police should they arrive on the scene.


Some of the other responsibilities you will want to assign include talking to the media at the action, making press calls beforehand,  leading song and chants, making fliers and posters, coordinating transportation, calling all our folks to make sure they come.  Just think through the various jobs and parcel them out.  Some will be done by the action leaders, but some can be done by other people in the group.


Then there are the runners.  In the age of cell phones and walkie-talkies, etc. this job may seem less important but not everyone has technology like this and technology can be listen into by the police so you might want to assign some runners.  But what the heck are they?  Well runners are simply people who can take a message – unedited – from one part of the group to another.  They usually need to be pretty mobile and willing to take the information without their 2 cents getting tangled up in it. Assigning people that role ahead of time helps keep the “over enthusiastic” from appointing themselves to that job and then spreading wrong information.  Sadly there are sometimes people who feel this is a way to make themselves more influential within the group and misinformation seems to travel farther and faster than the real deal.


Media: the Pros & the Cons

Others have written tons about this subject and if you get into it, you can read the books, the blogs, take the trainings and whatnot.  This is just the down and dirty short version for folks looking to do a protest.


Media can be a huge help in getting your message out to the public and sometimes in getting a response from the enemy.  None the less ADAPT has had most of our major successes without much media coverage.  Media is most helpful in letting the public know about your issue.  That is not always critical to getting your enemy to do what you want.


A big hassle is the question do we contact them before the day of the action?  Media people will always tell you the more notice they get the more likely they will be to come and cover your story.  With the more limited news budgets of today this is probably even more true. However, you have NO guaranty that once you tell the media they won’t go and tell your target what you are planning, to get your target’s reaction. Unfortunately this tends to alert your target that you are heading their way.  This once happened to ADAPT of Texas when we were planning to take over the offices of the Texas Health Care Association.  We arrived at their offices only to find them closed and the staff off on an all-day retreat.  Sometimes it won’t matter if your enemy knows you are coming, but if it does don’t think writing “embargoed” on the press release or some other trick will work, there is only one sure fire way to keep a plan secret: don’t tell.


So what do you do?  If you need to, wait till you get there and then call.  You may get less coverage but you get inside.  We had a woman in our group who was fantastic at sounding like an innocent bystander.  She just sounded like someone’s mom, which in fact she is.  So would carry around a sack of quarters (back in the day, you understand) and roll over to the pay phone and start calling the news hotlines to tell about this big old group of wheelchair people who were taking over this or that, blocking the bus or whatever we were doing.  Cell phones make this much easier.


If you are going to call the media, email or fax them, you want to write up a press release.  Again there are tons of resources on how to do this.  The basics are you want to answer these questions:     Who, what, when, where, how, why (briefly).  Who is doing what, when and where you are doing it, and why.  How you plan to do it is a nice embellishment if you have room.  You want to keep it down to one side of a page (about 250 words.)  Put a # sign or – 30 – in the middle of the line at the end to signal you’re done.


You also want to keep, and keep updating, a media contact list with phone numbers, emails, fax numbers and names where you can get them.  Reporters who have covered your issues (or similar topics) well in the past should be on this list, as well as news editors.  When reporters or camera people show up try and get a business card, and at least make note of the TV or radio station, newspaper or other media outlet they are from.  It helps to have someone assigned who will make sure to collect this information and give them copies of your press release and demands.


Background Information

Getting background information is helpful, but it can also be a trap.  You do want rough information about your issue, general background.  Any little facts you can collect to help you cut your issue are helpful to start out.  Things like how many people are on the waiting list for services?  How much money does the bus system spend on a ride on mainline buses versus on paratransit?  How many years since the ADA passed?


Also a few details that will help with your strategy are helpful:  Where is the office of the Board Chairperson?  What is the name of the Executive Director?  Where is the Mayor’s home?  (remember to MAKE SURE you have the right address!)


You want just get enough info to give you the air of knowledge, BUT DON’T GET BOGGED DOWN IN RESEARCH.  One of the common pitfalls is that people feel they must know everything to discuss the issue.  Of course knowing more can help sharpen your argument, embarrass the enemy or make them look foolish but it can also hold you back from taking action because you don’t know ALL the facts, or you just need to know this one more thing, or similar disempowering ways of thinking.  Remember the old motto “Do it, fix it. Do it, fix it” (from In Search of Excellence[4]) You can always add to your argument if you find out more as you go along.  You know the most important issue, namely you and or your folks are having this problem – and that’s a fact.


The “What if” Questions 

As you plan your action you want to be as prepared as possible.  Ask the “what if” questions.  What are they?  Well they are things like  What if…

  • the enemy isn’t there?
  • the enemy refuses to meet?
  • the enemy sends out an assistant?
  • the enemy will only meet with a small group at a future date?
  • they shut down the elevators of the building?
  • the police come and order us to leave, how far do we push?
  • it rains or snows or is way too hot?
  • What if, what if, what if….What are we going to do if these things happen?  The point is you want a backup plan, a “Plan B”, for anything that happens that may mess with your original plan.  With a backup plan, when something goes wrong you switch what you are doing and keep going with your action.  Kinks should not stop you, just go around them the best way you can.  But it is much harder to come up with a plan when 50 things are going on around you and someone is shouting in your ear and a motorized wheelchair has accidentally parked on your foot because there is not enough room in this elevator.  So ask the “what if…” questions ahead of time. Day of the Action, or the Night BeforeIf you are transporting some or all of your folks (a great way to make sure they come if you have the vehicles) call the drivers and remind them who they have to pick up and make sure they bring their maps, and their vehicles are gassed up!  Back in the old days, when we had a full sized van we could cram as many as eight people in wheelchairs in the van, and when you are that tightly packed you tend not to slide around.Call the media, if you plan to do that or better yet, have the person assigned to calling them start calling – only if you have decided to let them know in advance, otherwise call from your hit.

