Untitled Document

Organizing a Journey for Justice Event: Writing a News Release

Organizing Journey Events
Journey Event Introduction
Organizing a Public Event
Find a Journey Leader

Register as a Journey XActivist
Types of Meetings
XSpeaker's Forum
XDiscussion Group
XPrivate Meeting
XMedia Appearance

Technical Assistance
Choosing a Meeting Location
Order Supplies

Publicity - You Want It!
XGetting an Audience
XYou and the Media
XNewspaper Listing
XRadio/TV Bulletin (PSA)
XNews Releases & Samples
XDesigning Flyers/Posters
XUsing Mail and Phone
XUsing the Internet!
XPublicizing a Journey Event XXon our Website

Sign-up Sheets/Petitions
Phone Tree
Volunteer Questionnaire

Grassroots Organizing
Getting Started
Starting a Local Group
Expanding Your Network
The First Meeting
Forming a Family Group

Making a Display

Vigil, Rally, Demonstrate
Presenting a Video Series

Reading Room
Intro & Contents
Media Resources
10 Tips to End the Drug War
Becoming an Activist

Communication Skills
Closing Your Letters/Memos
Tax Credits for Volunteers
Working with Legislators
Honest Hope and
XThe Hundredth Monkey
Overcoming Masculine

Adapted from; used with permission
Bottoms Up Version 1.0
©2001, 2003


Planning a Public Discussion

By Chuck Armsbury, editor and program development for November Coalition; regular Journey for Justice participant

You might be interested in organizing a public discussion about the drug war in conjunction with the Journey for Justice. You may only be a 'committee of one' today, but it's likely you already know others who might help you publicize and prepare.

Though seemingly a simple idea, a public meeting will take some careful preparation. This means following all the guidelines for gaining publicity and drawing an audience as with any other public Journey event.

A public discussion about a failed government policy in our democratic society is always necessary, and mandatory, especially now when large numbers of us have questions about a particular policy. Therefore, one good reason for scheduling a public discussion is to honor our country's traditions of assembly, speech and citizen government.

It is a good way for like-minded people to meet, and a place where people of opposing views can square off. You can expect both types if you call a public discussion as your Journey event, or include one in a series of events.

The drug war is a massively failed, complex government policy demanding widespread public comment on what should replace it. A public discussion includes significant time for all people to speak about a highly emotionally charged issue, or leave written comments.

People who refuse to attend any more 'planning meetings' will still be likely to attend a public discussion. People with only slight interest in drug war injustice might have keen interest in a public discussion on such a subject.

Long before a public discussion can convene, you will answer what, who, why, where, and when?

The 'what' question is already answered in part. You are considering holding a public discussion about the drug war when the Journey for Justice visits your region. If any local experts or notables were to be present, they would be the 'Who', along with Journey for Justice speakers.

Why? What would your answer be in 30 seconds? Or in one, written paragraph? This is information that will be important to share with us. We want to help you reach your community education goals. What are they? Why would you want to hold a community discussion, inviting the public?

Perhaps some feature of the war on drugs has recently aroused public interest, maybe a botched drug raid, or newspaper exposure of inhumane jail conditions, or the expensive mandatory sentencing laws. Perhaps your community has expressed concern about the use of drug task forces, and whole neighborhoods have had people arrested on the words of informants, or people that have been arrested.

Therefore, don't hesitate to use recent local events as good reason to call for public discussion meetings.

What? You want people to learn something at the discussion. What should they learn? Will you present a course of action? For sure, one thing they want to learn is whether their person will be respected, even opinions that are not mutually shared.

A public meeting is held so that many people can speak. Respect for those who join a public discussion includes not scheduling speakers who leave little or no time for public discussion.

If it's a small gathering of ten to twenty people, participants will listen, talk and learn better if seating is arranged in a circle. One of your objectives for this meeting must be to ensure that everyone knows they're being heard. Let's call this 'paying attention to the process' of learning -- it's as important as your own messages you long to teach.

