Suggestions for how to hold a meeting:

A chairperson and some rules for your meeting: Choose someone to "chair" (run) the meeting. This doesn't have to be a person with all the ideas, but just someone to make sure things run smoothly and the productively. The chair keeps track of who raises hands, calls on people, and keeps things running in a timely and orderly fashion. The chair keeps a "stack" (or list) of people who raise their hands then calls on them in order (or sometimes prioritizing those who haven't spoke or people who can address a specific need). The chair may also limit the amount of time each person speaks (for example 3 minutes, then the chair tells people to wrap up) and how many times someone speaks. This not only allows for an orderly discussion but it also is the most democratic way since it makes sure that everyone has the possibility to speak (not just the most confident or loudest voices in the room).

An agenda: This is just a list of what will be discussed at the meeting, and the group can suggest times for each section. A meeting may be more productive and more democratic if there is an agenda proposed at the start, then voted on--that way everyone has a say in what is discussed at the meeting, and everyone is responsible for making sure the agenda is followed.

Voting: Voting can be done in many ways. A democracy is about making every voice count and finding a way to move the whole group forward, understanding there will be some disagreements about how to do things. Disagreements don't need to paralyze the group from acting, and it doesn't mean that people who disagree have to be silenced or convinced to act against their will. Discussion and voting is a way to move through disagreements, understand where everyone is coming from, and get things accomplished even when not everyone has the same point of view. As a suggestion, majority rule is often the easiest and the best form of voting in organizing (as opposed to consensus where everyone must agree, or supermajority like 70%, which often means a minority of people can prevent the group from doing something).

Here's how it works: Someone may propose an action (like "to hold a protest at 3pm against mass incarceration with speakers from each local group")--the chair may see if anyone "seconds" the proposal (agrees with the proposal). If someone seconds the proposal, then the groups can have a discussion about it. After a discussion, the chair can lead people in a vote (either raising hands or saying "yes," etc). The chair says, "All in favor of the proposal, raise your hand." Count how many. Then ask "All those against the proposal." Then "Are there any abstentions?" (To "abstain" means they choose to not vote, for any reason.) After counting, if there is a majority that says yes to the proposal (that is anything over half of the people there), then the group will carry out the proposal. If a majority of people say "no," then the proposal does not carry.

Everyone can vote, including those who make a proposal or chair the meeting or are running for a leadership position--it's up to your group. Sometimes people discussing a proposal may before voting that the proposal should be slightly changed ("let's have it at 5pm instead so people can come after work"), or someone else may give a counter-proposal ("it's too early to call a protest, I propose we set up a table and hand out informational flyers"), then that proposal must go through the process of second, discussion, and voting too.

During the meeting:

  • Pass a sign-up list for people to sign in with names, phone numbers, and emails if they'd like to continue working on this issue.
  • Don't leave without planning and agreeing on another meeting time.
  • Decide if anything needs to be done before the next meeting and divide tasks among people there. Make sure people are able to actually do the work.

How to prepare for a meeting:

  • Decide on a topic.
  • Make a simple flyer inviting people to the meeting. Include all the details: Who What When Where Why? Put an exciting picture on it, and not too many words. Post the flyer around town, or stand somewhere and hand out flyers to people.
  • Make announcements for the meeting on email listserves, websites, and/or facebook. Include all the details.
  • Prepare some information that you would like to share with people. If you are calling for the meeting because you want to start a group that "fights against racism in the criminal justice system," then you should have something to say about that.
  • A democratic group means that decisions are made by the full group, but you can prepare information to share at the meeting without the whole group.

Simple ideas for a meeting:

  • Find a venue that has a TV or Projector and screen Broken On All Sides, then lead a discussion afterward. Try to invite people who are formerly incarcerated or people who work in the system. (Perhaps a recreational center, a library, a local college, or a coffeeshop.)
  • There are also lots of websites like that have great video-recordings of lectures that can be good for a meeting with a discussion afterwards.
  • Put out a call for people interested in discussing Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow, then talk about the first couple chapters. Use a few study questions to begin the discussion.
  • Address an important local issue tied to backwards priorities in this society: Is there a school closing in your area? Are important services and funding being cut? Is there a planned prison expansion or construction?
  • Invite leaders from local groups to discuss an issue of mass incarceration (could be the local NAACP, your religious institution, union, or someone at a nearby college who works on the issue).

What people are saying

"Broken On All Sides is a compelling documentary addressing racial inequities within our criminal justice system and its devastating collateral consequences. It is an excellent resource to use in educating, motivating, and empowering your group, organization, or community on this critical issue."

James E. Williams, Jr.

Public Defender & Chair of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Bias in the Criminal Justice System

"Broken On All Sides is an invaluable teaching resource. The American penal system has to be at the center of any discussion of racial inequality, and this documentary powerfully demonstrates the human toll of this inhumane system. While clear-eyed in its assessment of the many obstacles to change, it is a compelling call to action."

Greta Snyder

Instructor of Racial Politics, University of Virginia