Planning a Rally (the MCPPA Birthday Party)

Sorry to be away so long. I got stuck on an article addressing a difficult social issue, and still haven’t been able to crack it, in real life either.

Today I went to the rally at the capitol for the first birthday of the Minnesota Citizen’s Personal Protection Act. But I’ve been working for a considerable amount of the previous week to get ready for the rally, and that’s more interesting.

The rally itself went fine. The numbers I was given said 275 of us, 75 of them. I believe some more precise numbers may eventually be developed from some of my photos, but there weren’t good positions to get everybody in one shot, either.

Speaking of photos, though, my full set of photos from the rally are here

Organizers on Capitol steps Joel Rosenberg was in charge of planning the rally for GOCRA/MNCCRN, and I think he did a very good job.

This rally was run on the cheap. I don’t know what the total budget was. I know that my sign-making budget was zero (which means I used some of my own paper, and actually spent money on glue sticks). A bigger rally starts to really need some budget; even simple things are often too big for somebody to contribute by himself. Printing 200 pages on my laser printer costs me next to nothing; even buying the ream of paper is something I can absorb. But if we’d needed 1000 copies instead, it would have been different.

Some actual carry content—I was asked to be a proctor, and to take photos of the rally. I had to decide whether I would carry that day (I’d given notice to the state capitol security people, so I could have). I decided not to, for the following reasons: both of my jobs potentially required me to get “in the face” of most of the people present at one time or another. When carrying, I make special efforts not to get in people’s faces. So having the gun on me would make it harder for me to do my jobs; the habits would interfere. And it would make it more likely that I would get in an armed confrontation with somebody, which is generally a Bad Idea.

While I’ve spoken at length, in classes, against thinking you can know enough about the relative risks of the various things you do to use that to make sensible decisions about carrying, I didn’t see this rally as a particularly high-risk event. I’d be surrounded by certified good-guys, watched by the capitol security force, and at worst confronted by anti-violence anti-gun demonstrators. So I didn’t see any special reason I should carry to the rally.

As it turned out, this decision also made it easier to decide to stop for a margarita on the way home from the rally (Joel was driving).

There’s a lot of experience out there in organizing demonstrations of various sorts. I’m not very well connected to the people who have that knowledge, though. If any of you read this, you’ll no doubt be amused at our clumsy reinventions of the wheel in various areas.


We had a number of people designated “proctors”, official representatives of the organizers. This didn’t give us any actual power, but it does improve the chances that people will listen and cooperate. Of course for most kinds of serious problems, the proctor’s first job is to call capitol security.

Nothing bad happened that we needed to quickly stop. Many conceivable bad things couldn’t be stopped by a few cvilian proctors. Still, like having trouble-shooters at a big science-fiction convention, it can often give you a better feel for what’s really happening, and it can defuse situations before they become serious if the proctors are good.

If the proctors are bad, they can make things nearly infinitely worse, of course.

Our proctors were marked with a green armband. That’s very cheap, and not bad. A special t-shirt is nicer, easier to spot, but of course more expensive, and takes more lead-time. And you have to be sure it doesn’t look too much like ordinary t-shirts. We weren’t that worried about behavior at this rally, and we didn’t have the money anyway.


We had a one-page handout to be given to the attendees when they arrived. The information on it mostly duplicated what was in the advance publicity, but it still served two pretty useful purposes, plus had another minor purpose.

First, and the most important reason, it gave a reason to encourage people coming to the rally to talk to one of the proctors we had stationed around the area. This gave us a chance to make friendly contact, and potentially (it didn’t come up that I’m aware of) try to convince people who were being too extreme to moderate their behavior. If somebody had been carrying openly, for example, we would have asked them to conceal it. (We can’t insist they do, of course.)

Second, connected to the first, it gave us a way, often, to recognize if a person had already talked to a proctor (printing the flyer on colored paper helped with that, as did including the graphic elements; makes it easier to recognize at a glance).

