Justice for Jews and Israel
Handbook of Israel Advocacy
Grass roots activism is essential to any advocacy movement. Regrettably, it is a very weak area for Zionist advocacy groups.
The heart of any political movement is grass roots activism: the petition, the letter writing campaign and the demonstration. To that, we can add use of the Internet as a tool for mobilizing support and taking your case to the public.
The heart of grass roots activism is "taking it to the streets." A political movement that advocates a cause cannot exist only in the abstract, through advertisements or in closed meetings or gala gatherings or Web sites alone. In order to get mass support, a movement must have a presence on the street and in campuses, and must be able to make that presence felt when it is needed to back an issue. The "spontaneous" anti-war demonstrations, like the "spontaneous" anti-Israel demonstrations, many of which happened "spontaneously" in several cities on the same day around the world, were well organized. Likewise the "spontaneous" boycott and divestment petitions that appeared in the same period in churches and unions and universities in different parts of the world, all required masterful organization and a source of funds. Someone paid for publicity and transportation, someone compiled lists of the faithful. To anyone who thinks about it, it is obvious that these are all the results of coordinated campaigns. The anti-Israel camp has mastered grass roots activism. To those watching the demonstration on television, it may seem like a "spontaneous" eruption of outrage at the "war crimes" of the Zionists.
Grass roots activities and initiatives are the way to build a movement while educating the public, as well as a way of changing public opinion and influencing government action.
The Zionist movement, especially in the United States, never excelled at grass roots activism. Now it seems reluctant to engage in it at all. Large anti-Israel rallies often do not elicit counter-demonstrations. Whatever pro-Israel demonstrations there are, are run by tiny groups, often extremists, with little following, or they are organized through schools. It is difficult to get people to even write letters. It may take time and a directed effort to get Jews to be advocates for their own rights, but it must be done.
The main barrier to overcome in grass roots activism is your own reticence. If you are Jewish, you probably need to overcome characteristic Jewish fears of "making waves" in connection with Jewish political issues (it is no problem to get Jews to demonstrate on other issues). After you have engaged in some of these activities you will find that it becomes progressively easier and more natural.
Most of the information below is not arcane and is not "advanced techniques." Unfortunately, most of our groups and volunteers don't seem to know the basics.
Grass Roots Resources
There are comprehensive guides to grass roots activism for specific projects and with a general orientation, both published as printed books and online. Here are a few that you can and should consult for ideas
http://www.november.org/BottomsUp/ - A Guide to Grass Roots organizing - how to do everything and what to do - prepared for an organization that lobbies against drug laws.
http://ran.org/fileadmin/materials/global_finance/Flyers_and_Signs_Posters/Toolkit_-_No_New_Coal_Campaign.pdf - A very valuable guide prepared by the "No New Coal" group, but useful for any group.
http://www.peta.org/actioncenter/AAactguide10.asp - Peta's activism guide tells you how to start a group, how to do public speaking, prepare materials etc.
http://action.aclu.org/site/PageServer?pagename=AP_effective_activism - Almost all the activities recommended by the ACLU apply to any cause.
The methods and paraphernalia of grass roots activism are various and only limited by your imagination. Try to do memorable or interesting things at events that will attract media attention without alienating people. One group brought a bus destroyed by a suicide bombing to the Hague court. A rabbi protesting against Israeli policy "bought" a lot of publicity by deliberately getting himself arrested. Speakers, flyers, hats and T shirts and pins and posters with slogans and symbols, demonstrations, counter demonstrations, teach ins, petitions, letter writing campaigns, films, books, boycott initiatives and picketing of institutions are all important parts of a grass roots activist campaign. Each or any of these may "fizzle." The aggregate will help spread the word about your cause, and you and your group will learn from your mistakes.
The basic idea of grass roots activism is to make yourself public and to involve the public - everyone - in your cause. The techniques vary, but the major tools of grass roots activism are:
Advocacy groups can and must learn to do all of the above to be effective and reach a large audience. The different activities should not be viewed in isolation. They are all part of a process meant to get build your group and get support for your cause by putting it in the public eye.
A Concise Guide to Grass Roots activism
This page adapted from http://www.november.org/BottomsUp/basics.html gives an overview of common Grass Roots organizing activities (some additions are in italics):
A process begins with one step
Create and wear a slogan T-shirt, hat or other item of clothing and create
and use bumper stickers, hats and pins. Use flags. Recognizable, visible images
grow public awareness. Sometimes they provoke great conversations, too. Carry a
few flyers with you, especially when you’re wearing a slogan!
Meet with other like-minded people first. Begin to bring people in your family, neighborhood, and community together for informal discussions. Arrange to use an available meeting space and watch a video documentary together.
Speak up! Let your opinions be known...call radio and television news stations. Small communities and organizations are the best place to start. Remember - a small group of activists can have an impact in those communities. Your op-ed or letter to the editor of the Podunk Inquirer is much more likely to be published and noticed than a letter written to the New York Times, and the people in Podunk know you. You will be able to form a group of like-minded people with them.
