SURJ Action Kit for Standouts & Recruitment at Campaign Events

What is this kit for?

This kit will help you and your SURJ group take action during the 2016 election year. 

Thanks to the hard-fought efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement and its allies, issues of racism and racial inequity are major topics of discussion for the electorate. At the same time, candidates like Donald Trump and others are fanning the flames of racial hatred and fear for political gain. One thing is clear: SURJ needs to be involved in the electoral space.

Electoral events like debates, forums, town halls, and conventions provide opportunities to elevate demands about dismantling structural racism and to tell the story of SURJ’s work. Campaign events are also good opportunities to grow SURJ chapters through outreach, recruitment, and calling-in conversation, since politically active members of the public are mobilized by the electoral season. 

This kit describes the steps to plan, prepare, execute, and follow-up on “standouts” outside electoral events (local & national, Republican, & Democrat), both for recruitment purposes and as a newsworthy actions or protests that tells the story of structural racism and SURJ’s work to combat it.



Why this is important

Is it a protest, or not? Planning for different responses from electorates, and setting different goals for different candidates.

How to Do It -


PREPARE to take action

Take Action!

Follow Up


Why this is important

The 2016 election will be the biggest news event in the next 12 months. This gives us a platform to raise the issue of structural racism, and ensure it is a part of the public conversation about American values. We want to ensure that all candidates, including those seeking local, state, and national offices, are engaged in a productive public conversation about structural racism and white supremacy. Actions at campaign events are a powerful way to generate press and social media buzz.

In addition to engaging candidates, we want to engage the electorate. During electoral seasons, political parties spend millions of dollars contacting voters and mobilizing them to attend debates, forums, and town halls. By going to these events, SURJ chapters can easily reach hundreds, even thousands of people in a single effort. These campaign are excellent venues to call white people in, recruit new members for local work, and practice discussing and taking action for racial justice.

Of course, different venues and candidates will mobilize voters of dramatically different political perspective. We might reasonably assume that supporters of more progressive candidates will be more receptive to calling-in and recruitment by SURJ chapters. On the other hand, supporters of candidates like Donald Trump that are overtly hostile to immigrants, refugees, and the Black Lives Matter movement may interpret a SURJ presence as a protest of their candidate’s position (and they might be correct in that interpretation!). SURJ chapters should tailor their presence, materials, goals, and expectations to the specific context of the campaign event they plan to attend. More suggestions on this follow.

Is it a protest, or not? Planning for different responses from electorates, and setting different goals for different candidates.

As noted above, people may have dramatically different responses to a SURJ standout at an electoral event. Some of this is predictable based on candidate positions or party affiliation, but SURJ chapters should be prepared for hostile responses (and positive ones) at any event. Depending on your assessment of the event and the candidates who will be attending, your goals for SURJ’s presence may change. Here is a short breakdown of different types of receptions and some thoughts on preparing for each.

*Democratic Presidential Candidates*:

Black Lives Matter has special, specific demands for the Democratic Presidential candidates (Sanders, Clinton, O’Malley, etc): have a debate specifically about issues facing black lives! SURJ wants to lift up the Black Lives Matter demand set, so PLEASE CONTACT US if you can attend a Democratic Presidential event. EMAIL We can support you directly to #RaisetheDebate.

Hostile candidates & electorate:

Unfortunately, many candidates are overtly hostile to the Black Lives Matter movement, and may attempt to appeal to their base by making racist comments (see: Donald Trump, among others). Here are some steps and considerations for events that cater to these candidates and voters:

  • Research. What remarks has the candidate or their party/affiliate made on race/immigration/Islam/Black Lives Matter? Based on this, what kind of response might you expect from voters who will attend the event?
  • Get Clear on Goals. Are you trying to draw a bright moral line by publicly protesting this candidate’s overt racism, or is your goal to reach out to, call-in, and convert this candidate's supporters? It may be difficult to do both at once, and it is important to set clear goals so you can prepare for a specific scenario.
  • Plan. If you are planning to standout at an event for an overtly hostile candidate, do you want to directly address their positions on issues of racial justice? How might you do this through your messaging or materials? How might this kind of communication escalate tensions with the candidate’s supporters who will attend the event? Try to include specific positions the candidate has taken, or refused to take, or specific local issues/statistics/trends/conversations. These will ground the conversation and prevent it from being too abstract.
  • Prepare. Your team will need to prepare for a situation in which the people you engage become hostile or confrontational. We recommend your group practice de-escalation techniques before holding a standout outside hostile candidate events (see de-escalation tips below). You will also want to prepare for media attention. If you are planning a protest with a high probability of conflict, let us know by emailing

