Teach-ins are an important method of creating and empowering activists. There are many variations and techniques in doing teach-ins. Being creative, people can think of many ways to accomplish our goals of teaching and activism for human rights. Teach-ins can range from simple lectures to panel discussions and to video showings.
A 1994 teach-in on Jerusalem held in 1994 in North Carolina is a good example of a well thought-out event. It was initiated by Rania Masri and Ann Thomson with support from a number of groups and individuals and held at a local church on a weekend evening. Support was sought and received from the Carolina Palestinian Club, the North Carolina members of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the American Friends Service Committee. By networking with key people in the community known to be well connected to others (e.g. Dr. Burhan Ghanayem), the organizers managed to spread the word about the event well in advance to both activists and new people who might have been interested.
The organizers did their homework. They sent clear directions to the place and clear information about the event and publicized it widely. They prepared succinct, cogent presentations with visuals, handouts, and other resources. After two short presentations (each about 15-20 minutes), a question and answer period followed. Then the moderator asked members to sit down and take a few minutes to do something: in this case to write a letter to your congressional representative about the situation. Pre-addressed and stamped envelopes were available as were letter pads and pens. The moderator pointed out key facts gleaned from the teach-in and then asked those writing letters to use their own words to explain what their concerns were about pending legislation on Jerusalem, and the role of the US in issues of home demolitions and removal of Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem. Over 25 letters were thus mailed the next morning to congress, each handwritten. More importantly, this act created new activists who now not only realized the power of information but their own power to do something.
Another way to do a teach-in is to have a panel discussion with a question and answer session. In these, selecting good orators and intellectuals who can capture the audience is important. Yet another way to reach out is to have a video showing followed by a discussion (e.g. with the producer or director of the video).
As for logistics, activists should make sure all resources are available ahead of time for the teach-in. This can include handouts, name tags, audiovisual equipment, maps, sign-in sheets, and flyers for future events, etc. The sign-up sheet is important. It helps you build your support and you can send people more information later. A sign-up sheet that is partially filled (even if it is the organizers names, contact info) is more likely to be signed (people are reluctant to be the first to sign in).
Teach-ins can also take advantage of the public interest following events that impact their lives. Over 300 individuals in Connecticut attended such an event shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US. Here are excerpts from what was reported on this in the Hartford Courant:
Struck by the lack of understanding about Islamic history, religion and politics, a trio of professors at Tunxis and Manchester community colleges has planned a free, one-day conference Oct. 25.
As Muslims and educators, "we felt a responsibility to try to provide the background and knowledge needed to understand the context in which the horrific attacks of Sept. 11 took place," said Colleen Keyes, an acting dean at Tunxis who presides over the school's humanities department. "It seems the impression of the vast majority of Americans is 'what did we do to have them do this to us?"' said Keyes, who holds a master's degree in Islamic studies and Christian-Muslim relations.
"Islam: In Conflict and Concord," scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 3:20 p.m. at Manchester Community College, will feature four presentations by area academics and experts on topics ranging from the Taliban to terrorism and the United States' role in the Middle East.
Ali Antar, president of the Islamic Center of Greater Hartford and coordinator of the Middle Eastern Studies at Central Connecticut State University, will explore the intricacies of Islam.
Ibrahim Abu-Rabi, a professor at Hartford Seminary's Macdonald Center for Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations, will trace the relationship of the United States and the Muslim world since 1945.
To counter terrorism, Americans must first understand the role American foreign policy played in spawning it, said Mazin Qumsiyeh, an associate professor of genetics at Yale University School of Medicine and a speaker at the conference. Adding to the problem, he said, are widespread oppression, hunger and poverty.
The attacks of Sept. 11 are not the disease but the symptoms of a disease, said Qumsiyeh, who is co-founder of Al-Awda, the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition, a charity supporting Palestinian refugees. In order to cure it, "yes, you deal with the symptoms," he said, "but you've also got to deal with the root cause, otherwise the disease is still there and it's going to come back again."
Keyes, who was raised a Roman Catholic but converted to Islam in 1988, hopes the dialogue fosters a deeper understanding of the issues than what can be gleaned watching cable news shows. "Not everyone has time to take a course on the history of the Middle East," she said. "We hope this fills the void." (Loretta Waldman Courant, Hartford Courant October 12, 2001)