Take an informational display to a college, or offer to give a presentation
at a public forum. Civic groups gather weekly and monthly and are always looking
for speakers for routine meetings. Sometimes it’s the personalized display that
achieves more local impact.
Research the newspaper reporters. Who covers the Middle East? How do they write about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Try to make personal contact with reporters and make your views known.
Make a directory of local television network affiliates and national network addresses. Keep pre-stamped postcards handy. When a show covers the Middle East, repeats untruthful propaganda, or airs a fair and comprehensive segment or series, jot down the station, program name, scene, and date. Write a short, polite message to the appropriate network at the next station break. Thank them for a good story––or expose the disinformation. Remember to ask them to visit your Web site for more information.
Set aside at least part of one day each week to write your local, state and federal elected officials and newspaper and magazine editors. It may feel futile, but personal letters are important. The other side is writing them too, of course. Ask friends and family members to join you.
When a legislator responds, answer the letter. If s/he does not address your
concerns adequately, pose the concerns again. If you get a positive response,
thank the lawmaker in reply. To find your elected representatives, enter your
zip code at www.vote-smart.org. You can also send a self-addressed stamped
envelope to city hall and ask them to provide the information you seek.
Attend anti-Israel "Apartheid Week" university events and make your opinions known politely. Picket showings of films like Rachel and plays like Seven Jewish Children. Initiate your own events and invite speakers. Events should be in public places that are "generic" and open to all - not Jewish centers or Hillel clubs or other places that are going to attract a mainly pro-Israel audience.
Watch for university discussion panels and if they are biased protest and offer to bring additional speakers to provide balance.
If there will be an anti-Israel presentation in your area, plan to attend together with several other Zionists. You will most likely be able to challenge some of the speaker’s statements during the question and answer period. Remember, your goal is not to convince the speaker or those who arranged the presentation, but rather to reach the "salvageables" in the audience. Some of the latter group may come over to you afterwards to get your responses to other statements. You also will often find other Zionists in the audience who were there to do what you did. In that way, you can gain new members for your group. At worst, you have spent an hour or so listening to the arguments of the other side so you can be more prepared to counter them. If you have a blog, you can then write a post to expose the false statements; that post itself, if you have paid attention to keywords and have enough links to your site, can become visible on search engines to someone who is looking for information about that speaker.
Petitions, whether they are run online or signed on actual paper, are a valuable way of expressing public opinion and of educating the public about a specific issue. They help build grass roots support and grass roots organizations around issues and proposals.
The Issue - General petitions do not ordinarily attract much support - choose a specific issue where there is a possibility of attracting broad support to correct an obvious injustice. The issue should preferably be one that is in the news and has already attracted public attention and interest. It may be the plight of a captive soldier, or unfair actions by the UN or government policies.
Local or broad interest - If the petition is only of local interest, you will have to find ways to raise support in your community rather than rely on broad Web appeals. Put an advertisement in a local journal, picket the target institution and get people to sign the petition there.
Online Petitions - A number of free Web services including www.petitiononline.com/ www.petitionspot.com/ www.gopetition.com/ www.ipetitions.com/ and www.thepetitionsite.com allow you to prepare online petitions. Plan the wording and other aspects carefully and get friends to review it for errors and effectiveness.
The title of the petition should tell what it is about: "Free Captured Israeli Soldier Gilad Shalit" "Outlaw Hamas Rocket Terror on Israel" "Divest from Iran." That is also important for online petitions so that search engines can find them.
Address Officials - A petition must be addressed to officials who can take action to redress the grievance or adopt the proposal.
Statement of problem and solution A petition must clearly state what the problem or proposal is, and what you are asking the authorities to do about it. It must identify the author (person or organization) of the petition and provide a working contact address. This is your chance to make people aware of the problem and to understand it, and to publicize your organization.
Signature information - Signatories should be required to provide reasonable authentication information if you are really going to present the petition to anyone. Check for legal requirements for petitions to legislative bodies.
No Money! - A petition must never, ever (really never) solicit monetary contributions to your group.
Different Formats - Petitions should ideally be available both in paper and pen version that you can use at events AND online. Eventually all the signatures should be merged. OR - you can ask people to sign up on the Web. You may be able to set up a laptop or net computer that allows people to sign up, even if the event is held outdoors.
Contact Information - Contact information (address, email) is important for verifying that an actual person signed the petition. It is also important for you to use in building your group. You want to stay in touch with these people. Signatories should be aware that they may be contacted and should be able to opt-out of being contacted. If you are signing up people in the street, make sure that addresses, telephone numbers and email information are legible - is it an "i" or an "l"?