Neutral & friendly candidates and electorate:

Many candidates may not be openly hostile to Black Lives Matter and racial justice movements while continuing to support regressive policies. A few may even be champions for racial justice. While these candidates may draw crowds who are more receptive to SURJ’s message, we still need to prepare for a range of responses, including hostility. Here are some steps and considerations for events that cater to these candidates and voters:

  • Research. What remarks has the candidate or their party/affiliate made on race/refugees/Islam/Black Lives Matter? Based on this, what kind of response might you expect from voters who will attend the event?
  • Get Clear on Goals. Beyond elevating structural racism as an election issue, do you have a goal around calling-in white voters to join SURJ’s work?
  • Plan. What materials will you need to elevate the issue of structural racism and to call-in others? Think through the messaging for your signs, and how it will be received by media and voters who are attending the event. Do you have sign-in sheets to capture email and phone numbers?
  • Prepare. Even at a neutral or friendly candidate event, your team will need to prepare for a situation in which the people you engage become hostile or confrontational. We recommend your group practice de-escalation techniques before holding a standout outside hostile candidate events (see tips below). You should also practice your messaging and prepare for media attention.

How to Do It -


  1. Prepare for your standout – Plan, ready materials, and rehearse
  2. Take action! – Key tips for an effective standout
  3. Follow Up to maximize impact – Email and activate the people you called in within 24 hours, invite to meetings, actions, or 1:1 coffee meetings

PREPARE to take action

  1. Identify an Opportunity to take Action – Pay attention to local news, and look at the websites and Facebook pages for candidates.
  2. Plan your Action – Decide what kind of action you will take, and what your main messages will be, depending on the event time, location, your group’s capacity, the candidate, and what issues are specific to your community. Here are two basic frameworks:
    • Standout: A small group of SURJers, with clearly messaged (ex. #BlackLivesMatter) signs, banners, or t-shirts. Friendly activists engage event attendees, explain SURJ, ask them to join our work, and sign them up using sign-up sheets and clipboards (see tips below for making your own clipboard). Activists give interviews with local media. See templates and sample “rap” below.
  • Protest: Consider partnering with other local organizations and activists for a large or small protest. Clearly painted signs lift up our call for racial justice or succinctly reject the candidate’s position on racial issues. If appropriate, friendly activists can engage event attendees, ask them to join our work and reject racist policies, and sign them up using sign-up sheets and clipboards. Activists work to de-escalate hostile voters, and give interviews with local media. See templates and de-escalation guidelines below.

 3. Tell the Press - Contact the press in your town and tell them what you are doing. This could be simple as sending them an email or calling them on the phone, or using social media to let them know what is happening. Most press will have contact information on their website.

4.  Prepare to document the event –You’ll want to document your action with compelling photos, then share them with the SURJ network. Check in with beforehand so we can support your action. Make sure one member of your team is prepared to take pictures and to tweet them to @ShowUp4RJ in real time. The SURJ media team will use your photos, video recording and account of the event to amplify your action and spread the word.

5.  Practice - Go over your “rap” (see sample below), and practice stopping people, handing them a clipboard, and asking them to sign up for SURJ’s list.

6.  Prepare materials - Make signs, print sign-up sheets, acquire or make clipboards (see instructions on making clipboards below).

  • If you get coverage in print media think about submitting and letter to the editor that responds to the article and continues to push out your message.
  • If you get coverage in online media comment on it and encourage others to do the same.
  • There may be live TV reporting at your can amplify #BlackLivesMatter and other demands by getting your clearly messaged signs on camera. Try to get in the background of reporters, be persistent and creative!

Take Action!

  1. Get There Early! You’ll want to engage people as they arrive, so try to find a place where you are visibly in front of the event and in the flow of pedestrian traffic. You may be asked to leave private property, so comply with any requests to leave and find a sidewalk if possible.
  2. Be Visible! – Have your clearly messaged signs. T-shirts can be effective ways to convey messages as well.
  3. Have your “rap” prepared. - Practice your message ahead of time so you can easily get people to stop and talk with you about SURJ. See sample below
  4. Get in the flow of pedestrian traffic. – Take up the whole sidewalk, so people have to walk around you or stop and talk. Remember, in order to call people in, you need to get them to talk to you. Be friendly, wave, smile, and call out to people.
  5. Get the clipboard in their hands...and get their contact info! – When someone, hand them your clipboard and pen as soon as possible. This is the best way to get them to sign up for SURJ. Be sure to insist that they give you phone and email contact...don’t be shy! Remember, people can always join SURJ’s national mailing list by texting JUSTICE to (502)-337-3643.
  6. Be prepared for hostile reactions. - Keep calm, and practice de-escalation. Focus on the people who are interested in actually conversing with you, and let angry people move along. See the de-escalation guidelines below.
  7. Give press interviews. - Explain what you are doing and why! Use visuals and signs to support your message.

