Guide to Organizing a Demonstration

Thank you for taking action with Animal Outlook! We really appreciate you spending your time and energy helping animals. This guide explains what demonstrations are and how you can get active by creating and running your own!

What is a demonstration? 

Demonstrations can be a great way to draw attention to an issue and pressure companies and lawmakers into taking action. They can involve directly protesting a business that exploits animals or creating a spectacle while delivering signed petitions to a decision maker. They also can be upbeat and friendly, like when Animal Outlook and Vegan Outreach teamed up to deliver a stack of giant vegan pancakes to IHOP’s headquarters to encourage the company to offer a vegan breakfast, or take the form of a more serious protest against a company’s abuse, such as the below event targeting McDonald’s. Demonstrations can generally be held on public property (as long as you aren’t blocking foot traffic), but some cities require permits, so check with your local police department before attempting to organize one.

cok mcdonald's protest

Before an Event:

  1. Planning out your event
    • If you’re looking for ideas for an issue to tackle, check out Animal Outlook’s current campaigns — which are saving countless lives and making vegan eating more accessible than ever.
    • Know your goal, as well as the tone you’ll take with your event, and convey these in all of your public materials and signage and to your volunteers. The goal of most demonstrations is to raise public awareness about an issue or encourage a business or other target to make meaningful changes for animals. Are you gathering at a chain’s headquarters with free vegan samples to show them how great the demand is for compassionate menu items, or are you protesting a dairy company’s cruelty to cows? Ensure that your messaging on-site matches your overall goal and tone with your target.
    • Choose a location. Make sure it’s relevant to your target, such as their headquarters or one of their stores. Also, to maximize the reach of your message, generally, you’ll want to be in a highly visible, populated area.
    • Make sure you can protest legally at your chosen location. Generally avoid demonstrating on private property, like inside a privately owned mall, or within a business’ parking lot. The sidewalk or grassy area adjacent to a city or county-owned road, called the public right of way, is the safest bet if you want to peacefully protest outside of a business. However, be aware that some cities require permits for certain activities. If you’re unsure about the laws in your area, call your local police department and let them know what you’re planning to do. Most of the time, they’ll just be happy that you let them know what’s going on. If a permit is required, they can walk you through the process of getting one.
    • Try to scope out your location in advance, if possible, to figure out the best place to stand where oncoming traffic or pedestrians will best see you, as well as what parking is available.
    • Select a date and time. Usually, evenings and weekends are best to attract the most people, but if your main goal is media attention, consider holding your event during the business workday, when reporters are on the clock. Also ensure that your demonstration is scheduled during your target business’ operating hours so that you’re noticed by decision makers. You’ll also want to plan as far ahead as possible in order to apply for and receive receive Animal Outlook materials and promote your event!
    • Plan out what find of materials you want at your demonstration. We recommend at least having signs to make your message clear and literature to hand out.  We are glad to provide posters and postcards for our campaigns; just email us at to get started!
    • Promote your demonstration! Create a Facebook event that includes all the basics of what and why you’re protesting, as well as parking and contact information, and share it with everyone you know and in local activist groups. Also consider putting up flyers in your community, posting the event on local online calendars, and emailing an alert to local contacts. You can also ask us for help spreading the word to our volunteer network by emailing:
    • Make sure you have all the materials you’ll need. These may include:
      • Signs
      • Literature
      • Props (such as costumes or other items to represent the treatment of animals in the industry you’re protesting and/or to increase visibility and public interest)
      • Personal items (such as sunscreen, snacks, water, etc.)
      • A sign-in sheet or tablet to collect new volunteers’ contact information
    • Consider a media alert. If you’re planning to protest on a timely local issue that’s been in the news lately, or if your event will involve a major visual like a giant blow-up animal or a celebrity appearance, you might be able to spread the reach of your message by sending an alert 1-2 days in advance to local TV, newspaper, and radio outlets. Draft a short, factual advisory stating the who/what/where/why details and your contact info, and prepare a spokesperson with short, concise, and info-packed sound bites to use during any interviews with reporters. For help with media outreach and interviewing, get in touch with us at

During an Event:

1. General advice

  • Arrive early so you can start setting up everything and welcome all the people coming to your demonstration.
  • Unless you’re wearing a costume, we recommend not covering your face (included sunglasses if not medically necessary) to make yourself more approachable. Some cities also have laws against wearing masks.
  • Make sure everyone is holding their signs visibly and upright and not covering their faces. If you’re in an area with foot traffic, you can also leaflet to passersby and try to engage people in conversation about the issue.
  • If the police arrive during your event, greet them politely and show them your permit or let them know you were informed that you didn’t need one (provide contact information for the official with whom you spoke, if possible). Be sure to let your participants know at the start of the event who the designated protest lead is, to whom police (and/or media) should be directed.
  • Respectfully follow directions. If you receive directions from event, campus, or other personnel, or from law enforcement, we ask that you comply respectfully and without argument. Do not resist directions, argue, or escalate under any circumstances. 
  • Ensure that all demonstrators know the area of public property they are allowed to occupy and that they do not block pedestrian or vehicular traffic. Do not enter a business’ private property unless expressly permitted to do so.