Build a Coalition - If you are seriously hoping to get a large enough number of signatures to change a policy or law in a national or international institution, you will probably need the support of a coalition of groups. Be prepared to give up credit for the initiative in order to get the work done and get everyone on board, but don't sacrifice principles to demands of coalition partners.
How to "Sell" a Petition
Here are some (adapted) guidelines for how to "sell" people on a petition: (from http://ran.org/fileadmin/materials/global_finance/Flyers_and_Signs_Posters/Toolkit_-_No_New_Coal_Campaign.pdf)
From crowded street corners and the front of the bank you’re targeting to the farmers market or campus commons, all you need is a clipboard, a pen and some information!
When you get petitions signed, not only will the officials hear about it, but new folks will be added to the email list and will receive updates about the campaign, so they can get more involved and help us win! In addition, if you are planning a local event, we can send an email to the people that you’ve signed up to let them know it’s happening!
Petitioning is easy, requires little set-up, and you can do it almost anywhere (but try to stay on public property and avoid blocking the doors to businesses).
1. Start with a friendly greeting and eye contact – that’s the only way someone walking by will stop.
2. Go straight to your pitch – "Hi! Would you sign a petition telling the university to divest from Iran? Tell them more if they ask, as well as a local angle). Feel free to get creative and make up your own lines to get peoples’ attention.
3. Hand over the clipboard – giving the clipboard to someone empowers them to act.
4. Get their contact info, especially their email, on that petition. And give them a flyer!
5. Bring extra pens and clipboards (you can use the side of a cardboard box) so that when you’re talking to groups of people, you can have many people sign at once.
6. Don’t spend time trying to convince people who disagree. There are plenty of people out there that are happy to get involved!
Demonstrations and Rallies
Like the petition, the demonstration or rally should be about a specific theme and should be planned well in advance. BEFORE you announce the date or other information, make sure you have permission to hold the demonstration and that you will have funds, if needed, to cover transportation. After those are all in place, your Web site should have a flyer for the demonstration. You should notify media through press releases and telephone calls to journalists about the demonstration and try to ensure there will be coverage. Try very hard to have all your plans finalized before you start major publicity, to avoid confusing "corrections."
A committee should be in charge of trying to ensure that inappropriate placards and slogans are not displayed, and of ensuring discipline and defense if needed in case of confrontations with counter demonstrators.
Web pages, paper flyers posted about town, advertisements and letters informing your mailing list should explain:
What the event is about.
Where it is being held - time and place, including the day, the date and the country and city or town. Don't send people on the World Wide Web to a demonstration at "Elm Street, Corner of Main" without giving the name of the city or country. That really does happen all too often!
Who is sponsoring the demonstration, and where to get additional information.
Recommended poster materials, places where materials (posters, bumper stickers, hats, pins etc.) can be purchased or are distributed.
Who should be called about transportation arrangements.
Size counts - If you are consistently getting tiny turnouts for your cause and not attracting adherents, don't boast about it. Pictures of 5 people picketing the White House are not going to draw crowds to your cause. If you invited media to this demonstration, and only 5 people showed up, chances are the media won't come to the next demonstration. Try to understand what you are doing wrong. Build a local mailing list and constituency in one area and focus on that area. If you hold a vigil every week at a fixed time it may begin to attract attention. Don't hold demonstrations in remote locations unless you can arrange for transportation. See to publicity and check your message and coalition partners. Demonstrate for popular issues and build coalitions to ensure the demonstration is well intended.
Whom do we invite to the rally? - You want to show that the people who support Israel or oppose Iran or Hamas are people just like them, that there are thousands of such people. A demonstration that consists only of a few Jewish people in orthodox religious garb may send the opposite message. Invite groups and persons of all ethnicities and religious persuasions to your demonstration. Celebrities and important political and entertainment personalities will help attract crowds and label the demonstration as an important event.
A Complete Overview of Demonstrations
The following is all good advice (adapted from http://www.november.org/BottomsUp/public/rallies.html):
Planning a Public Demonstration
For vigils, protests, rallies, and teach-ins, first ask, "What are the objectives of the public demonstration?" Is it to make a demand and, if so, what is that demand?
You should ask your group, "What do you want people who see the demonstration to learn? What do you want them to do?"
Logistical questions include: will you need a permit from the police or city hall? What type of visual aids (posters, banners, or costumes) do you plan to use? How will placards be transported to the site? What flyers will you hand out, if any at all? Who will make them? How will you publicize your event?
Messengers and Message
To call for a public demonstration, organizers have two basic responsibilities: crafting a message for the public and assembling as many messengers for the message as you can.
A demonstration can reach a much wider audience of people than a public meeting, including supporters, opponents and, very likely, a large number of individuals who have limited, if any, knowledge of the message you are intending to spread.
In a public meeting, you are inviting the public to attend. A demonstration is different as there are people who'll hear the message because they're using the sidewalk or public place in their regular routine. This may be the first time a lot of people hear your message.
