Help I Accidentally A Whole Counterprotest
April 8, 2010 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning a tea party counterprotest. I've never done this before. Help.

Last week in a livejournal discussion about the upcoming Tea Party rally on Boston Common, I threw out the idea of "Hey, let's just show up and have an actual tea party and then look really confused when the Tea Party Express people are there with Sarah Palin". It caught on like wildfire, and the facebook event got forwarded to over 5,000 people, and now the RSVPs are at 230 or so. So I kind of inadvertantly started a counterprotest.

I've never, ever done this. I've never even showed up at a political protest - I tend to quietly donate to causes I like. So the thought of herding 239 people and counting in the shadow of a huge group of people whose message I dislike immensely is keeping me up at night.

I started by talking to the Boston Parks & Rec department. I got a super nice lady on the phone who explained we had a right to be there, but that getting a permit would protect us. She seemed to suggest that it wouldn't be a problem to get a permit at all. I filled out the paperwork and sent it to her in a .pdf. At the time (Monday), there were less than 150 people RSVPd, I asked for 150. I later emailed her to ask to change it to 200. I haven't heard back from her. I called Tuesday and she wasn't there. They said they had the paperwork and were looking at it, but couldn't tell me when anything would be decided. The guy I talked to wasn't very talkative.

So here are my questions.

1. How often do I bug this permit office? They're very brusque (aside from the first lady) and I don't want them to decide against giving us one because I've called too much.

2. If we don't get one, I'm still going to go for it anyway. We have the right to peaceably assemble. What happens if cops ask us to move? If Tea Party organizers ask us to move? We want to set up a reasonable distance away.

3. Some attendees have questioned how we'll be able to make it known we're protesting them if we're polite about it. We're going to be dressing up, some people will be in period costumes, etc. I am totally OK with signs, but I don't want them to be filled with haterade. Any ideas for how to best pull this off? We want to be civil.

4. How should I make our protest/stunt known to the media? It was picked up by Bostonist and Universal Hub, but I should probably send out press releases to other local news. I can't even think about how I can do it without sounding like an amateur.

5. Please help me settle the pit in my stomach when I think about trying to organize 240 people. I am honestly hoping 20% or more don't show up. My last job was coordinating people, but nothing of this magnitude and I've been out of work for 15 months, so I'm jittery and self-doubting. Any advice you can give me will help me sleep tonight.
posted by kpht to Society & Culture (25 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
What happens if cops ask us to move?

Be really nice to the cops. You might want to send out a mass email to all the participants stressing this point, and also announce it when you're setting up. This is Boston, and the cops are used to young people doing silly political things. As long as you're not assholes, they'll probably leave you alone. If they ask you to move, move and be polite about it. If you have other organizers, make sure that they're on the same page about this.

I am totally OK with signs, but I don't want them to be filled with haterade. Any ideas for how to best pull this off? We want to be civil.

Since the Tea Party signs will be misspelled, ugly, and lowbrow, yours will probably be most effective if they're perfectly spelled and lettered, ornate, and witty. You can probably come up with some silly things from the real-tea-party idea. It kind of depends on whether you want this to be absurdist (in which case you could make signs about how much you love certain types of tea/scones/whatever) or actually political.

This sounds fun! I wish I could make it.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:19 AM on April 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

The National Lawyers Guild is a group of progressive lawyers that often provide trainings and volunteers to serve as legal observers. Their legal observers don't participate, but having a detached observer present can assist in making sure that your rights aren't infringed.
posted by greekphilosophy at 8:22 AM on April 8, 2010

I think that signs that mention teas would bring an extra air of protest to your counter-protest.





