Fight For Free Speech Activism

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If you don't restore students' rights, no one will!

All across the country, the right of Free Speech is being infringed upon on college campuses. Restrictive speech policies and "Free Speech Zones" keep students from voicing unpopular opinions.

  • Does your school have a Free Speech Zone that limits students' ability to voice their opinions?
  • Does your school have an unreasonable process for getting approval to host activism events?
  • Does your school attempt to limit the expression of some student opinions?
Any or all of these occurring on your campus are signs that your school may have an unconstitutional speech code that you can help reform.
 
In addition to helping actually reform unconstitutional codes, YAL chapters are leading the charge to change the narrative surrounding free speech and educate students in the importance of the first amendment.
 

You can even win cash prizes of $300, $200, or $100 for submitting a top activism story to YAL's blog!

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The four goals of your Fight for Free Speech activism event are to:

1. Challenge and reform the restrictive speech codes on your campus

2. Educate new students in the ideas of liberty

3. Recruit new members for your YAL chapter

4. Earn media attention for your event to expand its outreach

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The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has a lot of information on speech codes, free speech violations, and a speech code rating for many schools. You can find your school's unconstitutional speech codes on FIRE's website. If FIRE hasn't analyzed your school's policies yet, you can request for them to do so!
 
No matter how your chapter chooses to fight for free speech, following these steps will ensure that you optimize the outcome of your activism event:
 
  1. Reach out to YAL's Leadership Team for support: YAL's Leadership Team is your number-one tool for success. Find a YAL leader near you who can help you execute your activism event. Your Regional Director, and the State Chair in your area are your best resources for learning how to organize an effective free speech activism event. If either position has not yet been filled, learn more and apply to join the Leadership Team here.
  2. Apply for resources: YAL is offering our largest set of FREE resources to every participating YAL chapter: 

    • An activism grant for up to $100

    • A recruitment kit packed with materials, clip boards, sidewalk chalk, books, flyers, and everything else you'll need to get students to support free speech and attend your event.

    • Other liberty-minded organizations who are dedicated to promoting free speech have additional free resources available for your YAL chapter to use, like FIRE's Guides to Free Speech.

  3. Always recruit for liberty: With every activism event you do, you should recruit new members. Print out plenty of YAL sign-up sheets to sign up interested students. When your event is over, use the Member Upload Tool to upload all your new members' information to your chapter page. Once you upload your new members' information, each new member will get an email asking them to join your chapter.
  4. Make your plans: Meet up with your chapter members and plan the dates and details for your activism event. Take some time to brainstorm and put your ideas on paper. After a productive meeting, you should walk away with a clear and actionable plan with specific tasks assigned to your members.
Ask yourselves some basic questions: What do you want to do? Who is going to do what? When are you going to do it? How much preparation time is needed? When are you going to meet again to prepare?
 

Always keep in mind the four most important goals for any Fight For Free Speech activism project:

1. Challenge and reform the restrictive speech codes on your campus

2. Educate new students in the ideas of liberty

3. Recruit new members for your YAL chapter

4. Earn media attention for your event to expand its outreach

For each Fight for Free Speech activism event, there are two major components:

  1. An on-campus recruitment exercise in the form of a Fight for Free Speech petition and a Free Speech Ball. The goals of your recruitment effort are to directly challenge the speech code on your campus, recruit new members, and promote your upcoming meeting.

  2. A follow-up event showcasing the importance of the right to free speech and providing opportunities for your new members to get involved right away.

Choose an event

Use one or both of these activism ideas to make your Fight For Free Speech event eye-catching and effective in reforming your school's speech codes.

1. Organize a Fight for Free Speech petition

One of the best ways that you can reform the speech codes of your university is to directly challenge them and cause the administration to respond. Getting as many sign-ups on a petition supporting free speech policies on your campus will allow you to gain a high number of contacts for your chapter and show your university just how many students support policy reform.