Printed material, flyers, and demonstration posters must express concise demands and/or educational objectives. Always remember to let interested people know what they can do to help and get their contact information if possible. Remember to have your local contact information on printed material given to the public.
Slogans should express the message simply and dramatically. Neat hand lettered posters are personal and effective, too. We all love to read handmade posters.
Never use offensive language. You’re looking for supporters, not the reverse.
If the group reaches consensus on messages, your overall message stays unified and focused. Make posters together! Volunteers enjoy and need activities like this. Have everyone bring supplies and a snack to a meeting before the demonstration. Supply poster board, paint and brushes. Most people have some of these items around the house -- and will donate them to this purpose.
While you make posters, prepare short and easy-to-understand chants ahead of time, and when appropriate (not during silent vigils), keep the chants going throughout the demo. Chants (or lively songs) attract attention. People will take notice and want to know what is going on, in addition to making good background sounds for television or radio media. You may want to prepare for this and appoint a chant leader beforehand.
Public means visible
Lines of people holding signs bring automatic attention for sure, but there are many creative ways to get more attention to your gathering of demonstrators.
A demonstration must be visual, and can be much more than just a picket line of people holding signs. Consider eye-catching costumes, cages, street theater, or other creative means of your own design to get people interested in who you are and why you're there.
It is likely that you, or your group, will make or devise your own visual aids. Write and edit your messages and begin to work on posters, flyer design, etc. Themes can be used in flyers that publicize the event -- the same themes used in flyers you'll use the day of the demonstration.
Posters - When making posters, remember that large lettering, white or light color on dark background is most visible. If at all possible, your organization should plan all the posters and banners and make them up beforehand. That requires a vehicle large enough to transport them. Individual initiatives may be fine, but make sure they don't carry embarrassing and unrepresentative messages ("nuke Mecca" "there are no Palestinians") and don't have misspellings and illiteracies.
Flags - Flags are decorative, visible and important. Bring the Israeli flag and show it. If the other side is demonstrating too, there will be lots of Palestinian flags. Flags are extremely visible, and also allow those arriving at the event to locate your group easily. They also make a GREAT visual for television.
Use Current Events and Local Hooks
Know local regulations and get permission
Visit the demonstration site beforehand so you'll spark ideas for setting things up.
Permits can take weeks to get, and organizers need to know details far enough in advance to plan a detailed schedule. Permits are not usually required if you are going to use, but not block, a public sidewalk. You are almost never allowed to blocking a public sidewalk or overflow into the street. Street marches need permits that require city planning. Please give the city clerk weeks of notice, and file this type of permit early.
If you choose a park or public area to assemble your group, someone at city hall or county courthouse can advise about local regulations and permits required. They are ordinarily given after an easy application process, but it can take a few weeks. Plan early.
Your group may choose to demonstrate on a regular basis. If so, try to get a renewable permit that will cover a span of time, rather than go through the permitting process each time you vigil, rally or demonstrate. Pick up several copies of the application to have on file. A city clerk should be able to answer questions that don't get answered by the information you get with the permit application. Just ask.
Selecting a date
If you are beginning to plan a large public demonstration, check the local community calendar carefully. Do not select a day and time that conflicts with other large events, unless your area is urban, and heavily populated with potential supporters. The event schedule can overshadow these priorities, however. If Ahmadinejad is in New York on a certain day, then it can't be helped if the World Series is being played on the same day.
Media coverage is easier to get when you stage the event during customary work hours on weekdays. Sometimes this is a trade-off; you're likely to be more challenged to find demonstration-participants during the workweek. However, if the issue is popular, a demonstration at lunch time will attract the curious as well as potential supporters.
Notify the media
Let TV news reporters, radio and newspapers know about your demonstration by a telephone call and news release at least one day in advance. Holidays are usually a time of 'no or slow' news when reporters may be hungry for stories, and workers have the day off. In a few groups, many people are dedicated enough to make a 'holiday family day' that is spent publicly opposing horrific rates of incarceration. Give all media contacts at least one cell phone number of one of the leaders. Make sure the cell is charged up, and keep it on "vibrate," since in a demonstration you won’t hear it ringing!"
Be sure to bring petitions, fact-sheets, and cards with your Web address, handouts, informational pamphlets, and announcements of future events, gadgets such as buttons and pins, hats, T-shirts and posters for sale or free distribution.
It is critical to have at least one designated media spokesperson at each event. This person must be comfortable speaking into a microphone and a camera, be willing to have his/her face and name on TV, and be able to deliver a 20 second sound bite in answer to the question "Why are you here today?" This sound bite should be practiced so that it can be delivered smoothly.
Other leaders at the demonstration should work to direct TV and other media to the designated spokespeople. A TV news clip of someone attending your demonstration who gives their own opinion ("Obama is a Communist" "Israel should never give up an inch of the West Bank") can do grave harm to your efforts.
Enjoy the demonstration!