If you are expecting more people than time allows to speak, be sure there's a volunteer available who will pass out paper and pencils to people as each arrives. People arriving can put their names on a piece of paper if they want to make a public comment. The meeting facilitator will call on people as there is time, and in order of turned-in names. Smaller groups can use more informal public comment rules, but every meeting should have a pre-appointed meeting leader.

Remember, if you have local issues, and schedule a public discussion, you will want to notify Journey for Justice speakers so the local discussion is included with discussion of federal drug and sentencing laws.

Where? Where can you hold a public discussion? If you are a student, your high school or college will have available a variety of classrooms, auditoriums or common areas suitable for your purpose. Your church might be willing to host a public discussion as part of a Sunday school class. A downtown civic club may make room for your gathering because the group shares general concerns with you about failed government policy and what to do about it. Public libraries usually let groups use one of their rooms for public meetings.

On our second Journey for Justice in one southern state, the public discussion took place on a campus at a college-sponsored forum called "Evaluating the War on Drugs." The community was encouraged to attend, and the focus for the evening was prisoners in the war on drugs. It was held in an auditorium, filmed by the college, and featured two speakers and a video. Questions and comments from the 75 attendees covered many drug war subjects in this open-ended discussion, and we attracted much interest at our informational table outside the auditorium.

In a northern state the public discussion took place at a neighborhood church immediately following a public march and demonstrations at various criminal justice buildings - the jail, police station, the courthouse and jail. Afterward, in a large room of a community church, over 100 people sat in a circle and listened as each one attending was asked to identify him/her self and say something about why they condemn the drug war and want change.

I took many photos at this meeting and recorded stories of drug war injustice. This was a church-hosted public discussion, and food was served.

Feel free to think about a public discussion that would meet your needs for an inspirational, informative and lively social evening or afternoon.

The physical space is very important. You may want to show a video before the discussion begins. Is the equipment already in the room, or must it be brought there by someone? Is that 'someone' familiar enough with the equipment to help you get set up? This can be a frustrating experience at the start of your meeting if the detailed questions involved with using special equipment are not thought of, written down and answered by you, or someone in your group.

What else about the meeting place you have in mind? Can people from the community easily find the room if it's in a large, college building? What about parking? Do you have to leave the room arranged in the way you found it? Are there public bathrooms nearby? Does the room have to be emptied exactly at the hour for which you scheduled its use?

When is a good time to schedule a public discussion? It's probably easier to list when it's not a good time. Your planned discussion will likely join a list of other meetings that may or may not get scheduled in an active person's life, and being aware of who might attend is a first principle. You must be creative about this, and think long and hard about who might attend, another reason to try capturing interest around a current drug war controversy in your community.

You want to have some idea of what else is going on at the time you want to schedule a public discussion. Even seasoned organizers fail at times to check their calendars for holidays that might be on or near the time you want.

Local newspapers often list community events in coming weeks that might pull people from your meeting who otherwise would attend. Certain times of the day aren't good, after 9 p.m. for instance, or before noon on weekends, for example. We know that the Journey for Justice availability is also a concern in planning a day and time. Hopefully, you will begin calling public meetings often. Remember to double check the community calendar.

Many people are accustomed to attending meetings after work, and this means your best times are probably Monday through Friday, between 6 and 7 p.m. to begin your discussion. If you schedule a two-hour meeting, you must allow for some people to leave for the bathroom. Do you schedule a break in a two-hour session? Yes, probably after 45 minutes from starting. At the break some people will leave, and one way to decide about breaks in the discussion is to ask ahead of time what they want. Again, by letting the audience decide this, you have reinforced the idea that it's people who decide policy.

If you are planning a public discussion meeting with the Journey for Justice, you will want to follow instructions in "Planning a Public Event" to publicize the meeting.

We have also provided a checklist for a Public Discussion meeting to help you with your planning.

If you plan a public discussion meeting for the Journey for Justice and don't have a local meeting facilitator, email chuck@november.org. I would be happy to help you or your group lead this meeting, or suggest someone local to assist.

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