Additionally, the most direct way to initiate the process of reforming your school's codes is to gather sign-ups outside of your schools Free Speech Zone or to gather signatures without applying for approval through the university.

2. Roll a Giant Free Speech Ball Around Campus

Many schools will require that you apply for a permit in order to erect a standing structure, like a Free Speech Wall. To get around applying for a permit for a standing structure, you can acquire a giant beach ball, and roll it around campus and have students write whatever they want on it. Be sure to keep it completely uncensored to effectively promote freedom of speech on your campus.

Free Speech Balls work exceptionally well because they are not standing structures and are mobile. If your school's administration approaches you and asks you to remove the giant beach ball, just roll it to a different spot on campus.

Check out how Merced College's YAL chapter used a Free Speech Ball to get things rolling on their school.

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YAL recommends purchasing this giant beach ball due to the durability, but feel free to acquire one from wherever you prefer! You can find a giant beach ball for $100 or less. Be sure to request an activism stipend from YAL to help cover the cost.

Pro tip: It will be nearly impossible to inflate a giant Free Speech Ball with just your lungs. YAL recommends using an air pump of sorts to help you effectively inflate your giant beach ball in a timely manner and with as much ease as possible. 

 Important notes on challenging your codes correctly

1. At any public university, you have a constitutional right as a student to gather sign-ups outdoors. Unfortunately, courts have held that universities can have a reasonable legal claim to limit solicitation indoors so your best bet to challenge codes is to do what you know you have a right to do.

2. You can gather sign-ups or hand out literature freely so long as you do not have a "standing structure." Courts have held that universities can have a reasonable restriction on activities involving a recruitment table or some other sort of "standing structure" due to potential fire hazards on campus.

This means that the best way to challenge your school's codes while preserving your ability to gain legal standing is to recruit outdoors without any standing structures. That's also why we recommend using a Free Speech Ball (see below).

3. You cannot gain legal standing unless you have video footage of an encounter with the administration. Once your university attempts to shut down your activism efforts, turn the video on with your cell phone. Try to hold it horizontally to get maximum coverage and record the entire encounter.

If your campus gives you any trouble or tries to relegate your activism to a "free speech zone," make sure you have your phone charged and ready to video record the encounter with your school's administration or campus police and be sure to contact YAL's Free Speech Director, your Regional Director, or the State Chair in your area. Always act respectfully, but politely remind the administration or campus police that expression of free speech is part of your First Amendment right and that your constitutional rights should be upheld on campus.

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Approach every student that walks by you. You never know who could be a high-quality member of your chapter.

Sign up EVERYONE

Stay focused. The purpose of every activism event is to build your chapter and grow the youth movement for liberty. This is the only way that your YAL chapter can grow and maintain a lasting presence on campus. Always keep YAL sign up sheets on hand. 

Sign up everyone you possibly can, and make sure to send along their contact information to your Regional Director so they can add your new members to your chapter page.

Pro tip: Ask every student who you get to stop to sign up for a reminder about the follow up event, and ask them if they can make it to the event. Students are more likely to follow through on something they verbally commit to. 

Distribute flyers, and post them around campus to promote your follow-up event. Be sure to create a Facebook event and invite all your friends and YAL members. Write with chalk on campus sidewalks to educate students about your activism effort and promote your follow-up event. Think of creative ways to get the word out. You can never promote too much!
 


Media

 
Earning media is essential for Fight for Free Speech activism. If you can earn media for your activism and draw attention to your university's unconstitutional codes, it can help make them more willing to reform them. 

If a college or university is continually put into a bad light by the media for repressing student's rights on campus, the administration will be more likely to change the problematic speech codes before they start to lose donors.
 
Even if it's your campus paper, getting media attention for your activism event can reach hundreds, if not thousands, more people. Making sure that you earn media attention can also increase the pressure that you can apply on your university to reform their policies.
 
Use these resources to learn how you can make the news at the campus, local, state, or even national level!
 