Leader organizers should be on the site at least one-half hour before starting time, 15 minutes if it's a regular and short demonstration.
Keep your group together, and remind everyone (quietly) to hold their signs so they can be clearly seen and photographed. Write down the names and telephone numbers of people demonstrating because you'll contact them for future actions. A clipboard is handy for the organizer to carry, and it can designate the leader if any official wants to talk to someone in your group.
If TV news covers your vigil or demonstration, assign one person to tape each television station present at the event. Begin an archive of media coverage.
Be sure to read local (and national!) newspapers to see how the event was described, and save this paper in your own archives. Post articles at your Web site and tell your mailing list about them.
For groups that do not have a lot of people or contacts, it can be difficult to organize an effective demonstration. A counter-demonstration can meet some of the same objectives with much less time and logistical effort. Counter-demonstrations are also often important for specific issues, though they are inherently reactive rather than pro-active.
A counter-demo involves getting a group of pro-Israel people together to stand across from an anti-Israel demonstration with a pro-Israel message. It provides the opportunity for some of the same activities as your own demonstration: Signing up supporters, outreach to passersby, and media exposure. It also usually will not require any permits (check local regulations). It can be mobilized in a relatively short amount of time by e-mail and social media; often people on our side will be more willing to come out to challenge and confront those who demonize Israel and distort the facts. The larger the original demonstration, the more likely it is that it had advance publicity and the easier it is for you to organize a counter-demonstration.
A counter-demo has its own specific advantages. It doesn’t require as many people to get nearly equal media coverage. Media love to present controversy and people with opposing views. It doesn’t matter quite as much if there are 2500 people on one side of the street and 50 on the other, but of course, people may draw unjust conclusions if you have only a few demonstrators versus a large crowd.
If there are TV cameras filming the anti-Israel demo, send somebody over and ask the reporters if they would like to get a statement from the pro-Israel side as well. Another feature of a counterdemo is that the other side absolutely hates it when pro-Israel groups show up. If their action is small (for example, tabling in a busy downtown plaza) they often pick up and leave rather than allow people to hear what you have to say.
Remember that at a counterdemonstration you have two target audiences: those passing by, to whom you can hand out flyers (the heading "Why Are We Here?" is often successful in getting the readers’ attention) and the general public via the media. Remember that those in the anti-Israel demonstration are really not your audience at all.
Timing is important: do not call your counterdemo before or after the anti-Israel demo—it needs to be at the same time to get the media coverage. But if the other side is running a 3 hour rally, you can call the counterdemo for just one hour. There is no need to be there the entire time.
One aspect more specific to counterdemonstrations is safety. You are going to be outnumbered, and quite significantly, often even 100-1. And if only 2% of the anti-Israel group is made up of youths with Keffiyehs masking their faces, you’re still outnumbered by them.
If you are going to be counter-demonstrating a large permitted demonstration, there will be police on the scene. It is essential to make contact with them when you arrive. Explain that you have a pro-Israel group that will be counterdemonstrating, ask where they would like you to stand, and ask for a few officers to be posted with you as a deterrent to mischief. Anti-Israel protestors have engaged in such activities as: stealing flags and signs, sending the Keffiyeh-clad youth to the counter-demonstration side to try to intimidate, and sending individuals with anti-Israel signs to try to stand in the midst of the counterdemonstrators. If you have enough people, designate a few trusted individuals to stand on the sides of your gathering to watch for trouble. Bullhorns (or even loud whistles) can go a long way to alert about possible trouble. Several designated people with video cameras can also provide an effective deterrent. When leaving the counterdemonstration, if the anti-Israel group is still present, people should leave in groups and avoid crossing directly over to the side of the anti-Israel groups. If the anti-Israel group is leaving the rally scene to go on a march, do NOT attempt to follow them as you cannot assure the safety of your participants in that scenario. If the entire event is a march, then be present either at the start or at the finish locations.
Decorum is also a factor at counterdemonstrations, since there is not a defined "program" and because there are limitations on use of amplified sound without a permit. Standing around with flags and signs can get boring. And when anti-Israel people come over to hassle and intimidate your side, often you get two sides just shouting at each other. It is much better to prepare your side to do one of two things: either "strong and silent" or chanting and/or singing. Either one of those tends to infuriate those who are trying to create conflict. In particular, "Hatikvah" is very effective, though of course one can’t sing it for an hour straight! Songs of peace and brotherhood also work well: "I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield," "We shall overcome," "Heveinu Shalom Aleichem," "Shir Hashalom" "Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu" and "Oseh Shalom Bimromav." Use of progressive songs - in English too - can probably be very effective especially when the demonstrators on the other side are supporting Hamas or Hezbollah. Also, Israeli music on a CD played through a boom box, or, if you are really fortunate, someone with a guitar who can lead songs, can provide a nice atmosphere for your side.
