Rally Organizing Guide
An effective rally can be as basic as several folks standing outside of their Representative’s office, holding signs to show where they, as constituents, stand on an issue. Or it can be much more involved — to include a full program of speakers, a hefty recruitment effort, and partner organizations. And it can be anything between. It depends on your goals for the rally, your group’s capacity, and how much lead time you have.
This guide provides tips from our experiences organizing different kinds of rallies. You’ll have to figure out what makes strategic sense for your particular rally.
(1) Before your rally
1. Choose a date, time and location.
If your event is targeting a member of Congress, it makes the most sense to hold your rally outside of their office. If your city has central town square, this can also be a great location. Or maybe it makes sense to pick a location that ties to the issue you’re focusing on. When choosing a location, consider direct pressure on your target, accessibility, parking and visibility — to the public and the media.
Rallies are often held during business hours (starting no earlier than 8:30 am and no later than 4:30), when we have the best chance of getting media and the attention of Congress. The lunch hour is often the best time during the business day to turn out the most people — and it’s a convenient time for reporters.
If you have an event outside of a member of Congress’ office, it’s a good idea to call them as soon as you’ve determined your date and time. It’s great to ask if you can meet with their office before or after the event. If you do get a meeting, be sure to review the MoveOn.org District Meeting guide.
2. Line up speakers.
Here are a few examples of speakers it may make sense to invite:
- Everyday folks with compelling personal stories related to the issue. For example, during our health care campaign, MoveOn Councils often invited people to speak who had been denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
- Small business owners
- Community leaders
- Veterans have a unique role and stature in public policy debates because of their service to our country.
- Local/State Elected Officials: Mayors, state representatives, state senators, city council members and others in the area. (Note: in an election year, do not invite anyone who is running for public office.)
It’s very important that you prepare your speakers well. Make sure to have a prep call or meeting with everyone who is speaking at your rally.
3. Plan logistics.
Do you need a sound system? If you’re in a large city where you’ve had large crowds in the past, you should arrange to have at least a basic sound system.
Do you need a permit for your event? In most communities, you don’t need a permit to stand on public property — including public sidewalks. But depending on the location of your event, you may want to check with local authorities ahead of time. Many senate offices are in federal buildings that do require permits. If you’re unsure, just check with local authorities. Also, if you have a sound system, you are more likely to need to arrange a permit.
What roles need to be filled? This depends on the size and details of your event, but here are some roles to consider planning for:
- Greeter: As the rally host, you’ll have a lot to attend to — so it’s good to designate someone specifically to attend to the people who come to your event, greeting them as they arrive, talking with them, making them feel welcome, and signing them in.
- Emcee: This person starts and concludes the rally, introduces speakers, and keeps the program on time. Think of this person as the “master of ceremonies.”
- Cheer-leader: This person leads chants and cheers at the rally.
- Visuals & Sign Coordinator: This person is in charge of coordinating a group of folks who will make or print signs and other visuals for the event.
- Media Coordinator: See the media section below.
4. Prepare the materials you’ll need
You’ll want to make or print signs to hold at your event. Other materials you may want to have on hand include: sign-in sheets, copies of the media advisory, and notes about what you want to say.
5. Recruit people to your event.
Hit the phones: The most tried-and-true way we know to get people out to events is to pick up the phone and call them.
Emails: You can also invite people over email from your host tools page.
6. Contact the media.
It’s really important to get the media to cover your event – news coverage educates other constituents on the issue, and puts additional pressure on your target. Click here for the MoveOn.org Media Guide — use it to invite members of the media to your event.
7. Have a final check-in call with your group.
Walk through the event from start to finish to make sure everything is ready and everyone is clear about their role. Anyone who is speaking or playing a role should be on the call. You can also discuss any breaking political updates related to the issue.
8. Make final preparations — including reminder calls
In the last 24 hours before your event, make sure you’re ready! Re-read this guide and review all your materials. Also, be sure to check in with any local organizational partners (if applicable) the day before the event to finalize any logistics items and talk through any questions.
(2) During your rally
Arrive at least 20 minutes early. Typically some folks will show up early, and you’ll want to be there to greet them.
If your event is at a Congressional office, the first thing you should do when you arrive is to go and give the staff a heads-up that you’re there. They should know that you’re coming, as you will have called them, but this still makes sense as a courtesy.
Welcome people as they arrive, and ask folks to start displaying their signs.
Start as close to on-time as possible. Don’t wait more than ten minutes after your advertised start-time — especially if any reporters are there.
Here’s a sample 1-hour rally agenda, assuming a start-time of 12:00 noon:
- Arrive early — no later than 11:40am to make sure there are no unanticipated logistical issues, and to greet folks who arrive early.
- Starting at 11:45am – Greet reporters as they arrive. You can usually identify reporters as people with notebooks who aren’t participating in the rally. TV reporters usually arrive in vans with TV station logos on them and will have large cameras. Radio reporters often have visible recording equipment also. Again, it’s best if someone is set up to do just this task and nothing else. See the SigOn.org Media Guide for more detailed information.
- 11:45-12:05 – As people arrive, greeters welcome them and sign them in. You’ll want at least one designated greeter — more if you anticipate more than 40 people.
- 11:45-12:10 – Lead the crowd in cheers and chants. Again, it’s best if someone is set up with a megaphone or other sound system for this
- 12:10-12:15 – Emcee officially starts the event, thanks people for coming, and briefly states why you’re all there. You should let people know how long the rally will go.
- 12:15-12:20 – First speaker (introduced by emcee)
- 12:20-12:25 – Second speaker (introduced by emcee)
- 12:25-12:30 – Third speaker (introduced by emcee)
- 12:30-12:40 – Emcee wraps up prepared statements and takes questions from the media
- 12:40-12:50 – Continued chanting and cheering
- 12:50-12:55 – Emcee thanks people again for coming, and repeats any important next step actions people should take.
- The public event should take no more than one hour.
- Ask others to step up into roles — don’t run a one-person show!
- If you are on a public sidewalk, make sure to keep a path clear for passersby.
- People often tend to huddle close together — and this often makes their signs less visible and makes the crowd look smaller. Encourage folks to spread out and to make their signs visible to the public and the media.
- Chants are often a great energizer.
- Have fun!
(3) After your rally
1. Hold a meeting to debrief your rally and to talk about next steps. Plan that gathering to take place within 10 days of your rally.
2. Follow-up with folks who attended your rally:
- Call through your sign-up sheets to thank people for coming and ask them to attend the debrief/next steps meeting.
- Debrief with any members who took on leadership roles during the event. This includes greeters, the Emcee and other coordinators.
- Share any news coverage and press clippings with attendees. (It’s also great to send this to the office of your member of Congress.)
- Send a thank-you note to any of the speakers from your event.
3. Celebrate, and get ready for what’s next!