Media attention is an essential aspect in the Fight For Free Speech. It is crucial to take quality photos of your activism event; be sure the pictures demonstrate where you were, what activism you were participating in, and who was present.
 
If you receive any pushback from the administration or campus police for your event, be sure to video record the interaction for future evidence.
 
YAL recommends contacting local media before your activism event by sending press-releases to ensure you earn media coverage and ultimately promote your free speech activism event as effectively as possible.
 
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Be sure to post your photos to your chapter's social media sites. When you have completed your activism event, be sure to write a blog post for YAL's website to show the network what your chapter has been up to and to inspire others to participate in some great activism as well.
 
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Host an effective follow-up meeting or event

You only have one chance to make a good first impression. Your meeting should set the proper tone you want to convey as a chapter. Hosting an effective follow up event relies first on your ability to actively recruit as many students to it as possible!

Here are some great resources for your informational meeting.

Follow up or fail

Sign-ups are worth nothing if you don't execute a proper follow up with each new contact you have and get them to your follow-up event.

This is the perfect time to talk with the new students that you engaged with during your project about the importance of Free Speech.

This is also the ideal time to follow up with any and all additional campus organizations that you intend to have sponsor your event and engage all of your partners in the recruitment and execution process.

Follow up in multiple ways

Don't rely on email follow ups: no one reads them besides the government. Be sure to give each interested student a personal phone call and ask them if they can come to your follow-up event. Remember, students are more likely to follow through with something that they verbally commit to do.

After you've called everyone, send a follow up text the day of your event to round up any stragglers who wouldn't show up otherwise. Try something like this:

"Hey [first name], this is ]ohn. We spoke when you signed our Fight for Free Speech petition the other day. We're all getting ready for our follow up meeting and discussion on politically correct culture. We’ll be starting the event at 8pm in the Student Center. Can you still make it?”

Email will only serve as a good reminder to those whom you've already reached by phone, text, and social media.

Schedule strategically

Your meeting should be within a couple days of your recruitment activity so students don't forget.

Schedule your meeting during an evening time slot which will conflict with the fewest number of classes possible. Check your university's calendar, and set a date and time that does not conflict with any major campus-wide event. Don't give your new recruits any reason not to attend!

You'll want to coordinate with the other campus organizations you may be working with to see what time slot will allow for their membership to join as well.
 

Secure the right space

When choosing a location, consider the size of the audience you expect. If at all possible, host your meeting in a well-known, easily-accessible classroom building on campus.

When picking your room, identify one that fits your attendance goal, but make sure that it will not be too large (it's better to have a smaller classroom that ends up being packed with students than one that ends up looking empty even if you hit your attendance goal).

The goal is to get recruits and members pumped about being involved with your chapter. A smaller room also encourages people to engage in conversation more easily before you start to break the ice.

Get the right gear

In addition to the size of the room, you'll want to make sure that your space provides access to the right tech equipment to host a quality meeting. Reference the checklist below to make sure your venue meets all of your criteria:

  1. A large projector and screen
  2. At least one microphone (if a larger space)
  3. Chairs and tables provided
  4. Ability to bring in food (if that is your plan)
If you find a suitable space on campus for your attendance goal that does not have the proper equipment, ask your office of Student Life where you can reserve the equipment from.
 

Practice makes perfect: Do a "dry run"

Try to get into the room you will be hosting your meeting in a few days ahead of time to check all of your sound and AV. Don't let a small slip up jeopardize your entire event. If possible, have someone from the university on standby in case anything goes wrong with the equipment during the real thing.

Time out how long you will take for opening remarks and Q&A following the presentation if that is your format. Your goal is get everyone out of the meeting within a reasonable time and to provide the most valuable experience possible.