Counter-demonstrations and counter events are also important for university activism efforts to counter "Israel Apartheid Week" or "Palestine Solidarity Day."
However, organizations should not live by counter-demonstrations alone. They are reactive rather than pro-active. The other side has chosen the battleground (the issue and the venue) and they will almost always have the advantage of numbers, as they prepared for the event and bused people in from other cities.
One final note: anti-Israel demonstrations are often scheduled for Saturdays, to minimize any possible response by the pro-Israel community. In most cases, this will rule out participation of observant Jews in the counter demo. Some may even question why you are holding an action on Shabbat. It often requires multiple, patient explanations about the fact that since the OTHER side is holding a rally at a certain day and time, then the counter rally, to be effective, must also be at that time.
Letter writing campaigns and individual letters to media, to government institutions and to businesses are an important part of grass roots activism. Open letters, and letters that are made public through your Web site or mailing list also help to educate the public and inspire activism. Be sure to include the address of the person or institution so that others can write.
"Boilerplate" letters that repeat the same message are sometimes, but not always, a waste of time. Public officials often have functionaries who count the number of letters that advocate different issues. However, it is always better to be original or at least make modifications in a form letter. Always check that information and assertions in a letter that you send are correct. If you signed it, you should be prepared to defend it. Don't rely on someone else's claims without checking.
Never write 'boilerplate' letters to newspapers or media, as it will make you look like a lobby organization. Different letters convey the message of spontaneous protest or writing. Newspapers will never print letters that are not original. Do not send the same letter to different newspapers at the same time, either.
Basics of letter writing
Letters should be brief and express a point of information about one issue. Do not be abusive or call people "anti-Semites." The anti-Semites already know who they are and many are proud of it. Those who are not will claim they are engaged in "legitimate criticism of Israel" and that you are trying to shut them up with false claims of anti-Semitism.
A letter to a newspaper intended for publication should usually be no more than 150 words if intended for publication, and must include your address and telephone number to allow verification. Check the newspaper for specific rules about length and other requirements.
A snail mail letter to an official is far more likely to get attention than e-mails. Email facilities are often overloaded and abused, and may be ignored.
A Letter writing guide - the Sierra club
... Emails, postcards, and phone calls are good communication tools, but letters and faxes are the most effective and persuasive way of communicating our views to elected officials.
These tips will help you write a persuasive letter:
A better letter to the editor
Letters to the Editor are one of the most widely read sections of the newspaper and reach a large audience. They allow community members to comment on the way issues are being addressed in the media and to influence what topics the local paper covers. Elected officals often monitor this section of the newspaper and take notice of constituents' opinions.
Due to strict space limitations in newspapers, not all letters will be published, but the more letters the newspaper receives on a certain topic, the more likely they are to run at least one letter on the topic. Check the letter guidelines in your local paper and use these tips to write an effective letter to the editor:
"I was impressed by the comprehensive logging solution outlined in the May 5th article, 'Sustainable Logging on a Roll.'"
"I strongly disagree with Senator Baker's position against increased fuel economy standards 'To be or SUV' June 22)."
Using the Web and Internet
The Web and the Internet have become basic and indispensable tools of communication. Every organization, especially grass roots activist groups, no matter how small, should have a Web site or Web log that is used for providing information about the group and its activities, but also basic information about the conflict and about Israel. Web sites are especially important for organizations composed of volunteers, with very limited financial resources, because Web sites are so inexpensive.
A Web site is not a "one time affair" that is made by a technician or Web designer and forgotten. It is a living and growing center that should be updated regularly. It must be simple for non-technical members to update your Web site, add new content and new pages and links. A Web log offers the easiest, simplest and cheapest (it's free!) method of providing non-technical Web access, but sites with Content Management Systems can do so as well.
Be sure to exchange links with any group or person who offers to do so - that is the best way to popularize your Web site. Links are important not for the traffic they bring from another Web site, but because they improve the visibility of the Web site in search engines. Search engines are the primary source of visitors to Web sites.
Don't count on the Web site as a means of publicizing events. A Web site is not a local tool, and small Web sites generally reach only a small audience. A page may get a few hundred views at most in a week, and most of those people may be out of your area. However, events can be publicized using search engine advertising directed at people who live in a specific area and linking to a specially prepared target page in the Web site.
Contact with your members and recruitment of new members can generally be done through the Internet via email. You should probably have a separate list or discussion. Emails should be used to distribute new content from your Web sites. Such messages should always include BOTH the actual content (unless it is a video) and the URL address on the Web. The content must be included because only a small percentage of recipients will click on a link. The address is included so that when your original materials are forwarded, there is a chance at least that your group will get credit for the content, and will get a link when the material is posted by others to the Web. Every email sent by your group should have a link to your Web site and other non-personal contact information. It is not a wise idea to put personal telephone numbers or addresses on the Web or to send them by email. Remember that emails can potentially reach anyone.
