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Freedom to Vote: Time to Act

We’re organizing a Week of Action from November 8 to November 13 to demand the Senate pass the Freedom To Vote Act, now. This toolkit will walk you through everything you need to host a powerful event.

Voting rights are central to our democracy. This year alone we have seen targeted attacks on Americans’ right to vote in 17 states. There’s a bill in the Senate right now called the Freedom to Vote Act, sponsored by Senator Manchin, that would reverse this trend and put basic protections for voters in place. 

Every Democratic Senator has spoken about the importance of ensuring everyone has the ability to cast their vote and make their voice heard, but they have yet to pass this bill or any meaningful legislation to save our democracy. Meanwhile Republicans continue to obstruct and stand in the way of progress.

We’ve all been working hard to organize our local groups and communities to push Congress to take action, and it’s frustrating they haven’t gotten it done yet. But we’re determined to see this through. Our message to Congress is this: Passing the Freedom to Vote Act is critical to our democracy and we won’t take any excuses. Now is the Time to Act.

Why Now?

Congress is working to meet a new deadline to pass an inclusive reconciliation bill with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. Once recovery is passed, the Senate’s focus should shift back to democracy -- which Majority Leader Schumer has stated is one of their top priorities. Between November 8 and November 13, the Senators will be on recess and back in their districts. 

As 2021 winds down, we’re running out of time to pass the Freedom to Vote Act before the end of the year. Congress has already missed earlier redistricting deadlines that make implementing anti-gerrymandering provisions more difficult, but not impossible. If the Freedom to Vote Act gets pushed to 2022, it will be even harder to pass and the provisions to implement fair redistricting and to protect voting rights won’t be put in place for the midterm elections. 

Strategy

The name of the game is media. We can most effectively move our Senators by calling them out publicly. Calls, emails, and meetings with them never hurt, but what will move them the most at this point is public attention to the issue and their inaction (or obstruction). Our message should be as loud and public as possible through the media and online so they feel the maximum amount of pressure to act.

This is a national issue, and every state matters. If you don't know it already, look into whether your Senator supports the Freedom to Vote Act and whether they have committed publicly to doing everything they can to get it passed. If you have a Democratic Senator, support isn’t enough. They need to be making statements, talking to their colleagues and pushing it through.

If you have a Republican Senator, your voice still matters! Red states have faced the brunt of the regressive bills to limit access to the polls. The best thing you can do is draw attention to these undemocratic policies and your electeds’ actions. we need to continue to call out Republicans' efforts to destroy our democracy. They are not going to listen to us, but these events will help us build the national narrative we need to get this legislation over the finish line - and it’ll help set the stage for voting them out of office as soon as possible.

Need more info on what’s in the Freedom To Vote Act? Click here for our explainer!

Planning Your Event

For this week of action, we should aim for press-friendly events. What does that mean exactly? It means choosing a recognizable or symbolically significant venue, adding visual components like signs or props, and/or inviting exciting speakers. Then, advise your event to the press and send out a press release after (more on that below!). We’ve seen throughout this year that even small and distanced events can get great press coverage, and they look great on Twitter! We’ll go through some suggested locations, tactics and tips for making a press plan below.

Attending your Senator’s town hall and asking them questions about the Freedom To Vote Act can also be a great option to get press coverage, check the Town Hall Project’s website to see if they’re hosting one.

Before you get into the nuts and bolts, think about people and organizations in your community you want to reach out to. Especially if your group is white-led and/or predominantly white, think about people who have been targeted for voter suppression and make sure you’re working to share  decision making power in your planning with BIPOC-led groups.

Choose a Date & Time

Congress will be in recess between November 8 and 13. This week of action starts on the 8th and will build up to the 13th. If it works for you and your group, November 13 is a great choice because the bulk of our events will be that day, but any time during that week is great.

Choose a Venue

If you’re near one, your Senator’s district office is the best option because you’re taking your message straight to its audience. If you’re not near an office, think about places that are significant to your town or your area like a local park or high traffic area. We always recommend choosing a location that’s physically accessible and close to public transit. Check out this guide from The Pacific Alliance on Disability Self Advocacy for more on planning accessible events.

Choose a Tactic

If you want to keep it simple and easier to plan - go with a rally with speakers and some chants. Community leaders, faith leaders, local organizers are all great people to invite to speak. 