Gather all meeting materials

  • “Young Americans for Liberty” sign or banner to hang up
  • Name tags for each attendee
  • Sign-in forms to collect attendees' names, email addresses and their phone numbers for future follow ups (don't forget to send this information to your Regional Director so we can add all of your new members to your chapter page.)
  • IT equipment and laptop (if needed)
  • YAL promotional materials and swag (flyers, palm cards, bottle openers, and more)
  • Snacks and drinks

The Meeting: cover your bases

Be sure to go over your checklist when you arrive: 

  • Sign-in table set up. Name tags ready for all attendees.
  • Table set up with snacks and drinks.
  • AV and sound double checked. DVD ready to play.
  • Posters hung up, and YAL banner displayed.

Welcome all attendees

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Always greet all attendees, start conversations between them, and answer their questions -- it's vital everyone feels comfortable. There will be attendees who show up to the informational meeting alone in an attempt to find an organization of their interest where they feel welcomed and connected with others. Make a serious effort to meet and get to know every attendee. Tell your existing members this, too, so they follow your example and provide a welcoming atmosphere for new attendees.

Tell your attendees a bit about why you wanted to host the event, but let the presentation speak for itself. Let them know that everyone will stick around for a few extra minutes after the meeting is over for informal discussion.

Don't be the only one talking

No one is interested in coming to a meeting just to hear one person talk for the whole time. In order to increase the camaraderie in the room, get others talking (but keep the meeting running smoothly and on time).

Promote your next activity or event

After the presentation is over, remind your attendees of when your next meeting or event will be. Be prepared to stick around for awhile and finish meeting all attendees.

Encourage people to stick around and socialize. Consider hosting a social after the meeting to allow free discussion and a more comfortable atmosphere. Whatever you choose to do, just remember that no matter how great the meeting is, if they don’t feel welcomed or comfortable they will not return as members.

Keep following up!

Follow up with attendees by sending out an email thanking them for showing interest in YAL, encouraging them to join your chapter’s Facebook group, Upload all of your attendees' information to your chapters' member upload tool so they can confirm their membership. 

Make sure that you get every attendee’s contact information before they leave the event so you can follow up with them and help them get engaged in other ways to promote free speech.

 

Use the Member Upload Tool to upload all your new members' information to your chapter page.

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You can greatly increase the impact of your chapter's activism efforts by documenting and sharing your story with other YAL activists on the YAL national blog. If you're a chapter officer, it's simple: Click here.

Learn how to properly document your Fight For Free Speech activism event. Read this quick guide or watch this short (and funny) video to learn how you can submit the best activism blog posts.

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  • Have detailed reports: Post all your pictures, give us all the details, and share with us how students reacted to your free speech event.

  • Include your best pictures and video: Take as many photos as you can including action shots and group photos. Aim for at least 5 awesome pictures in your report. Include short videos (about 3-4 minutes). Make them upbeat, and mix in some music. Post your video to YouTube and embed the video in your chapter report.

  • Include how many recruits you got: A primary goal of every activism event is to recruit new members into your YAL chapter. Share in your blog post how many sign-ups you got, how many participants you had in your event, and how many students you engaged overall.

  • Include all of your earned media: Chapters that earn media attention reach a much wider audience and greater respect on campus. Include links to all of your media coverage in your report.


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Once your chapter has conducted a successful Fight For Free Speech event, it will pay to have a social to bring everyone together, celebrate your hard work, and provide an opportunity for your new recruits to feel welcomed into the group.

After your follow-up meeting, consider hosting a social. You can go out to a local pizza pub, a nearby bar, or do something more creative like go to one of your school's football games together.

People may first become interested in your YAL chapter because of the ideas of liberty, but no one will stay as a member unless your chapter proves to be a source of camaraderie and friendship for them.

Use this Momentum for Your Next Activism Project!

Through conducting a successful activism effort, you won't convince everyone to join your chapter, but you'll see your membership grow quickly. You'll be thankful you put in the effort when you have a record-setting turnout at your next chapter meeting!

Remember, every event you do on campus should be used as a launching pad for your next big project so don't let your momentum end with this event! Use this energy to mobilize for your next big activism project. Check out YAL's most recent National Activism project.

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