Additional information about Web sites and Internet use is given in Appendix C: Web Use Guide
If you can get your views published in a national or local paper, this can provide an excellent way to advance your cause.
The follow is adapted from a De-Paul university guide
What to write
The best way to determine what would be most appropriate for a particular publication is first to become familiar with it. Each day, read the editorial pages of the publications you would like to target. Learn to recognize the style, length and tone of successful submissions and fashion your effort similarly. Major news events or political developments, pending or recently enacted legislation, and groundbreaking research findings all provide opportunities for op-eds or letters to the editor. Be sure you address an issue that involves real debate. Hotly debated issues generally produce many submissions, and editors will select only the best to print. Editors try to cover a variety of issues and viewpoints. If you already have seen your topic addressed in a particular media outlet, send your piece to a different news organization, write about a different angle on the issue or choose another topic. Significant anniversaries of major historical events—such as the 60th anniversary of the state of Israel can serve as an opportunity to bring new perspectives to much debated topics.
Be aware that you may not be the only one to write about an issue and that editors attempt to balance the subject matter on their pages. Opinion page editors may receive dozens of pieces about a particular event in the Middle East, but may have room for only one. When you have an idea for an op-ed or a letter to the editor, the following advice will help you get published.
Best Practices for the Editorial Page Op-ed or letter to the editor
Op-eds are typically longer (600 to 750 words) and feature self-contained arguments that stand alone. Letters to the editor are short (usually 150 to 250 words) and usually provide a direct response to an article that has appeared in the publication. Because publications run so many more letters to the editor than op-eds, your chances of getting published are much greater with letters to the editor. If you have a brief point to make about an issue in the news, a letter to the editor is your best bet. Include your organizational title in your signature to establish your credentials if appropriate. The head of the ADL has a better chance of getting his or her opinion published than an anonymous citizen.
Timeliness: Op-eds and letters to the editor need to be timely and address issues that are currently in the news. In the case of a letter to the editor, you must send it within one or two days after the original story appears. Because of the limited space for op-eds, note that it is common for editors to hold potential columns for weeks while they consider whether to run it. Op-eds written with longer "shelf lives" will have a much greater chance of getting published.
Pointed view: Opinion editors look for articles that are provocative and succinctly argue particular points of view on issues that are dominating the headlines. They do not want pieces that argue all sides of an issue.
Clarity: Avoid acronyms and academic or legalistic language. Op-eds that appear in general-circulation publications should be comprehensible to all readers. Use "plain English" language in an active voice and with a moderate tone. Op-eds should conform to the stylistic rules of the Associated Press Stylebook (apstylebook.com/ask_editor.php). Op-eds that do not require editing are most likely to be accepted. If the editors can't follow your argument, they certainly won’t ask their readers to figure it out.
Accuracy: Double-check all your facts, the spelling of names and places, and make certain you have no grammatical errors. Even simple mistakes can hurt your credibility and cause an otherwise well-written piece to be rejected.
Length: Follow the word-length limits set by the publication. Your piece is most likely to be selected if it fits the format. Typically, op-eds should be no more than 750 words, although each publication sets its own limit and the trend is toward shorter pieces. Submit only completed pieces. Editors will not respond to queries on topics.
Exclusivity: National newspapers usually demand exclusivity on op-eds they publish, and it is often preferred by local newspapers as well. It is much more difficult to get published in national publications due to the increased volume of submissions. If you are planning to submit to multiple publications, give each paper one week to consider the piece. Review each newspaper’s guidelines, which may have more advice on this issue.
Identification: Include your name under the headline of your submission. A short biographical summary of one to two sentences should be included at the end of the article noting your name, title and expertise in the area. This explanation is normally 25 words or fewer. Be sure to include your address and telephone, both business and home phones so that newspapers can verify your authorship. Virtually all op-eds and letters to the editor are submitted via e-mail. Most media outlets will include the submission address on their opinion pages at least several times a week.
Following Up: Op-ed editors will usually call only if they plan to use a piece. If you must follow up with a phone call, make sure to keep the call short. Never call after 3 p.m., when editors are on deadline.
Handling the Press
The press love a good story, especially if it is colorful. They love it more if you write the story for them and it fits in a news slot. Promise them interesting costumes and photogenic people. Give them good sound bites and a pre-written description of the event with the particulars of your group, the issues and your stands, including great quotes, and you have a good chance of making the news.
Pointing out Bias
It is useful to point out media bias and to convince others that a specific newspaper or TV station is not fair and consistently leaves out certain facts. It makes people aware that they cannot just believe everything that the media say. It counterbalances allegations from the other side that the media are biased in favor of Israel. A poll shows that twice as many people think that the media in the Netherlands are biased in favor of Israel than biased in favor of the Palestinians, though the objective situation is quite different.
Participating in the discussion about media coverage and showing concrete and clear examples might influence some journalists and reporters and make the public more critical towards the media or a specific newspaper or TV station.
