Sex Education Resource Center
Direct Action Organizing Print
This page provides information on the following types of tactics: holding community forums, gathering petitions, and holding rallies. 

Holding Community Forums

People will support your efforts when they understand the issue, know what needs to be done, and see that they can make a difference. Community forums are excellent ways to educate parents, teachers, community and religious leaders, policy makers, and other youth about adolescent reproductive and sexual health issues. Community forums also offer an opportunity to solicit help from participants in the next phase of your campaign.

What Is a Community Forum?

A forum is an event that gathers an audience to hear people who have experience in a particular subject and who are willing to share their knowledge and perspectives on the issue. A community forum can be a great resource for anyone who wants to learn about an issue. It is also an excellent tool to recruit activists. Anyone can attend a community forum. Toward the end, members of the audience are usually allowed to ask questions of the expert panel.

What Is the Structure of the Community Forum?

A community forum should last no more than 60 to 90 minutes—long enough to educate and short enough to keep the audience’s attention. A typical forum will look something like this:

  • Three to four presenters, each speaking for 10 to 15 minutes
  • A question and answer session, lasting no more than 20 minutes
  • The wrap-up, when you motivate participants to get into action.

A community forum should always have a moderator who introduces the speakers, coordinates questions from the audience, and handles disruptions, if any. A time-keeper should work with the moderator, so the forum can remain on track.

Where Do I Hold a Forum?

Consider a location with a natural audience, such as a campus setting immediately after classes, or a church or synagogue immediately after services. The setting for the forum should partly depend on the audience you wish to reach. If you wish to reach parents or other students, then a school may be the best location. If your audience is the entire community, then a community center or the town hall might be the right location. Every location will have specific regulations that govern its use. Once you determine the ideal setting, contact the appropriate authorities, and follow the prescribed procedure for using the space.

Tips to Holding a Successful Forum

  • Research Your Subject.
  • Make Your Arrangements Early. Start planning the event at least six to eight weeks in advance of the chosen date.
  • Select Dynamic, Knowledgeable Speakers. Possibilities for speakers include:
    • Leaders of school clubs and youth organizations
    • Staff from HIV and AIDS, family planning, and sex education groups
    • Supportive policy makers, including city or county council members, members of the board of education, and/or legislators who support comprehensive sex education.
  • Develop a Detailed Plan for the Structure of the Forum. The more organized you are, the more likely that the forum will be successful and that people will attend, remain to the end, and get into action after the forum.
  • Advertise. Good places to advertise include:
    • Local and school papers
    • Local Web sites and e-newsletters
    • Meetings of clubs and other organizations
    • The bulletin board at community centers and religious institutions
    • Hangouts popular with your audience.
  • Prepare to Respond to Opponents. Anticipate opposition and prepare a non-confrontational response that calmly states your position and expresses the importance of dialogue.

Gathering Petitions

An important aspect of working to achieve change is showing that a lot of people agree with you. Gathering signatures on a petition about your issue is a great way to educate and activate people. Petitions help to build a movement and provide an easy way for people to participate in your campaign.

What Is Petitioning?

To petition is to collect signatures in support of an issue, a bill, or a candidate. In some cases, a candidate or an electoral initiative may require that those who circulate the petition and those who sign must be registered voters. However, a petition designed to build an activist movement for an issue—like comprehensive sex education, confidential health care services, or access to emergency contraception—does not require that signatures be those of registered voters. The petitions will still have an impact because they demonstrate support for the issue. Thus, young people—who are most affected by adolescent reproductive and sexual health issues—can sign such petitions, even before they are eligible to vote.

A petition usually includes a position statement on the issue, followed by space for signatures and contact information. When people sign the petition, they are agreeing to the positions spelled out in the petition.

How to Petition?

Petitioning Online—To collect petitions online, follow these steps:

  1. Send e-mail, with a link to the petition, to all your friends, family, and fellow students as well as to listservs that you use. Include a personal message that encourages recipients to sign and forward the petition. Don’t forget to sign the petition yourself. You can also put a link to the petition in your signature.
  2. Post a link to the petition prominently on your Web site’s homepage and ask organizations and other Webmasters to post it. You can also post it on your buddy icon through instant messaging.

Petitioning in Person—To collect petitions in person, follow these steps:

  1. Develop a brief message about the issue the petition addresses.
  2. Identify high traffic areas in which to petition, areas such as:
    • In or around the cafeteria during lunch hours
    • At the student union or outside class buildings
    • In front of a grocery store
    • In or outside of youth centers
    • In front of any local hangout for youth
    • Near a subway station or bus stop

Holding Rallies

Rallies offer a public venue for voicing your demands, educating the public, energizing supporters, or all of the above. Rallies can increase support for your campaign and demonstrate that you will not remain silent on the issue. However, do not expect a rally, by itself, to foment change.

Preparing for a Rally:

  • Choose a location where you can make your presence felt—such as outside your senators’ home offices.
  • Check with the police to see if you need a permit to rally in your chosen location. If so, get the permit and also follow all local regulations regarding bull horns, unobstructed space for pedestrians, not interfering with traffic, etc.
  • Prior to the rally, make sure that you and your supporters have a clear understanding about the rally and what you want to achieve.
  • Have educational materials ready to distribute.
  • Notify the press about your event, and prepare someone to be the official press contact. Make sure the press contact is easily identifiable. [The press contact may or may not be the spokesperson, listed next.]
  • Make sure you have a spokesperson who is willing and able to talk with the press. Make sure the spokesperson is well prepared with talking points, etc.
  • Prepare sheets with at least a few chants to reinforce your message. Identify chant leaders. Be ready to hand the sheets out to supporters.

    Sample Chants:
    • What do we want? Information! When do we want it? Now! (you can replace the word information with anything else like education)
    • Condoms not condemnation!
    • Value our youth? Tell us the truth! Comprehensive Sex Ed NOW!
    • Our youth deserve the truth!
    • Two, four, six, eight, good prevention cannot wait!
      Whose education? Our education!
    • One, two, three, four… Sex Education, We Want More!
      Five, six, seven, eight … abstinence-only not so great!

  • Gather supporters beforehand to make posters and picket signs.
  • Organize a short list of four to five speakers for the rally. Give each speaker a topic you want her/him to address, with a very short time limit on the speech. Choose an emcee that will keep the rally on message and on time. The rally should last not longer than an hour.
  • Define the end of the rally! Always have something that people at the rally can do right then. Ask them to volunteer to circulate petitions, coordinate phone-banking, or even sign a postcard. Make sure to give everyone the date and time of your next event—this will give people another way to stay involved.
  • Follow-up with organizations and members who attended and showed visible support for your issue.
  • Let your target senators know about your rally and how many people showed up, signed petitions, and/or got involved.
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