And, as a minor additional point, going to the trouble of doing this might conceivably be of some help if things went badly pear-shaped, and people tried to claim it was our fault. We can show we gave people sensible instructions in the handout.


I got delegated sign-making. I wasn’t expected to be the only source of signs, and as you can see from the pictures, I wasn’t. The signs I produced are the small, plain ones, which if you’d handled them you’d see were fairly crudely slapped together. Here are a couple of examples. I’m going to natter fairly extensively about the production process, in hopes it can be valuable to others in the future.

The slogans were the fun part. Joel sent a starter list, other people contributed some, and I made up a few on my own. In the end, we had a pretty good list, I think. Only one of them was drastically too long for the format (and the originator of the idea brought a larger-format sign that the information fit on). And then another person brought a sign with the same information in a much better presentation.

For reference, here are the slogans I used:

  • Permits issued: 17,249 Permit holder road rage shootings: 0 Parking space shootings: 0 State Fair shootings: 0 Finding out that law-abiding citizens are… well, law abiding: Priceless.

I looked into printing direct to heavy stock, lamination, and so forth. The only vaguely feasible method of producing small numbers (I was told to try for 50; I actually made 22, which were enough) that I found was to print them on a tabloid printer (I thought I had three, but I finally managed to get one of them to both feed and print 11×17 paper reliably) and then attach them by hand to corrugated cardboard backing (which had been cut by hand out of scrap cardboard).

Commercial printing is a viable option if you need even low hundreds of signs, and if you’ll accept having them all the same. You can do that for only a few dollars a sign. We had no budget, and I’d only been asked for 50, so I did it by hand.

If you have someone who silk-screens, you can print small numbers relatively easily. We didn’t. And that does give you just one design, whereas we had a large variety of slogans we wanted to display.

11×17 is too small. It’s not hopelessly too small, but it’s definitely too small. Look at the pictures, it’s pretty clear.

For a bigger rally, you might need even bigger signs, because they’d be viewed from further away mostly.

“Tagboard” or “posterboard” is too flimsy. You can’t hold a big sign up without its flopping. My idea of putting the signs on a core of cardboard was very good, except for the labor involved.

Gluesticks don’t stick paper to cardboard very well. The signs kept trying to delaminate, until I taped the edges with package sealing tape. That worked fine, but was a lot of work. Spray adhesive probably would have been better (easier to get a uniform coating on the large area), but those cans cost $12, and it’s also not stuff you should really use indoors without a ventilation system. Just stapling the 4 corners might have been good enough. I did that in addition to gluing (but instead of taping the edges) on a few signs and they seemed to hold up well enough.

Cutting out 11×17 rectangles from scrap cardboard is harder than it looks. And I’ve been cutting cardboard carefully (for photo mounting and matting) since highschool. And remember it’s dangerous. Putting high levels of force on a knife with a very sharp blade can lead to surprising injuries.

Building up a stock of cardboard rectangles could have been distibuted among half a dozen people. If they each committed to a specific number of sheets, you could keep the individual effort down.

Bigger signs could have been made by printing two tabloid sheets with some overlap, trimming the edge off one, and aligning them as part of the glue-down process to make one big sign. It’s one more cutting step, but it’s cutting something light and easy, and with enough overlap it makes the cut non-precision.

Painting directly on white board is a good way to make one-of-a-kind signs. Encouraging people to make their own signs and bring them is in many ways better than trying to provide signs. And it probably looks better—it’s more obvious that people are expressing their own opinions if all the signs are different. We had fairly good luck encouraging people to bring signs, as you can see from the photos.


It’s always hard to gauge the effectiveness of this kind of event. We can say roughly how many people we got (and remember, this was on a workday). But the real purpose is to keep the issue visible to the legislature and to the public. It’s useful in a floor speech to refer to “the 275 people who took a day off work to come celebrate”, or some such. Getting local newspaper and TV coverage helps keep the issue in front of the public. I haven’t heard how much we got yet (and the newspaper part we won’t know until tomorrow).

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