Don't try to Shut up the Press
Attempts to shut the press up are obnoxious and won't be tolerated by the majority of people. Remember the Muslim intimidation over the cartoons of Muhammad and the Fatwa against Salman Rushdie? Attempts to correct biased reports or to persuade obviously biased reporters and media to be more balanced are usually going to fail, though they are legitimate. Those who generate the false reports obviously have an interest in presenting that side of the story. Repeated attempts to make the BBC and other broadcasters comply with elementary rules of professionalism and balance have had little effect. Much of the work is properly the job of the Israeli government press office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Volunteers and NGOs and grass roots groups can't manufacture information in place of governments and responsible authorities. The IDF, not you, has to be the source for information about IDF operations. However, we can conduct letter writing and other campaigns to change media behavior, and we can make ourselves and our activities into news that focuses on our side of the story.
Media will change if they determine that there is no market for their "version" of the story. Meanwhile, we need to produce alternative channels that present our side of the story.
Tables and Handouts
A table can be set up and manned on busy streets, where permitted, and in universities. Be prepared for hecklers. Having several members manning the tables discourages problematic behavior. The table can be there to gather signatures for a petition, but it can also simply distribute information. The table should be focused around a specific issue, but handouts and fact sheets may cover numerous different issues. These can include, for example:
The table can also be used to distribute announcements for an upcoming demonstration or counter-demonstration. All such tables should have a page where people can leave their names and contact information (make sure it is legible) as well as prepared handouts on plain white paper about different issues. A table can be part of an "Israel day" at a university, or it may be a "counter-demonstration" during a university "Israel Apartheid Week" demonstration.
Campus activism can consist of separate activates or a coordinated day or week around a theme. Anti-Israel activists have been fairly successful in promoting their Boycott Israel and Israel Apartheid campaigns through such tactics.
Events and activities can include, for example:
Be sure to choose public, non-Jewish venues for events. You are not only more likely to get neutral people to attend that way, but you are also more likely to attract attendance of uncommitted Jewish students.
For panel discussions, be sure that a reasonable spectrum of opinion is included. If anti-Israel groups organize the panel, and even the Israeli speakers are anti-Zionist, it is probably not worthwhile participating. Make sure that panels are not scheduled for the Sabbath or Jewish holidays when there may be no Jewish students on campus, and make sure that "our side" knows about the discussion and will be there to help ensure that the audience gives everyone a fair hearing.
Cooperation with other groups - Zionist, Jewish or otherwise is often essential if your demonstration, event, petition or university activity is to succeed. They can often offer publicity, facilities, attendees and handouts. Likewise, you can help form alliances by participating in appropriate events and showing that Zionists care about their cause. Non-Zionist groups including churches, unions and rights groups offer a unique and important opportunity for outreach. Form coalitions based on common interests. Churches may be willing to participate in protests against persecution of Christians in Middle East countries. Evangelical churches are often enthusiastic about helping Zionist causes. Women's rights groups may be eager to protest repressive practices in Muslim countries. Gay activists may be interested in activities related to gay rights. Many of these groups have been bizarrely subverted by anti-Zionists, but that doesn't mean attempts at cooperation should be abandoned. We must always extend the hand of friendship. Remember however, you aren't out to subvert someone else's cause or group, but they should not be allowed to exploit your group unfairly. Make sure you aren't going to find yourself and your members demonstrating for causes and disseminating messages that should not be part of your program. See Cooperation for a list of some possible partner groups and further details.
If your demonstration was a success, be sure to tell your followers and the world. If it was a great success, the press will do the job for you.
If you have experience doing grass roots activism, organize seminars to train other activists.
When planning activities, keep as many people as possible in the loop. Benefit from their experience and judgment and make them feel a part of the action. This may take more time, but it is worth it. A bit of planning and discussion can save you from many errors, ranging from spelling errors in advertisements to using the wrong messages or planning an event that conflicts with another one. People who participate in planning will also be more willing to help with planning and resources.
Gross roots work is often discouraging and requires persistence. You may have few attendees at a demonstration or weekly mini-rally and get little attention from the press. Analyze your mistakes and learn from them, but don't give up!
There is always an individual or group of people who are ready to explain why your initiative will not work, or is not worth doing. They will say things like: "You'll never get many people to view your Web site" (how's 3 million and counting?) "Internet petitions never accomplish anything," "Politicians don't read those letters," "Demonstrations won't change a thing," Don't listen to them. If you need to convince them, point out that anti-Israel groups have used precisely these methods to change public opinion, a little bit at a time, and that's why Israel finds itself on the defensive.
Grass roots tactics work: Anti-Israel groups have used precisely these methods to change public opinion, a little bit at a time, and that's why Israel finds itself on the defensive.
Except as noted, this material is copyright © 2009 by Ami Isseroff and members of the Zio-Web group. No part may be reproduced without permission in any form.
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