Look at the Billionaires for Bush counter protesters back in the day. They did it classy! More images from google here.
posted by zpousman at 8:35 AM on April 8, 2010 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Good on you for doing this. As someone whose organized some local LGBT rallies/functions Here's my suggestions...
1. Don't bug them. You've already decided to go through with it anyway. We had an incident here in Idaho where we suspected the city purposely held up our permit application until after the opposition was finished with their event as to not cause friction. We went ahead with the event anyway and it went off flawlessly. So if you get the permit great if not don't worry about it.
2. If you suspect there might be trouble organize a security team. Preferably headed up by one or two professionals who have handled event security before. (Club bouncers are usually willing to either volunteer or work cheap.) If not I'd still have a team, with either radios or cell phones, and t-shirts designating them as such. Have a plan on what to do if things go south. In one case we continually passed out strips of paper reminding our crowd to be above the opposition.
3. The further you are from the opposition the better. Across the street or across the park, The more distance you put between you and the opposition the better. But obviously you still want to be in line of sight.
4.To handle media station one or two people you trust to stay near or even in the opposition to be able to direct the media to your group. These folks should be quiet and simply be there to help "guide" reporters to your group.
5. to get the word out definitely press release everyone. Don't forget your local wingnut talk stations they love to put the opposition on..just remember to stick to a before hand planned narrative no matter how nasty the hosts/callers get. it will make your event sound "offcial." to other media outlets.
Facebook/social networks. invite everyone you know have them in turn pass on the invites. Freind local media to your network. also flyers posters pr-event. like the day before,everywhere you think your side might be at. Coffee shops, laundry mats etc.
5. It sounds like you will do fine. Just have your plan and work it and it will usually go the way you planned.
Good luck!
posted by wyldeboi at 8:38 AM on April 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Make some backup, extra signs that have hilarious things on them in case any of your supporters show up with the hate stuff. Then just politely say that "this protest is really about absurdity, and we'd love to have you join us for it so we'd love to offer you another sign to use that is more in keeping with the spirit of this event."

"Friends Don't Let Friends Drink Lipton!"

"I'm Pro-Oolong and I Vote!"

"My Constitution is Steeped in History!"

"I'll be Post-Caffiene When the Economy is Post-Capitalism!"

"Keep Your Laws Off My Oolong!"

"God Save the Queen!"

"What IS a Watercress Anyway?"

"Which Fork Do I Use?"

"Free Teabet!"

"I Break For Scones!"

(And maybe not this one, but I couldn't help but include it.)

"I Like My Tea Like I Like My Presidents: STRONG AND BLACK!"

posted by greekphilosophy at 8:48 AM on April 8, 2010 [26 favorites]

Regarding you organizing 240 people, think about how to send out an email (and post to the FB page) the *SELF* organizing instructions that are needed. Create a flyer for the media, but then also create an instructions email / flyer for your folks with all of the details:

1. A one sentence "mission statement" for the protest. State the theme: We'll be holding the most civilized protest in order to directly highlight the uncivilized folks on the other side." Is the protest about patriotism? Healthcare? Support for Obama? Something else? Say what it is!
2. Logistical details -- where, staging information and times, when the 'protest' begins
3. What to bring -- I'd suggest that your protesters self-organize into small groups and bring a picnic blanket, thermos of hot tea, and dress up in period clothing (big hats FTW!). Other props that would be good are a few card tables and some folding or picnic chairs. Especially for the organizers
4. Etiquette guidelines -- Since you're going with the throwback theme, I'd suggest writing your etiquette rules in the same spirit. "PLEASE be a gentleman or a lady." "Engage tea partiers with respect." "Obey commands from the duly appointed officers of the law. Seriously, don't fuck with them."
5. If you're going to protest with songs or chants, bring some song sheets. You'd be amazed how few people know the words to "Give Peace a Chance." Also, bullhorn.
posted by zpousman at 8:50 AM on April 8, 2010

The sign suggestions are great, but my immediate thought was 200 or so people divided into groups of four sitting at card tables drinking tea, spread throughout the throng of tea partiers. Undoubtedly you have friends who have signed up their groups, so tell them to Quad up on their on.

Either way good on ya for doing this.
posted by Big_B at 9:03 AM on April 8, 2010

Take pictures and give us an update after it's over.
posted by Bonzai at 9:14 AM on April 8, 2010

There is a lot of good advice above with one exception:

If you suspect there might be trouble organize a security team. Preferably headed up by one or two professionals who have handled event security before. (Club bouncers are usually willing to either volunteer or work cheap.) If not I'd still have a team, with either radios or cell phones, and t-shirts designating them as such. Have a plan on what to do if things go south. In one case we continually passed out strips of paper reminding our crowd to be above the opposition.

You do not want a couple of hired goons to protect you. A couple of people who are designated as "peacekeepers" or "police liaisons" would be a good alternative. They should identify themselves to the police early on and maintain communication. I can really think of no worse idea than showing up with professional security. It looks bad and could open up organizers and the security themselves to legal liability if something goes wrong.
posted by nestor_makhno at 10:14 AM on April 8, 2010

After seeing a slideshow of misspelled tea party protest signs, I had the idea of going to a tea party protest with a sign saying something like "Fix Sign Typos Here" and a handful of Sharpies and offering to fix people's typos for them, and maybe take some before and after pictures and post them on a blog. I'd love to see someone do that at your anti-protest.

