A guide with tips and advice for running a stall for a political or campaign group to distribute literature and maybe raise funds.
Why set up a stall?
Setting up a literature table at events is a lot of work; why should you put so much energy into this? Answers:
A. Tabling makes money
B. Tabling provides outreach for your group
C. Tabling provides activity for members looking for something to do.
All of these benefits are essential for building your group, and making it strong. It is important, especially when you are not involved in a local organizing drive, to generate activity and be seen. And, if your group is not active, and you do not plan any events, your members will drift away.
Where to set up a table
All of the following events and locations are useful and beneficial to some degree. They are listed in decreasing order of likely success (based on observations made by experienced East Bay IWW members):
A. Big political events, demonstrations, and marches;
B. Events of your own;
C. Small events;
D. Specific locations in your community;
It is best to start with no more than one event or tabling effort per month and build up your momentum. The least likely to succeed (in terms of raising money or general outreach) is establishing a table in front of a supermarket or a transportation center. Tabling at big political events, on the other hand, while not especially conducive to organizing, is nevertheless much more conducive to raising money for the group and letting active folks know of your group's existence.
Supplies you will need
In order to successfully table and accommodate your volunteers, you should obtain the following (lightweight, yet durable materials are the best)
A. Portable Tables (if none are available, a tarp laid out on flat ground will work)
B. Folding Chairs
C. Milk Crates (for transport; can double as chairs)
D. Rubber Bands (wind is always a nuisance)
E. A Cash Box and $20 in Small Bills for change (round your prices off to the dollar; it's much easier)
F. Clip Boards (for petitions and sign-up sheets)
G. Literature Racks (not essential, but highly useful, especially if space is limited)
H. Tarps and Rope (in wet climates)
I. Marker pens (always come in handy)
And, a durable hand truck with straps for transport is essential. These can usually be found for very little money (less than $50) second hand. But get one that is durable and will last. Airport luggage carts are flimsy and will fall apart due to wear and tear.
If your table is full of neat stuff for sale, you will be able to distribute a great deal of organizing literature for free, because folks who come to the table, whether to browse, buy, or ask questions, will inevitably accept any free information you provide. So, it is not a bad idea to produce some basic literature explaining what your group is working on and/or has accomplished. Petitions and Pledges of Solidarity are also useful to have. This is yet another benefit of setting up an table.
Guidelines for setting up a stall (free literature and merchandise)
1. Be sure that the name of your group appears on a sign or banner prominently displayed and visible from a distance. People want to know who you are.
2. If you are selling merchandise: Have an appropriate amount of change in a cash box or other suitable container. The cash box should also contain pens, pencils, tape, scratch paper, etc. As the day goes on, if you are accumulating a considerable amount of money in the cash box, take out all cash except what you need to make change and put it in a safe place . Do not neglect to do this, so that the risk of theft can be kept to a minimum. Keep careful records of financial transactions while tabling – it might be a good idea to keep a record of donations, memberships, sales, and sales tax, separately.
3. Make the table display as attractive as possible. A tablecloth perhaps, a variety of colorful books, shirts, eye-catching signs, posters, etc., will draw people over. Hang up shirts if you can instead of just putting them flat on a table.
4. Put free literature front and center to make it as easy as possible for people to pick up something and take it with them.
5. As people approach the table, stand up and engage them in friendly conversation.
6. Always provide a sign-up sheet that offers further contact. Usually that contact would be a promise to receive the next issue of your newsletter or to notify people of an upcoming event you're planning. Forward a copy of these sign-up sheets to the person in your group who keeps track of your group's mailing list. This is more important for small groups for whom adding a few new members would be a big boost than for large groups, which will probably find it too much work and cost for minimal response.
7. The person in charge of the booth should know prices of all merchandise for sale. Take an up-to-date price list of all merchandise. All items should be marked with the price, whenever possible.
8. As the day goes on, straighten literature periodically to maintain a neat appearance of the table. For outdoor events, have with you a plastic sheet of some kind for a quick cover if it rains, and a bunch of clean rocks (or rubber bands) you can use to keep pamphlets from blowing away if it's windy. Protect the free literature as carefully from moisture and excessive dust as you would the merchandise for sale.
9. If someone asks you a question about the material you are tabling that you don't know the answer to, try to get their name and phone number. Offer to find out the answer and call them back -- then do it. This is much preferable to giving incorrect information, or none.
10. For groups that have merchandise brochures and can fulfill mail orders: If someone shows an interest in an item you can't supply right then, give them a merchandise brochure and invite them to place an order for it.
Other ways to distribute free literature
Coffeehouses: There are often vegetarian or eclectic cafés, coffeehouses or stores which are not corporate and cater to casual patrons who aren't rich people or trendy. Basically, they are places YOU would feel comfortable hanging out at with your friends. Some may be meeting places for activists. These are a good bet for leaving literature but, you should clear it with the people who run the place before leaving any literature. If they won't go for it, don't try to convince them. Just find another place where they will let you leave literature.
CARE Packages: Send CARE packages of literature to people who write for more info about your group or its politics or who express an interest in anarchism in letters and e-mails pertaining to work your group is doing for anarchist-related projects. It is a good idea to be networked with other anarchists in your area so if people get information request letters, they can refer them to you so you can send the person a CARE package.
Other collectives: Give your literature to other collectives and to friends whom you know will put your literature out. Some of them will also have THEIR OWN tabling projects. In this way, you can get more literature out than if your group were doing all the work themselves.
Excerpted from How To Do A Red and Black Book Project by Scott, Insurgency Culture Collective with modifications by Shawn Ewald, Guidelines for Tabling with modifications by Shawn Ewald and from Steve Ongerth, East Bay IWW with modifications by Shawn Ewald.