Holding a March or Rally: The Step-by-Step Guide

When people think of advocacy, they often think of a march or rally. Such public displays of dissonance often affect public opinion and can also have a genuine affect on the policies of decision-makers.

Below is a short step-by step guide to holding such an event:

  1. Discuss whether or not a rally is the right course of action for you: often you'll find they aren't.

  2. Ensure there's already support for your cause: These events don't just happen on their own; they should be part of an established, ongoing campaign.

  3. Endorsements: Endorsements can give your event legitimacy. If you have a long list of notable organisations supporting your event it'll be much more effective and you'll be more likely to get the support of these organisations' networks as well. You need to work hard to secure the first couple of endorsements, and the rest will generally flow in once they're satisfied that you're legitimate.

  4. Speakers/Performances: You need to do something at a rally to keep people's attention, and generally that means speakers. Plus, if you advertise well-known speakers your rally is more likely to attract more people and add to its legitimacy. You may also need some "pre-rally" entertainment, such as a band or a dramatic performance.

  5. Media strategy: You need to get people along so ensure you have a media strategy from the very beginning. For more details on devising a media strategy see our Marketing & Communications Centre (www.ourcommunity.com.au/mmp).

  6. Advertising: The effectiveness of public events is usually judged on the number of attendees (though the number of people you'll need to appear successful varies, depend on your issue and its scope). You need to advertise for supporters as widely as possible, so get onto this as early as possible. You'll also need to get a poster designed and placed everywhere you can. You'll need to utilise your networks - ask everyone you can to advertise the event.

  7. When will you hold the event? You need to make sure that you're not clashing with anything that could get in your way or draw numbers away from your event (you don't want to be marching to Parliament House and find you're about to march straight through a St Patrick's Day parade). On the other hand, you can also be strategic in your timing; a rally for maternity leave would do well to choose International Women's day for their event.

  8. Permits and insurance: In some states you will need a permit to hold a public rally or march; in others you don't. Check with the police. If you are holding the event at a venue, check with the venue manager as well - they may ask you to obtain public liability insurance, which could be costly. A word of warning, though - double-check that you do actually need the permission of the organisation whose ground you are meeting on, as it may not necessarily be so (even if they say it is).

  9. Where are you marching to? Establish where you're marching to and what you're marching past. Develop a strategic route. Remember to take into consideration other things that may be happening on this day and to allow for disability access. It's often helpful if your destination is in some way symbolic. March for long enough to allow lots of people to see you, but not so long that the crowd gets tired and leaves half way.

  10. Police liaison: It's always in your best interest to keep the police well informed and to cooperate with them. You don't need their permission to hold a rally, but you do need it if you want things to run smoothly, especially things like traffic control and crowd protection.

  11. Legal observers: Legal observers are people who don't actually take place in the rally but stand on the sidelines observing what's happening and noting any potential legal issues or violence. It's a particularly good idea to have them in place if if clashes with police or other opposing groups are a possibility. They can also provide legal advice to anyone who is arrested or the victim of violence. Community Legal Centres are often good sources of legal observers - particularly if they support your cause.

  12. First aid: It's a good idea to have first aid on hand at all times (and not just if you're anticipating some possible confrontations). Sometimes it'll be enough to simply have a person on hand with first aid knowledge and a first aid kit, at other times you'll need a volunteer ambulance crew. Be aware that this may have some associated costs.

  13. Equipment: You'll also need a Public Announcement (PA) system for the speeches and marches. Often these are mounted on the back of a ute or flatbed truck (which also doubles as a mobile stage). Your PA requirements will depend on how many people you're expecting. You may need to line the streets with speakers, you may just need a couple of small ones up the front. It's important that the speakers can be heard, and they often need to be heard over loud background noise.

  14. Funding: Rallies do cost money. Some can be reasonably expensive, particularly if you factor in venue hire, PA systems and public liability insurance, not to mention video linkups or giant TV screens. You can basically forget about grants for this sort of thing. The best thing to do is to get as much in-kind support as you can. Find groups that own PA systems, ask community legal centres to volunteer as legal observers, call in any favours you can. In the end, though, you're actually going to need a few dollars of your own, either drawn from accumulated funds, or by passing around the hat before and during your rally.

  15. Chants and festivities: The best rallies are loud ones, and the loud ones are usually the most fun. Chants, music, performances, and street art all make a rally much more enjoyable and generally more noteworthy. It also portrays a much more positive image for the media (and, by extension, the wider public).

  16. Have fun: Nothing is worse than being too serious, so tackle your protest with a good sense of humour.

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