As far as sending out press releases, the local media outlets already receive literally hundreds every day, so you should go ahead and send one out. You can probably call the media outlets and somebody will tell you an email address to send them to. Just make it a page long or shorter and briefly describe what you're going to do. No need to try to make it sound all fancy. Press releases are often poorly written, so I'm sure yours will be better than the majority.
posted by ekroh at 12:24 PM on April 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: greekphilosophy: those were exactly what i was looking for!

zpousman: the facebook event has some copy on it already that someone else wrote that lays out the guidelines reasonably well, and I'll write an email to all attendees the evening before the protest. thanks for the advice!

nestor_makhno: you're right. my husband's a club dj, so i know enough to know i don't want bouncers. he can't be there because of his day job (rats! he's a huge dude!), but i should have several male friends coming who are pretty good at rational peacekeeping.

ekroh: thanks! i can usually get my point out on paper pretty eloquently, but being at home for over a year with a baby can frazzle you to where you can't honestly remember how to interact professionally.
posted by kpht at 12:48 PM on April 8, 2010

What a great idea! And I love all the ideas and sign suggestions. I most especially love the idea of a booth offering to fix typos for them. (tee hee)

There's a TP going on near me in MD and husband says I am too mouthy about things to go and be peaceful. (He's right, alas.) He will probably go just to observe. But I must admit, the booth offering sharpies and grammatical help just tickles me.

What about tables of people playing cards or something? Of course, surrounded by placards and polite millers-about.

I can't wait to hear how things turn out. Be sure and post it somewhere, will ya? :)
posted by Mysticalchick at 1:35 PM on April 8, 2010

Do you have a message?  Here are a few:
Tea-drinkers like health care, too
Politeness is Patriotic
Herbal tea and peace and liberty and justice for all
Peace and tea go well together
Green Tea and health care are good for you
Respect is an American value.
Tea-drinking, peace-loving Patriot
Chamomile and the Bill of Rights: Made for each other.
Nothing beats a great cup of mutual respect
Just a spoonful of sugar makes the regime change.
I'd like my Hope with a cup of Oolong Tea, please.
Tea drinkers for civilized discourse
How about a nice big cup of ... Stars & Stripes

"I Like My Tea Like I Like My Presidents: STRONG AND BLACK!" is brilliant.

Make some iced tea, bring paper cups, and offer a refreshing cup of tea to anyone who might like it. If you make plain tea, and mix it 50:50 with lemonade, and add lots of ice, it's really refreshing.

You are to be commended.
posted by theora55 at 2:35 PM on April 8, 2010

kpht, good to here, but in my experience the best "peacekeeper" types are little old ladies who won't take any shit.
posted by nestor_makhno at 3:17 PM on April 8, 2010

You *NEED* photographers. Get a few friends with decent cameras who have facebook and flickr accounts. You want photos of your Tea Party to spread like wildfire.

You DEFINITELY WANT signs that with FUN sayings in BOLD font. The billionaires for bush link first mentioned above is a brilliant example of this. The more simple but silly the sayings, the better. The more unified all of the signs look (same color, same typeface, super easy to read), the better photos of your event will look.

You REALLY should consider getting a simple domain name for this and pointing it to the facebook fan page or something like that. Print the domain name clearly at the bottom of each sign because those signs will be in the photos that get spread around the web. Get the domain name ASAP :)

Your idea is brilliant. Have fun with it! God, I wish I could be there! I wish I could be there! I wish I could be there! I wish I could be there! I wish I could be there! I wish I could be there! I wish I could be there! I wish I could be there! I wish I could be there! I wish I could be there! I wish I could be there! I wish I could be there! I wish I could be there!
posted by 2oh1 at 3:33 PM on April 8, 2010

I would suggest setting up a twitter (or something similar) feed so if necessary you can alert your group to disperse, move north, etc. Obviously you'll need to disseminate that feed to your party before you start and verify it works.
posted by chairface at 5:14 PM on April 8, 2010

A couple of other points, with the caveat that I'm from DC and people here take this sort of thing more seriously than some:

* Get a few participants to volunteer in advance to be "marshals" for the event, to help you herd people or otherwise crowd-manage. Meet beforehand to discuss specifics for how this will work, and arrange to stay in contact over the course of the event (walkie-talkies, trading of cell phone numbers, etc.). It's almost impossible for one or two people to single-handedly move a big group of people in a relatively orderly fashion, and having all of that coordinated beforehand is good. Bonus points if the marshals are clearly identified (armbands or the like are good) and the police know what to look for to identify them, so they know who to talk to if there's a problem. Communication with the police is generally good.