To make your event visually compelling for new stories and social media, get together before your event to make signs or props. You can also cut out large, individual letters to spell “Freedom to Vote” or other snappy messages like Indivisible Eastside did here. Or, choose your own theme like the Indivisible Georgia Coalition did with their “Democracy Can’t Sleep” rally! Here are some ideas for what to write on signs:

  • Congress, Time to Act!
  • Voting Rights Now
  • Senator ____ it’s up to you to Save Democracy
  • The Freedom to Vote Act is more popular than Senator ____
  • Honk if every vote must count
  • History is watching you, Senator _________

Don’t want to do a rally? Feel free to get creative! You could host a march, light up your Senator’s office, drop off letters or do a sit-in at your Senator’s office.

Recruit your speakers

Think about who you’d like to emcee your event and who you’d like to invite to speak. Most effective events have 2-4 speakers with each speaker talking for 3-5 minutes. The overall message for this event is voting rights  so brainstorm and recruit speakers who can speak to that theme. Faith leaders, youth activists, organizers from partner groups, local or state elected officials are all good options to consider as speakers. If your group is white-led, be mindful to avoid tokenizing your BIPOC speakers. Ask them how they’d like to get involved and make sure they have a real seat at the table.

If your Senator is strong on voting rights (and not letting procedural votes get in the way of progress), it’s a great idea to invite them. If you have a Senator who is supportive but hasn’t been championing voting rights and democracy, inviting them to attend and speak can be a great tactic to encourage them to speak out more on this issue.

Register your event

You can register your event here! Adding your event to the map puts all your information in one place for attendees, and lets us give you a hand with recruitment!

Delegate & determine roles

Any event is a great opportunity to develop leadership within your group and empower folks to take on new responsibilities. Depending on the scale of your event and how much time you have, you may want to create teams or just have one point person for specific duties. You can find some specific ideas for roles below. If you’re short on time, think about specific tasks on your list and ask a few people to take them on. This sample list of event roles can help you get started.

Write out your event agenda

Having your agenda written out for your team and your speakers will help make sure everything runs smoothly. That way everyone knows when to arrive, what to do, and speakers know when they're up. Check out this simple template agenda to get you started.

Recruit for your event

Now it’s time to recruit! Luckily Indivisible has a handy guide on all things recruitment. Start with your local group, friend and family, and partner organizations and go from there.

Set up your logistics

If you have speakers, think about whether you need a bullhorn or audio equipment so they can be heard properly. If you can, consider hiring an ASL interpreter for deaf and hard of hearing folks.

Remember to set aside time (and delegate!) to make signs and posters. If it’s safe for you and your group, a sign making party can be a fun way to prep for an event. Or ask five or so people to make a handful or signs (or giant letters) ahead of time.

Make a media plan

Real talk: we can never guarantee the press will actually show up or cover any given event. But we can increase our chances with some best practices. The summary is: create a media list, send out an advisory describing your event beforehand, and send out a release afterward (see templates in our media toolkit here). See our step-by-step guide on further down, and reach out to supportteam@indivisible.org for help!

Think who will own different roles

  • Usually, a successful press operation at an event includes several moving factors and can be more manageable if delegated to multiple people. People can have multiple roles at one event, but here are some of the different functions when considering who handles what. 
  • You can see sample event roles here. At a minimum make sure you have someone in charge of sending out media advisories and press releases, and spokespeople at the event ready to talk to the press. 

Build a media list

  • A media list is exactly what it sounds like: a list of reporters and media outlets in your area that you want to tell about your event. The best format is usually a spreadsheet where you can include any individual names of reporters, media outlets, and contact information (see this example for Arizona). If you have anyone in your group who has worked with press before or who enjoys digging around on Google, this is a perfect job for them! Otherwise, this is a project all group members can contribute to.
    • Step 1: List all the newspapers, radio, and TV news stations you already know of, and then look on their websites for contact information. You’re usually looking for a “newsroom” email and phone number, often listed in the “contact us” menu on their website.
    • Step 2: Look for recent news stories about your Senator, which you can search for via google.com/news. Type your Senator’s name in quotations (ex: “Senator Schumer”) and you’ll see a list of recent stories. Click on articles from the local publications you listed in step one, and log which reporters cover your Senator. From there, you can read the reporters’ stories to learn about them. You can usually find their contact information on the website for their outlet, or on their social media accounts.
    • Step 3: TV stations work a little differently with reporters working in shifts. They will still often have “contact us” sections with email addresses and phone numbers. Look for the email and phone number to the Newsroom or Assignment Desk -- this is who goes through the media advisories and schedules the local events correspondents cover. If you can’t find the information for the newsroom or assignment desk, call the TV station!Let them know about your event and ask the best email address to send an advisory to. This will get you on their radar.
    • Pro-tip: Our press team can send you a list of reporters in your area to help you get started. Reach out to your Indivisible organizer or supportteam@indivisible.org for more information. 

