Protecting Democracy: Civics Circuit Training Guide

One of the biggest issues facing rural Oregon is the erosion of trust in local government and in democracy itself. One human dignity group, the Linn Benton NAACP, decided to address this by putting on an event called “Protecting Democracy: Civics Circuit Training.” The event was free and open to the public, and brought in 80 community members to learn how to protect and strengthen democracy year-round! If you want to host a similar event in your community, this guide is for you! 

People gathered at booths during an outdoor fair

Questions? Let’s connect! Reach out to Sidra at sidra@rop.org or 541-799-6136.

Get Started!

  1. Assemble your team. This event takes a lot of planning and you’ll need a group of people who are reliable and energetic to pull it off. 
  2. Set your goal for the event. Ours was (a) to protect democracy by exposing participants to principles that are important for a democratic government to thrive and, more importantly, (b) to motivate people to become active in protecting democracy. The idea is to provide some basic information to the participants, to pique their interest to do more reading/research on their own, and to follow that with action.

Two to three months before your event: Plan the logistics! 

  1. Decide how many topics you will cover, with one station for each topic. This will help you figure out what venue will work best and how long the event will last. Based on our event, we would recommend 15 minutes per station with 2-3 minutes of transition time for rotations. The number of topics you cover and the time for each one will decide the length of your event and the size of the venue required. What are the core elements of a healthy democracy you want participants to explore?
  2. Here are the stations included in the Benton County Protect Democracy event:
    • Local Election Security: The Benton County Records and Elections Director and the Linn County Elections Supervisor explained their roles and county election procedures. They explained ways folks can take action, including observing ballot handling and counting.
    • Misinformation, Propaganda, and Fake News: A Corvallis-Benton County Public Librarian shared strategies to avoid spreading false information. 
    • Maintaining Civil Rights: The Director of Civil Rights at the Oregon Department of Justice answered questions and quizzed participants about the history of voting rights. She also shared how voters can check their voter registration status and the timelines for receiving their voter’s guide and ballot.    
    • Role of Local Elected Officials: A Benton County Commissioner answered questions about how elected officials represent our communities in government decision-making. She also shared a handbook on best practices for local democracy so that we can make sure our electeds are addressing our communities’ priorities.
    • Candidacy 101: A Linn-Benton Community College Professor and an Albany City Councilor shared how candidates can be elected or appointed for various positions. Check out the resource page for more tips for those considering running for City Council!
    • Campaign Finance Reform: The Oregon Speaker of the House shared resources like the current Oregon campaign finance manual and suggested actions like contacting your elected state officials to share your opinion on the issue. 
  3. Pick a few possible dates for the event. Check community calendars to see what other big events or holidays that might draw from your audience. We chose a Sunday afternoon, which seemed to work well. 
  4. Contact/visit a few venues to see which ones are workable and welcoming for the event. Find out if any or all of the possible dates you have set will work at each of the venues. 
    • Evaluate the accessibility of the space and if there is adequate parking nearby. We held our event in a popular outdoor space in Corvallis, Common Fields, in July. Make sure there will be enough space for all of the stations. We arranged a table with 10 to 12 chairs per station based on our guess of how many people would attend (which is difficult to predict!). Indoor spaces will work if large enough to separate the stations so that people can hear. Consider a local library with meeting rooms or other similar venues. 
      • Describe the event to the owner or manager of the space so that they understand your needs and how many people will be attending. 
      • Let them know that you will need at least an hour before and an hour after the event for set-up and clean-up.
  5. Decide which “experts” you will contact to ask if they will be presenters at each of your stations. We had a couple of elected officials as presenters, which probably helped to draw people to the event. We chose our other presenters for their expertise and communication abilities. We also arranged for a local musician to play guitar during the moving breaks between stations, which added to the enjoyment and festive atmosphere of the event.
  6. Contact your possible presenters. Explain how the event will be structured. If they are interested in participating, ask if any or all of your possible dates will work. Your presenters will likely all be busy people with lots of commitments, so finding a date that will work for all of them will be one of the biggest challenges. If a date works for all but one or two, consider looking for a different presenter for those stations. Also consider having some last-minute backup plans, in case someone needs to cancel.
  7. Set the date, the venue, and the presenters based on the info you gathered. This is a crucial step and once accomplished, you are well on your way to making the event a reality!
  8. Plan out the schedule and timing of the event. For this event, participants rotated through stations where presenters shared for a set amount of time and then answered questions. One of the event planners rang a bell when it was time to rotate. There was some buffer time for people to chat, grab food, and listen to some live music! 
  9. Publicize your event and do outreach! Design an eye-catching flier that explains enough to get people interested. Contact newspapers and radio and TV stations, and post information on social media. We also had a banner produced and displayed at the venue for two weeks before the event. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce or tourism office to see if they will publicize your event in their publications. Team members can spread the word through their networks of friends and co-workers.