* Have a designated media point-person (doesn't have to be you). Protest events are much more effective if there's a unified message (even if it's absurdist). The media person should know roughly what they're going to say in advance, and everybody else should know that if they're approached by the press, they're to direct all questions to the media person.

* With respect to what to do if the police tell you to move, it depends: is this meant to be a civil disobedience event? Civil disobedience is a legitimate form of protest, but probably not what you're going for, here. If it's not, do exactly what the police say, and, again, make sure the organization is in place to make this happen smoothly. If you *do* want to engage in civil disobedience, you're obviously not going to be doing what the police officers say, but I'd recommend, counterintuitive as this may be, that you *tell the police beforehand* exactly what you're going to do. They're going to arrest you either way, and you may as well try to increase your odds that the process goes smoothly and nothing unexpected happens to make people jumpy.
posted by andrewpendleton at 10:42 PM on April 8, 2010

Oh, and with respect to security: don't bring your own. If you think there might be a security issue, tell the police that. It's their responsibility to make sure everyone gets to peaceably assemble, and to keep the groups separate if that's necessary.
posted by andrewpendleton at 10:43 PM on April 8, 2010

You've touched upon a great idea. My sister said she'd go to a counter protest if there was one in our town. Since she's never been to a protest in her life, that's impressive. Anyway, here's my suggestions.

Ask people to volunteer to be co-coordinators. There's no reason to try to organize this alone and I think since people are so into this idea, you should get some takers.

Get the most polite, friendly, socially skilled one to be your PR person. Most TV and radio stations have a "contact us" link on their website. That's probably the easiest way to send them a press release. Here's a link to some Boston media websites.

The dressing up to the nines idea is classic but I have to admit to an absurd longing for someone to go all out like the tea party from "Alice in Wonderland". The white rabbit or the mad hatter would just make for great TV and would totally overshadow the other tea party protest. Maybe a costume shop would be willing to donate a costume rental if you have any brave volunteers.

I, too, like

"I Like My Tea Like I Like My Presidents: STRONG AND BLACK!"

but feel very wrong that I'm picturing Obama on a Unicorn on the same poster.

Other slogan ideas...

"The Real Tea Party"

"Our tea party has cookies!"

"Tea??? Someone told me there'd be beer"

"You can have my (insert name of favorite tea here) when you pry it from my cold dead hands"

I'd bring lots of chocolate chip cookies for any run ins with tea partiers or cranky police. It's hard to be mad at someone when they offer you a chocolate chip cookie.
posted by stray thoughts at 12:05 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Earl Gray is an aristocrat!"
posted by acorncup at 3:12 PM on April 11, 2010

Do let us know how it turned out.
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:36 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hey, how'd it go?
posted by teragram at 10:17 AM on April 15, 2010

Website and Filckr sets from the event.
posted by ericb at 12:37 PM on April 15, 2010

Those photos look great. I'm very impressed by the outfits. Looks like you did a fine job, kpht.
posted by ekroh at 1:08 PM on April 15, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, guys! Sorry - first time I've had time to be back on here since the event. Thanks, ericb, for posting the link. I had so much fun - it was awesome.

We've had some very negative press, including a local conservative radio host calling to make sure we had a permit (and then her followers trying to call inspectional services because we *gasp* made SANDWICHES*), and a local policemen's bulletin board ripping me to shreds and calling me quite nasty names - if it was 4chan, it'd be par for the course, but people who are paid to protect and serve? Nice. Classy. Bonus points for when a friend of mine got pissed off and said something to them, and they posted his picture, home address, and resume. I'm not a typical anti-cop person but wow, what a bad taste that left in my mouth. The ironic part was, we had a pro-cop sign at the rally and one of our attendees' father is a policeman and that's why he joined our cause.

You can't win 'em all, and googling my name will probably keep me from getting a job now, but I met some fantastic people and I had a wonderful time. A few tea party express folks stopped, had cookies, and told us we did a great job. That made my day.
posted by kpht at 6:00 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

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