2. Tips on talking to people

  • If you’re in a high foot traffic area, you’ll probably get people wondering what you’re doing. Approach them, hand them a leaflet, and engage with them. Here are some general tips on talking to people.
  • Be informed about the issue you’re addressing. People are a lot more likely to agree with your cause if you know some facts and speak confidently. When protesting on a very specific issue or campaign, prepare yourself in advance with 3-5 major concise talking points to succinctly drive the message home and convey how the public can help solve the problem or get involved in your effort.
  • Meet people where they are. Most of us weren’t born vegan, so we should be able to relate to pre-vegans. Listening to people is a great way to start the conversation. It can give you ideas of what to address, and it will show that you’re interested in having a genuine conversation.
  • We want people to know that going vegan is the most effective thing we can do to fight animal cruelty. Our language should always reflect this, so even if the conversation leads to the option of starting with smaller steps (such as Meatless Mondays or eating vegan meals once a day), we can frame those as steps towards a larger goal. “That’s a great start! The more you try new foods, the more you’ll get used to them. Then you can introduce more and more vegan days!”
  • Keep the conversation positive! You want to feel out where they’re at and what’s keeping them from going vegan, not shame them or argue. Virtually everyone agrees the treatment of the animals is horrible, but there’s still something keeping them from going vegan. Is it a health concern? Enjoying what they eat? Knowing what to eat? Focus on their individual reasons, invite questions, and also ask them questions. 
  • Be prepared for people to ask about “cage-free,” “free-range,” “organic,” and “humane” animal products.
    • Remind them that according to the USDA, the vast majority of all animal products come from factory farms.
    • “Humane” labels are created by the industry to put consumers’ minds at ease because they know many people are willing to pay more for what they believe are more humane conditions. But these products are far from cruelty-free. On most “cage-free” farms, hens are crowded by the thousands in dark sheds and are deprived of natural conditions and behaviors. “Cage-free” and “free-range” animals are often subjected to the same mutilations as animals on factory farms, such as tail docking, debeaking, and castration without painkillers. Babies are taken from their mothers, and male chicks are killed at birth by the egg industry because they aren’t considered useful. 
    • “Organic” doesn’t have meaningful animal treatment requirements either. USDA requires that the animals are given organic feed and no growth hormones or antibiotics, and the regulations have unclear space and outdoor access requirements for most animals. Animal welfare rules for organic-certified producers are so imprecise that animals are often raised in conditions that are indistinguishable from those on factory farms. Ultimately, these animals end up at the same slaughterhouses as all other animals raised for food. 
  • Connect. Empathize. We want to make sure we are paying attention to what the person is saying and affirming their reactions whenever possible. If they tell us it was sad or horrific, we should respond empathetically. 
  • We are not here to shame or yell at people or to promote ourselves as “examples of perfection.” It is important to remember that most of us were not born vegan. Answer questions and concerns, and speak from your own experiences, but the best thing you can do is ask questions to get them talking.
    • To this end, please do not use comparisons to the Holocaust, slavery, or sexual violence when discussing the issues of animal agriculture. We find that it distracts people from our mission of raising awareness about how farmed animals are treated and instead turns their attention towards the activist and their method of discussion.    
  • Invite the person to take action. One of the best things you can do is to ask them if trying vegan food has made them consider reducing their consumption of animal products. If they say “Yes,” ask them where they can start. 
  • What if people ask about legislative measures? You can answer that “We are empowering people to take action right now, rather than waiting for rules and regulations that depend on a complex, lengthy process.”
  • What if I don’t know the answer? It’s OK! Most likely, anything they bring up will be a simple question that you’ve answered before, but if someone asks something you don’t know the answer to, it is totally fine to be honest and say, “You know, that’s a great question. I’m not sure of the answer, but let’s find out together!” Then you can look up their question on your phone.
  • Time Management: Do your best to manage your time and feel free to end conversations if you feel they aren’t productive. When you feel the conversation has reached its natural end, you can ask if they have any other questions or concerns. 
  • The most important part is to have fun while doing this! Joke around with people, smile, laugh, wave, dance, etc. Events can seem overwhelming at times, but just remember you are doing great work and the more fun we have, the more likely people will want to check out what we’re doing. 

3. General tips

  • If approached or threatened by a hostile business owner or staff member: Politely let them know that you are legally allowed and/or have permission from local authorities to be there and that you won’t enter their property or block doors. If you feel threatened, don’t hesitate to call your police contact, who is not only available to ensure that protestors are following the law, but also to protect your First Amendment rights. While waiting for police to arrive, avoid engaging further with them. Remember that your first concern is your own and other participants’ safety, so use good judgment and avoid taking any actions that could compromise your safety.
  • Be responsible. Volunteering at Animal Outlook events under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol is not permitted. 
  • Be inclusive. Animal Outlook works to build a world where everyone is welcome and feels safe, and we can start by making our events like that. Be respectful and welcoming of people in their diversity of gender, orientation, race, national origin, body types, abilities, etc.
  • Gather all of your materials from any volunteers, and make sure to pick up any litter (like dropped leaflets). 
  • Thank everyone who attended, and make sure to stay connected with any new activists after collecting their contact information!
  • Never underestimate the effect you can have! Some events are better than others, but our efforts always plan seeds of compassion.
  • Take pictures and videos of your event! Animal Outlook would love to highlight your event on our social media accounts!

After an Event:

1. Reporting

  • Let us know how it went! Send us any pictures and videos you took at, and we’ll post about your action on our social media platforms!

2. Share!

  • Post your photos and videos on your own or your local group’s social media pages to help spread the reach of your message.
  • Consider also sharing photos along with a quick recap of anything significant that happened during your event with any media outlets that weren’t able to attend. You could get some post-event media coverage!

3. Follow up

  • Make sure to email any new volunteers you met and thank them for their involvement, plus invite them to your next event or action!

4. Return your materials

  • If you borrowed any materials/costumes/etc. from Animal Outlook, get in touch with your staff contact to arrange for their return via mail.

5. Plan your next event

  • Demonstrations are most successful when organized as part of a series of gradually escalating tactics, ranging from starting a petition, to posting on social media, hosting a call-in day, delivering thousands of petition signatures to your target’s headquarters, and more. Brainstorm and start planning for your next action, and get in touch with us at for help!