Whether you agree with them or not, if you've heard of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), it's because, over years of practice, they have perfected the art of getting media attention for animals' rights. I worked at PETA for several years and learned a lot about what goes into demonstrations to make them successful. The same strategies that work to get PETA in the news can work to get the topic of circumcision in the news. The more media coverage the topic of circumcision gets, the more people will start to question its morality.
1. Get a Permit (if required)
Some cities require that you obtain a permit, so call your local police department and ask if you need a permit to organize a peaceful demonstration.
2. Get Supplies
- Order posters (or make your own).
- Order info cards to distribute.
- Have several printed copies of your news release to hand to reporters who show up (Sample news release available in section 5.)
3. Decide on a Time & Location
Weekday afternoons (11AM-2PM) are the best time of day to encourage local media to cover your event. Pick a busy intersection where you will get drive by and foot traffic. Bonus points if you can pick a location that is relevant to the cause, i.e. a hospital that performs circumcisions that is located at a busy intersection.
Link Your Demo to a Local Event/Location/Holiday: January: A News Year's Resolution to Stop Cutting Babies, February: Love Your Baby, Don't Hurt Him, March: He Doesn't have to be Irish, to Be Lucky, April: No Bunny Wants to be Hurt, July: Celebrate His Independence from Genital Cutting, October: Cutting Babies is Scary, November: Give Him a Reason to be Thankful, December: The Best Present You can Give Him is His Whole Body. Think about local events and traditions and how you can use them to get media exposure.
5. Contact Media
Inviting media to your demonstration greatly expands your audience. Instead of reaching just the passersby, you will be able to reach people reading the local newspaper, listening to local radio and watching the local, evening news. You don't need a huge turnout of activists to have a successful media appearance. Even if it is only 2-3 demonstrators, there is a good chance the local media will cover the story. Yes, a photo in a newspaper with twenty activists looks awesome, but a photo with three activists still spreads awareness to a large audience. Don't let the "numbers" stop you. This is about spreading awareness and it only takes ONE person to be successful!
Find and create a list of your local print media (newspapers, parenting magazines), local radio stations and local TV stations and their contact information: email and phone. For print media, get the names of the news editor (also called the city editor, news director or assignment editor) and the features editor.
- Email a news release to each media outlet. You can alter this news release to fit your event.
- Remember, the time you give the media for your demonstration on the news release should be the ideal time for them to see your event. If your event starts at 1PM, you may wish to tell the media a slightly later time so that they don't arrive while you are still setting up.
- Be sure that the contact person listed on your news release is always available at the phone number listed on the release.
- Email your news release one day before your event. Wait thirty minutes and followup with a short, sweet, intriguing phone call, such as, "Hi Dan, I'm calling to make sure you received my email about the demonstration that Your Whole Baby, the intactivist organization, will be holding tomorrow at 1PM in front of ABC Hospital. Our members will have an actual circumstraint on hand that demonstrates how babies are strapped down like death row inmates, before having part of their penises cut off without proper painkiller." At that point, the reporter will respond with questions or a "Yes, I got it," or a "No, can you resend it to this email address." Make sure to end the call with a, "Thanks for your time!" even if they are grumpy. (Reporters need an interesting angle, so if you don't have a circumstraint on hand, think of something else you could include to make your demonstration stand out. Contact YWB if you need help with ideas.
- Follow up with a similar call the morning of your demonstration. As a rule, the best time to call is between 8-10AM.
- Use interesting visuals, such as costumes (evil nurse, evil doctor, hurt baby costume, happy intact baby costume, etc.) and/or props (circumstraint, circumcision clamps, graphic images, etc.). If there will be any little kids holding signs, that could be used as a selling point: "Come out to see the youngest intactivist in Nashville. He's only three years old, but he will tell you that cutting off parts of babies' penises is not nice." Brother K and The Bloodstained Men are a great example of using something eye catching and shocking to get people's attention. They get a lot of media coverage because the visual is "interesting" and unique. Find something that feels right for you, but also makes your demonstration standout. Tie your demonstration to a current event or holiday. For example, for Halloween: "Circumcision is Scary!" posters with bloody nurse/doctor costumes. Focus on local aspects. For example, demonstrate in front of a building that performs circumcisions. Contact YWB if you need help with other ideas.
6. Select a Spokesperson
Anyone who is attending the demonstration can be the media spokesperson. Pick the person who is most eloquent, comfortable talking to media, can think on their feet and are knowledgeable on the topic. Of course, everyone should be prepared to answer a question or two, but having a main spokesman to direct media questions to will help ensure your effectiveness. Everyone should be well dressed, if not in costume, and not wearing sunglasses. Eye contact is important.
Tips for Talking to Media:
- The spokesperson should be well dressed.
- Jokes can create confusion with a reporter, avoid them.
- Have answers ready that will make good print or audio soundbites: Phrases and examples that will catch a reporter's attention, sound good/look good in print and clearly convey your message. Click here for some sample answers to common media questions.
- Practice, practice, practice! (Practice in front of a video camera and watch yourself back. Have a friend interview you with tough questions.)
- Once you have your soundbites and know the main points you want to make, stick to those. Even if the reporter doesn't ask the "right" question, you can still answer with your soundbites. Redirect them with a, "The real issue here is..."
- If a reporter is trying to force you into a "yes" or "no" answer, stick to your guns and say what you want to see in print.
- Remember, the soundbites you prepare are what you want to convey to your audience. Focus on working that information into the interview.
- Even in the reporter is rude or aggressive, stay calm and stick to your main points. Remember, the reporter isn't your real audience.
- One strategy that helps me, when discussing the topic of circumcision, if I feel flustered (I am not fabulous at thinking on my feet!), is to think about what my answer would be if female circumcision were the topic. Usually, the same answer applies to male circumcision. For example, "Shouldn't it be a parent's decision?" "A parent should not have the right to cut off part of their baby's genitals regardless of whether their baby is a girl or a boy."
7. At the Demonstration
- Arrive thirty minutes before any media are scheduled to attend
- Make a good first impression with your appearance
- Have the majority of people holding signs and waving and also have at least one person designated to hand out information cards (If you put your signs on posts, one person can hold two signs)
- Take pictures (and send them to YWB!)
- Don't talk or text on the phone
- Smile and be polite even when it's not easy, you'll change more minds and plant more seeds by being respectful
- When the demo is over, collect your materials (don't leave litter behind) and get contact information from participants for future events
8. Pat Yourself on the Back
You did it! (Are you ready to do it again?)
Be The Best Activist You Can Be
This article, "Don't Hit 'Em with Your Best Shot," from Moralogous is a great read for understanding your audience and the best way to influence change.
Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends & Influence People" will also help you improve your effectiveness as an activist.