One Month Away: Final Prep

  1. Follow up with the confirmed presenters to make sure they understand their role. Ask them to arrive at least 30 minutes before the event is scheduled to begin. We sent a detailed email to each of the presenters, reviewing with them again the structure of the event. Be sure to make it clear that they will have a time limit for each presentation and that they will be presenting the same information to a different audience multiple times throughout the event. Ask if they want physical handouts to give to participants. If so, give them a deadline for sending the information to you for printing. If not, ask them to provide you with the information (links to further readings, etc.) that you will email to participants after the event. Emphasize to each presenter that they should include descriptions of actions that participants can take in the future related to their topic.
  2. Visit the venue and figure out how it will be set up. Make sure the venue has enough chairs and tables available or arrange to bring what is needed. Have a comfortable chair for each presenter. Plan to arrange chairs around each table. (We had 10-12 at each station but you might need more or fewer depending on your expected attendance.) Make sure the stations are separated far enough from one another enough to make it easy for people to hear the conversations at their stations.
    • Prepare materials for the event: handouts from the presenters, tickets or sign-in sheets, table tents, or another way to designate the names of the stations. If your presenters have provided handouts for attendees, make sure to have those printed. 
    • If you don’t use a ticket system, you could use a sign-in sheet (check out ROP’s template here) to collect participants’ contact information as they arrive. 
    • We rang a bell to designate the time for people to move from one station to the next. One of our team members was in charge of watching the clock and ringing the bell.
    • Be sure your signs with station names are large enough to be seen from a distance. Consider using numbers as well as names to designate the stations if that seems more clear and readable.
  • We made tickets as a fun way to collect the contact information of participants and to encourage them to go to each station. 
  • We explained to participants as they arrived that everyone who went to all of their stations and returned the completed ticket with all of the holes punched out would get to spin a wheel for a prize! Participants put their name, email address, and phone number clearly written on the back of the tickets, to be eligible for a prize drawing. Our prizes were promotional items from the venue, Common Fields. Prizes weren’t necessary but were a fun way to make sure contact information was collected! We supplied a hole punch at each station – placed on the table to be passed to each participant at the start of that session. 

The day has come! Make sure it runs smoothly:

  1. Get there early so that everything is ready to go before the public arrives. Show the presenters to their stations and make them comfortable. We provided water at each table for the presenters. Make sure everyone on your team knows what they are responsible for during the event. The entrance table needs to be clearly designated so that people know to stop there first. We had a large banner hanging along the front of our entrance table.
  2. Have 2 or 3 people at the entrance table to greet people and explain the process of moving through the various stations. If you are using tickets, give each person one now. If not, make sure to collect their contact information another way. Be sure that the greeters understand the structure of the event and can explain it clearly to participants. If you plan to give prizes to participants, be sure to tell them they need to turn in their tickets before they leave.
  3. Have fun! Enjoy yourself while keeping an eye out in case anyone needs anything. Make sure greeters remain at the entrance table throughout the event. 
  4. Take pictures! You could invite the media to come and write a story about your event, or you could take your own photos and do your own write-up. Either way, share how it went with ROP by emailing sidra@rop.org.
  5. Leave the venue in the state that you found it. Be sure to have enough people to help with clean-up after participants have left.

After the event: 

  1. Support your neighbors in taking action! 
    • Prepare a follow-up email to all participants with links to further information about each topic presented. Keep the body of the email brief so that it isn’t overwhelming. Include links to each station topic that can be viewed as people have the time to do so. Be sure to include ideas for action items for each of the topics.
  2. Mail or email a thank you note to each presenter (or you could give them a written note at the actual event).
  3. Bask in your success! Then start brainstorming for topics and presenters for the next event!

This guide was put together by Susan Leonard, who helped organize a Protecting Democracy event in Benton County in 2022. It’s based on a ROPnet written about the event, which you can read here: https://rop.org/update/community-education-to-protect-democracy/ 

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