Introduce yourself to reporters (if time permits)

  • Giving reporters a heads up about your event early before you send an advisory is an effective way to start building a relationship with them and get more media out to your events and to cover your group’s work. These emails are short and simple with fewer details than advisories. If you’re a few days out from your event or closer, skip this step and focus on sending your advisories. You can find a template introductory email here in our General Media Toolkit. This is a step that should be handled by the identified Media Liaison. 

Advise your event

  • The next step is to let the media know about your event! This is a step that should be handled by the identified Media Liaison.  Advisories are emails you send to reporters and outlets on your media list with details about the event. Consider it the official invitation to reporters for the event! With that in mind, consider only what they need to know -- one to two sentences on what the event is about, the date, time, and location, and who the spokespeople are. Keep in mind, this should be like a resume -- concise and highlighting essential information. The first sentence should always be: “On [day], [This group] is hosting [this event] in front of/at/outside of [location].” 
  • You can find a template advisory to plug your event details into in our template here.

Make follow up calls (if time permits)

  • Once you send out the advisory, make follow up calls to local TV stations (just the general assignment desk/newsroom/tipline) to make sure they got it and check if they’re planning on attending. It’s best practice to be persistent and give the TV stations a call the day before and two days before your event asking if they plan to be there. If you have relationships or worked with local reporters on past events, this is also a good opportunity to follow up with them individually by forwarding them the media advisory and saying hello. This is usually handled by the Media Liaison, but can be delegated and split among multiple group members. 

Prep your spokespeople

  • When the press attends an event, they’ll likely want to speak one-on-one with people there. So first, identify 1-3 people who will be ready to speak with reporters and help them prepare what they want to say. They should be ready to talk about your group, the event, and why they support democracy reform. The best practice is to stay close to your overall message, keep it concise, and have a few quotes ready to go (which you can also use in your press release). 
  • When prepping speakers and talking to reporters, make sure to stay focused and answer these three questions: 1. Why are you taking this action? (also framed as: What brought you out here today?) 2. Why is this important to you and your community? 3. What do you want your Senator or MoC to do about it? 
  • Most of the time, reporters will simply ask these questions. They’re straightforward -- they’re usually looking for locals who can speak to an issue specific to their communities and experiences, not a policy expert who can repeat talking points. If you want some help prepping your speakers, just reach out to your organizer (or supportteam@indivisible.org) and we’ll help!

Run a great event

  • Once the event has started, focus on running the best event you can! If reporters come, connect them with one of your prepped spokespeople. And remember, don’t stress if they don’t show up! During the event, the Media Liaison should be helping any press that shows up get connected with spokespeople, and working with the digital director to capture sound bites of different speakers to include as quotes in the press release. The digital director should be taking photos and videos, and uploading them to social media, and trying to highlight unique and newsworthy moments of the event. 

Send out a press release

  • A press release is a communication, usually via email and no longer than about one page, that gives a reporter some of the basics they’d need to write a story about something: background about what’s happening, quotes from the event and spokespeople, and contact information they can use to find out more. The best practice is to send these as soon after your event as possible. You can find a general template press release here. This is usually handled by the Media Liaison.

Send out an ICYMI email to reporters

  • “In case you missed it” emails are a common practice that provides one last chance to get your event covered and stay on reporters’ radar. There are a couple of differences between these emails and press releases; ICYMI emails are sent after releases (which ideally are sent right after your event) and are usually less formal. There’s no special format, other than putting “ICYMI” in the subject but they should be pretty short.
  • Send an ICYMI email to reporters 1-2 days after your event and include any news clips, social media discussions, photos, quotes, etc. You can find a template ICYMI email in our General Media Toolkit here. This is usually handled by the Media Liaison

Other Resources

Virtual Events

The truth is we haven’t seen the press attend or cover many virtual events. That said, if it’s not safe for you or your group to gather in person a virtual event can be a great option. And it doesn’t hurt to invite the press, you never know! We recommend centering your virtual event around taking actions. Here are some ideas:

  • Host an LTE-writing party where you write letters to the editor together and divvy up which newspapers to send them
  • Run a “hybrid” event, host a virtual rally or meeting with one person going to your Senator’s office to drop of letters, postcards, etc - they can also show all the attendees on Zoom to the office staff
  • Invite your Senator to virtual group meeting
  • Record videos together to post to Twitter sharing why you support the Freedom To Vote Act
  • Make a plan together to birddog your Senator. Check their Twitter, website and Facebook for town halls and other events