    Make sure you have all the things you will need with you, or that the people assigned to them have them: food, water, props, signs, list of demands, etc.


    At the action 

    Remind yourself and everyone with you this is serious work.  Once the action has started, work to be sure you hold your image.  You want to look like you mean it, not like a bunch of cockroaches milling around.  Make sure people are chanting, staying in line, holding doors, or whatever your plan calls for.  Ongoing stuff like this needs to be kept up, and that is part of leadership’s work.  We call them actions and at times there may be a lot of action, but some of the time it’s a lot of waiting and that’s when things get sloppy.  People get distracted and start side conversations, joke around, wander off and suddenly you look more like a group home outing than a protest.  Even if there seems to be no one else around, keep it up.  It pays off in the discipline of your group and because you never know who actually sees you in action or what will happen next.


    COMMUNICATION is vital.  Remember to keep people as informed as possible about what is going on, especially people who can’t be up front, inside, or wherever the hottest action is.  It can get pretty dull by hour two sitting at the back steps of the building, but if that door is not covered someone may slip out that way and the action is deflected.  It doesn’t even hurt to repeat information from time to time, if for no other reason than to let folks know you are working to keep them as up-to-date with the latest info as possible.  What kinds of things should you say?  Anything folks would be interested in that won’t tip your hand (you never know who is eaves dropping) but will let them know what is up.  Examples: “we have all the doors blocked,” or “the lobby is as full as we can get it,” or “the negotiation team is upstairs in their office,” or “the owner is not here but we are getting the manager to call her.”


    Sometimes you cannot move everywhere to spread the word yourself because your leadership is blocked in.  This is the time to use your “runners,” people who walk can move through the crowd more easily without disrupting everyone and pass messages to people in other areas.  Cell phones and texting can be listened in on, as can many kinds of walkie-talkie radios so be careful what you communicate in these ways.




    Keep an eye out for new folks who may be nervous, and for hot heads who may get too rough, etc.  Simply talking to folks who may be feeling these ways will help.  Sharing a joke with someone who is nervous or telling them they are doing a fine job boosts moral.  Some people get mad or frustrated easily, or they see something upsetting.  Yet they will often calm down when you remind them of the plan, of the commitment to non-violence, or when you simply say “take it easy.”  This comes much better from someone in your group who cares about them, who they trust, than it does from a policeman or worse yet a know it all from the enemy camp.  We need to look out for each other and help each other through.  One action in San Francisco we had a group of construction workers across the street heckling us.  After quitting time they had a few beers and tried to break our line, but because folks knew we were there together and because of a few people reminding everyone of why we were there (not to get into a brawl with these yahoos) everyone stayed strong, in line and ignoring the hecklers.


    As the day wears on you may want to send runners for drinks or food.  Your plan for the day should address this (bring money or food, know where you can get stuff nearby) but remember plan B (the plan you make when your other plan isn’t working)!  Not everything goes according to the original plan; if you are all out in the sun baking to death or freezing your buns off, a little ice water or hot chocolate can be a real morale booster.


    On the other hand, folks may need to tough it out.  Sometimes there just isn’t a way to get to a bathroom or bring food in.  There have been many times ADAPT folks have had to just tough it out.  As AA Milne said “You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”  Sometimes that’s just the way it is.


    The leadership team needs to make use of the caucus, the huddle, whatever, when decisions need to be made.  Police or the opposition will almost invariably try and single out one or two people to deal with, often they try and get an able-bodied person to “be in charge”, so your folks need to be ready to take back the control.  When they come up and say “here’s where we are at,” you don’t want the individual they come up to blurt out a response.  Instead she or he needs to say I need a minute to talk with the leadership team, and if that person is not on the leadership team then he or she needs to direct the police or whomever over to the leadership team.  Going into a huddle, a caucus, or whatever you want to call it has many benefits.  It gives you time to think, share other ideas and perspectives on their offer and get consensus on your response.  In the heat of the moment it is easy to forget the team decision making, and the opposition wants you to forget it, but it is your best tool, and it will gain you more group cohesion and buy in to whatever outcome you create.  One word of caution about this, the leadership team should not be in a constant huddle.  The police won’t wait forever.  Sometimes people in leadership can spend so much time in their huddle they look like a clique or something.  That’s not good either.  It is equally important they spend time moving through the group, checking out what is going on in different places and getting the pulse of the action.


    Man and woman in wheelchairs talk via a letterboard

     Arthur Campbell and Diane Coleman use a letter board to discuss the action and possible  strategies.  Photo: Tom Olin



    Once the action is over, preferably right away, you want to find a place a bit away from your target and debrief for a few minutes on how it all played out.  You want to do it when it’s fresh in everyone’s mind.  You want to be honest, but you don’t need to be mean.  The following questions will probably cover what you need to discuss:  What went well?  What could we improve?  What would we do differently if we had it to do over?  What is the next step?    How shall we celebrate?



[1] American Public Transit Association, the transit companies’ lobby group and national association.

[2]There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.  Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job.  Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.  It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done it.  Author Unknown


[3]This is not about political correctness, it’s about including everyone who wants to be involved and is willing to do things. 

[4] Peters, Tom and Waterman, Jr., Robert H.

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