Follow Up

  1. Spread the Word – Post images, text and video to your Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts as soon as you are able. Tweet pictures to @ShowUp4RJ
  2. Call and email new recruits within 24 hours – Invite them to a new member meeting or action, or to get coffee in a 1:1 meeting.



De-escalation is the art of defusing situations of conflict and hostility. The goal of de-escalation is to keep people safe. Here are some tips on verbal and nonverbal communication in de-escalation:

  • Body language
    • Keep your hands in front of your body with palms out. Put the center of your gravity in your stomach. Ground yourself.
  • Eye Contact
    • Maintain limited eye contact. Loss of eye contact may be interpreted as an expression of fear, lack of interest or regard, or rejection. Excessive eye contact may be interpreted as a threat or challenge.
  • Volume
    • How do we get someone to lower the volume in their voice? Listening. Matching their volume. "I can't hear you." "I want to understand what you are saying."
  • Speed, motion
    • De-escalation favors slower rather than faster. Smooth over choppy.
  • Content
    • Introduce yourself. Clear. Compassionate. Non-­judgmental. Humorous. “I want to understand what you are saying.” Consider refer belligerent people to police, security, or event organizers.
  • Touch
    • Don't touch unless a person's hand is extended to you. Never touch the police, their vehicles, their equipment or their animals (horses, dogs).

Calling-In Rap

“Hey, can we talk for a minute about the #BlackLivesMatter movement?

If yes: “Great! My name is ______and I’m here with_(local SURJ chapter)___. We are concerned about systemic racism in policing, jobs, and housing, among other things. Here, check our materials.” *Hand Clipboard*

“We work locally in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Sign up and we will send you information about our meetings and activities. Be sure to put your phone and email down so we can get in touch with you.”

Things that could come up….

"Hey, these are Democrats, these are the good guys. They’re on your side!"

  • Widespread racism, including police violence, segregation and housing discrimination have continued for decades regardless of which party is in power. If Democrats want to be the “good” party on racial justice, then they should have no problem being held accountable.
  • We’re here because we want concrete action. It took action like this to get Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton to take stronger positions on racial justice. This is what works.

“All Lives Matter vs. Black Lives Matter”

  • The signs say “Black lives matter” because society has a tendency to say otherwise. I agree with you that “All Lives Matter,” but right now, from police killings to the underfunding of schools, society says otherwise. What do you think about that?
  • Saying “All Lives Matter” right now is like saying “All houses matter” when your neighbor's house is burning to the ground. Yes, all lives matter, but to make that value a reality, we have to highlight the lives that are being devalued and thrown away.
  • For example, as a white person you can turn on the TV and see your race largely represented. As a white person, you probably do not fear that you will be racial profiled, harassed, or stopped by the police at an excessive rate. The point of “Black lives matter” is to lift up the lives of the most undervalued in America.

"Why are you out here doing this? You’re white, is this really your issue?"

  • It’s like finding out the lunch money you get from your big brother every day comes from him stealing other kids’ lunch money. My humanity is diminished when my country devalues the lives of another group. When systematic racism holds back black people, that’s my country being made less. When people who look like me do well while police violence, school segregation and housing discrimination affect black families, I have a responsibility to help make things right.

“Stop trying to make this about race. It’s not about race”

  • What do you think it is about then?
  • I think it is about race – we know that black people are killed a highly disproportionate rate by the police. We also know that racial disparities exist within almost every single measure. Why do you think that is?

“I was okay with what they were doing until those officers were shot”

  • There are no indications that those shots came from where protesters were gathered that night
  • The only way that this city can have peace and healing is through justice — that has been the demand the whole time.

“Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, or anyone killed by police was a thug.”

  • What does that matter? Do you think s/he deserved to die?
  • We believe all black lives matter – when a black person gets killed, the police always dig up their criminal history. Very rarely do white people with guns get killed, huh? Think about the guy that shot up the movie theater. Why do you think that happened?

How to Make your Own Clipboard

Take a piece of heavy corrugated cardboard) and cut it to about 9” x 12”. Then put a heavy rubber band, about ¼” wide, around the middle. The rubber band will hold your petitions in place and also hold the pen.