New feature: How to organise a demonstration
Jess McCabe // 17 September 2009
In this case study, Carrie Supple explains how she and Louise Morris organised a protest to support Sudanese journalist Lubna Hussein – and how you can use the same techniques to organise a demo for your campaign too
How it started
I was listening to the radio one day in early August, and heard an item about how Lubna Hussein, a journalist in Sudan, had been arrested and charged with the crime of wearing trousers. Thousands of women have been whipped for wearing trousers or other infringements of Article 152 of the Sudanese Criminal Code. which says that women displaying “indecent conduct or clothing” can be flogged (up to 40 lashes) and fined.
Individual policemen decide whether a woman’s clothing is ‘indecent’; for example, women have been whipped for having a picnic with a man. Lubna Hussein resigned her post at the UN so that she would not be immune from prosecution and she decided to lead a campaign to eliminate Article 152. Her trial was due to be held on 7 September.
Action: date, time, place
Like so many people who heard her speak on the radio, I was appalled and texted a friend, suggesting we go to the Sudan embassy to protest. I emailed other friends and many wanted to join us. We wanted to show our solidarity with Lubna Hussein and to add our voices to those calling for an end to this barbaric treatment of women. We chose to organise the demo on Friday 4 September at lunchtime in order to leaflet people on their lunch breaks.
I went to the area of the embassy (near Green Park) to see which spot might have the greatest impact. I spoke to a member of staff at The Ritz, who suggested Trafalgar Square or Parliament Green and wondered about Green Park itself, but in the end we all agreed that the demonstration should be outside the Sudan Embassy, 3 Cleveland Row, SW1 because it was the Sudanese government we needed to influence.
I then emailed people who had organised protests about Darfur outside the Sudan embassy, asking them how to apply for police permission to protest. They told us to find the nearest Metropolitan Police office which was easy by Googling. I phoned the Charing Cross police station and was told to apply for permission to email@example.com giving details such as what, when, where the demo would take place, numbers, main contact, etc. A policeman called a few days later and okayed it all, but wanted to meet to us to discuss logistics. Louise and Nell went to meet him at the site of the protest. They discussed where we should stand, how many stewards (we needed a ratio of 1:50 stewards to protesters; we had 3, Catherine, Nell and Trish), what was allowed, etc. There is a document which helps you organise, with roles and responsibilities and a formal agreement to sign. The police were very helpful.
Meanwhile, we got busy with planning the leaflet to hand out on the day. A friend, Ruth L, works at a printing press which agreed to print 500 two-sided A5 leaflets for free. Various people helped with the wording, for example who we were, why we were protesting and about the background to the campaign & Lubna, with a photo.
I had a contact in Sudan, Ahmed Elzobir, who used to live in London and who I knew through a Darfur campaign. He put me in touch with fellow campaigners for Lubna Husssein in Sudan. I asked them what their aims were and what they suggested our demands should be on the leaflet and who to lobby. The demands (to MPs, the Foreign Minister and the Ambassador) were:
- condemn the whipping & punishment of women for wearing trousers in Sudan;
- call for the elimination of Article 152 of the Sudanese Criminal Code; and
- ask President al-Bashir to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and respect the human rights of all Sudan’s citizens.