CLEVELAND – Ohio Citizen Action has prepared a hydraulic fracturing leaflet for anyone to download, print and distribute at presidential campaign events this fall.
In 2008, we circulated leaflets at presidential campaign events on the issue of mountaintop removal coal mining. It was a lot of fun, and was part of an effort that helped persuade all four presidential candidates (John McCain, Barack Obama, Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader) to publicly oppose the practice during the campaign. In 2012, we’d like to keep candidates on their toes about hydraulic fracturing.
Whether the speaker is a presidential candidate, vice presidential candidate, or a high profile campaign spokesperson, a presidential campaign event is different from other public events. The approach to leafleting at it needs to be a little different, too. The difference comes from the way in which campaigns have taken the legitimate public interest in the safety of the candidates, and twisted it into a way to stifle free speech. We’ve all seen the absurd lengths to which this has gone in recent elections, with police escorting protesters to chained-in “free speech zones” far away from the campaign event. Someday, the courts will recognize these zones to be unconstitutional and prohibit them. Until then, if you plan to protest – with placards, banners, costumes, street theater, anything of that kind – you should talk to a friendly attorney first to understand your rights and practical options.
If instead what you want to do is leaflet, there should be no problem if you follow these tips.
The campaign creates a security zone within which the event occurs. There will be a gate or gates through which everyone has to pass to get into the security zone. At the gate, the security guards make sure that no one who is a potential threat to the candidate gets in. This is also where they eject people with protest banners and placards, and they may well do the same to someone trying to get in with 1,500 leaflets. They will not, however — and this is the key – eject someone carrying one leaflet.
This means that if you distribute flyers to people before they get to the security gate, they will take the flyers into the event for you, one by one, and they won’t be stopped.
These security gates actually help leafleters in a way because they slow down people’s entrance into the event, and a line of waiting people stretches out from it, sometimes for blocks. Leafleters can just go right down the line, distributing very large numbers of leaflets as they go. Plus, people have a chance to read the leaflet and talk to one another about it while they are waiting.
The more leaflets you get out the better, so you’ll have to resist the temptation to stop and chat with people in the line until you’ve run out of leaflets. You don’t have to have much of a rap as you move down the line. “Did you get one of these?” is just fine.
What if we want to leaflet and protest?
Good. Just make sure that some people in your group are leafleting and different people are protesting. If you mix the two, you could easily see your leaflets confiscated, and hundreds or thousands of people won’t get a chance to read our message.
If you use the leaflet we produced, please note that there is room at the bottom for you to put contact information for a local group. Ohio Citizen Action wrote the leaflet, and we have included our contact information to show we stand behind every word. It would be best if you could add the local contact information, too, before you print it. That way, people who get the leaflet know who to call to get involved locally.
When you are ready to print the leaflet, you may want to consider using paper with a bright distinctive color such as yellow or lime. Once all the event-goers are inside and waiting for the event to start, they’ll notice the sea of bright leaflets being read by others in the crowd. The candidate and his or her staff will notice it, too, and they will make sure they get a copy so they know what’s going on.
Please stay in touch
The day after the event, please call Nathan Rutz, Citizen Action’s Cleveland Campaign Organizer, and let him know how it went, especially any reactions you got from people in the crowd. You can reach him at (216) 861-5200.
– Paul Ryder, Assistant Director, Ohio Citizen Action