Challenging Islamophobia and Discrimination…..
The first and foremost requirement for organizing a successful demonstration is a tight action plan that includes the following:
• Clear vision, goal, and idea about the target-audience
• Clear organizational structure
• Clear division of tasks (a well-prepared action committee with strong leadership qualities)
• Means to carry out the project
• In-depth evaluation after the demonstration
Now follows a detailed elaboration of the steps mentioned above:
Clear Vision and Goal
What are your vision and goal? What do you want to achieve with this demonstration? Whom do you want to address? What is the message that needs to be transmitted?
Remember to always give the message a positive ring (not anti-prohibition but rather freedom of expression). Within the action committee, the goals of the group as a whole and the goals of the individual members should be clear.
Clear Organizational Structure
The structure and hierarchy within the action committee should be clearly defined: Who is the chairperson? Who is the secretary? Who is the cashier? The different responsibilities of each function should be very clearly defined.
Two positions are of crucial importance for the organization of a demonstration, as they can be considered the organization’s business card: the spokesperson and the public relations (PR) officer.
There should be a well-defined PR strategy. Make sure necessary training courses are provided on time. Ideally, the whole action committee should receive media training. In-depth knowledge of the case you are fighting for or defending is indispensable. Members of the action committee should inform themselves thoroughly about all the different sides to and perspectives on the hijab law your country, or the hijab prohibition in this or that school or workplace.
Furthermore, there are a number of practical matters that need to be arranged beforehand:
• Permission to demonstrate from your local council or other authority.
• Agreements (preferably personal and face-to-face) with the local police force about maintenance of order during the demonstration. In this way you keep them on your side.
• Clear conditions for the location of the demonstration. Make sure it is a central location, preferably with symbolic value. Be prepared to be jeopardized by the council; they will do anything to stop you from letting your voice being heard.
• Enter into as many alliances as you can with people and groups defending similar causes. Every party fighting for a similar cause is a friend in this context! Think in the “alternative” direction: e.g other religious communities with their own dress code or regulations. This strategy greatly increases your credibility and professionalism. Approach these groups personally. Present them with your guidelines and then ask them for their own ideas and feedback. It is very important to maintain a clear mode of communication within the alliance to avoid and deal with irritation or misunderstanding.
Division of Tasks
Make an inventory of what needs to be done — before, during, and afterward. Do not force tasks and roles upon people; give all the freedom to choose the responsibilities they prefer and are able to carry. Different roles could include:
• The Executive Committee: chairperson, secretary, cashier
• PR committee: leadership and organizing committee, around five people and a spokesperson.
• Logistics Committee: gets necessary props for the demonstration, banners, sound-system, and so on
• Order Committee: depends on the number of participants. The rule of thumb is 1 to 10; that is 10 percent of the total number of demonstrators. For every 10 demonstrators there should be 1 person maintaining order. People of the order maintenance committee should take a course on how to maintain order in demonstrations. It is advisable to prepare a group of order maintainers within your own organization. A group of people who have followed the order maintenance course should then be appointed to supervise and instruct the order maintenance team on the day of the demonstration. (In the Netherlands the police can train groups in order maintenance. In this case the training took place in the mosque)
• Financial Committee: independent from the cashier, who manages the incoming and outgoing money flow. The financial committee should find sponsors for the project. Sources of funding should be as reliable and transparent as possible: no questionable funding that could raise suspicion and get you into trouble! Money will usually be the biggest obstacle. However, make sure to steer clear of organizations with a questionable reputation.
• Negotiation Committee: to maintain contact with external institutions and organizations, such as the local council, the police, participating parties and groups, and so forth. This responsibility can be taken by the chairperson of the action group (if he or she is a known personality), the spokesperson, or the leader of the order maintenance committee.
• Means. What is needed for the preparations, the execution of the project, and the evaluation?
• Money. Make a budget. This will initially be merely a rough estimate of the needed amount, but will help put things in focus.
• Manpower. Determine how many volunteers you can recruit and how many you need.
• Expertise in the fields of organization, PR, negotiation, contents (message), and media.
• Meeting Place. A quiet place where you can get together without being distracted is very important.
• Petition, guest speakers, host or hostess.
• First Aid Professionals.
a step-by-step, minute-by-minute program for the day of the demonstration: all appointments, all names, all tasks, all phone numbers, a map of the route of the demonstration (order maintainers should have this clearly on paper), and so on.
After the demonstration the whole project should be evaluated within the action committee. After that there should be a second evaluation with the other members of the alliance.
This action-plan for organizing a (pro-hijab) demonstration has been provided by Fouwziya Othmany, a Dutch activist of Moroccan descent. Fouwziya is currently reading an MA in Sociology and is the president of the girl’s society (al-Manaar) of a large mosque in The Hague. Apart from her activities with al-Manaar she has participated in numerous projects focusing on multicultural communication such as the nation-wide project ‘A Change of Course’ aiming at countering prejudices about the Moroccan community in Holland and encouraging Moroccan youth to become active citizens.