Organizing Actions

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Eloise Lawrence

"Actions" are events or moments that make a struggle between a landlord and a group of tenants more public. Actions include picket lines, marches, rallies, demonstrations, and protests of all kinds. Actions are generally done to publicly and symbolically express the feelings of a group about a situation and to generate support that helps get your landlord to the negotiating table or improves your bargaining leverage.

Tenant associations often find it useful to start with local or neighborhood-based actions. For instance, many associations start with rallies at their building site before taking actions outside the neighborhood.

Although actions take time and energy to pull together, they can put public pressure on your landlord in a way that brings her to the negotiating table. Actions can also be some of the most exciting events to organize and be part of. What follows are some suggestions for how to develop an action.

  • Decide whether or not to have an action and, if so, what type of action to have.
  • Figure out whether people have the time to coordinate the action. If people do not volunteer to coordinate an action, don't have an action.
  • Define whom you want to target. Your target should be the person who is causing the hardship and has the power to make things better. Tenant groups often target their landlord, the management company or manager, or a government agency that is not performing properly, such as a Board of Health.
  • Clearly and concisely outline your complaints and a set of demands on a leaflet so you are prepared to present this information to the target, the media, or people passing by. Tenants have put together very creative one-pagers with color photos and quotes that quickly (and visually) tell the story of what is happening.
  • Pick a date and time for the action that will yield the greatest participation.
  • Pick a location for the action that sends the right message to the right people. For example, a good location for an action may be the landlord's home, the landlord's office, a management company's office, a government building, or a busy intersection. You'll also need a place that has enough room for your group to assemble and can be seen by the general public. If the people you are organizing can't get there by foot, you must arrange transportation.
  • Reach out to get tenants, members of the community, and public figures to come to the action. Make a flier that describes the reason for the action and the place, date, and time of the action. Put a contact person and a phone number on the flier so people can call someone for more information. Then, about two weeks before the action, distribute the flier in your building or neighborhood and to other people who you want to alert, such as the media or community groups. One or two days before the action, remind people in person or over the phone about the action.
  • If you want to make noise, you'll need some chants or slogans. These should be short and snappy. Take a children's rhyme, simple song, or sports cheer. Change the words to fit your needs. (For example: "Hey, hey, ho, ho, landlord greed has got to go!) Have fun. A little humor or irony can go a long way in getting attention and keeping your group energized.
  • If people plan to speak out at the action, help them prepare. For example, if several tenants plan to describe how bad conditions have been and how these conditions have affected their lives, this can be a very compelling presentation and worth the time it takes to help the speaker feel comfortable speaking out.
  • At the action, a group of people should be in charge of guiding the group through the action. This may mean showing people where to stand or march, leading chants, keeping people moving, or being prepared to deal with the police or a private security guard. Unless you are clearly posing a threat to property or public safety, the police shouldn't bother you at all. There is absolutely no legitimate basis for arrest if a group of people are protesting in a way that does not disturb the peace. (Police must warn people to clear away and give them the option to avoid arrest before they can arrest anyone.) However, if you have members who are non-citizens, you should consult with an attorney in order to understand the potential consequences for those members if an arrest were to occur.
  • Be prepared to be approached by your targets. They might want to come out and speak to the group (if they're brave). But this is your event. Agree to meet with them only in a group. And, never agree to anything without bringing it to the vote of every participating tenant. Simply listen and report back.
  • Finally, be sure to conclude your action in a very clear way. It's not a good idea to let people just dribble away. A shrinking group does not look or feel good. A leader can make a final statement, sum up the importance of the event, and thank everybody for their support.


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