If you’re reading this, you may be someone who is going to plan a bus tour to Washington DC to protest outside the US Supreme Court. How do I know? Well, you’re reading the blog of a pro-choice non-profit so you already fit a profile. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday…
This blog post is what I learned in leading two separate bus tours from Ohio to DC, and helping prep a third. I want to share what we did well in hopes that it may make your experience easier. Please feel free to copy the elements of our materials below if they are helpful, disregard them if they are not, and know that you have my best wishes for success.
HOW TO LEAD A BUS TRIP TO THE US SUPREME COURT
Step 1 (and this is totally possible): Get someone to pay for the bus. Bus charters are expensive. I think our last bus charter was a $5,000 contract. You may be thinking “We’ll just get every rider to buy a ticket to split the cost.” and this may be necessary, but try to avoid it. Ideally, you want to recruit volunteers, not customers. If you’re going in coordination with a national push to protest during oral arguments of a case, there may be a national organization willing to assist or directly pay for groups to bring FULL busses of people. Even if they can’t get you all the way, they may be able to help identify big donor(s) to chip in. (Signing a charter bus contract will require you to make the advance payment, which will likely be several thousand dollars. You, or someone in your organization, will need a credit card with a limit high enough to charge the payment. The donor will cut you a check later to pay your credit card bill.)
You’ll be more success full with Step 1 if you also can demonstrate your ability to do…
Step 2: Recruit a bus load of people. This is the hardest part. Everyone wants to be a part of the protest…to hold their special sign outside the court and make a difference. What everyone doesn’t want to do is sleep on a bus overnight on the way there, or talk to their boss about taking a couple days off of work, or miss class, or whatever. Everyone will say they want to go, but will they? I’ve seen a full-size 56 seat charter bus carry 2 people across the state because the recruitment failed.
- If you just ask people to sign up for free, you’ll have WAY MORE volunteers than the bus will seat, but only 25% of them will show up. You don’t want just a third of a bus full. Your major donor will be pissed you wasted their money.
- If you have to sell tickets, nearly everyone who pays for an expensive fare (probably $75?) will show up, but you risk not being able to sell out all the seats. You make it too expensive for many hardcore supporters who can’t afford that cost. And worse, the charter contract still has to be paid in full even if you only sell half the seats. That balance will be paid by you, maybe costing several thousand dollars.
So, what’s option C?
- Get a major donor to pay for the bus, AND charge every volunteer a nominal amount of money to reserve a seat. How much? Not much. I like $15. That’s enough to get them to commit without flaking, but not enough to scare away your low-income hardcore supporters. You’ll still have to hustle to recruit 50+ people and have a collection method (paypal, venmo, etc.). But now you know that probably 85% of those reservations will show. You can even start a waiting list for overflow.
Two important notes on Option C:
- Everyone has to pay. If you have a small group that wants included, that’s awesome, but every person in their group has to pay individually. The $15 is what makes them meet the bus at midnight instead of crawling into bed.
- Everyone is going to get their money back in Washington DC. What? Yup. When you arrive in DC at 7 a.m., you’re going to hand every bus rider back their $15 so they can buy breakfast and lunch. This makes the trip free for low-income riders, maximizes your reservation show-up rate, and almost cost-neutral for you. (This will mean withdrawing around $800 in denominations of $5s and $10s. The bank will only give approve the withdraw if you have the money in your account. My first trip, I tried to personally cash a check from our non-profit, but my own bank account balance wasn’t that high so our director did it. Divide the money into envelopes of $15, and two $50 driver tips, a few days before the trip.)
Step 3: Collect rider information and distribute ride info. I sent several emails to registrants (sample email below) to make sure they knew all the details of the trip and make sure they knew how to ask questions. Our major funder required us to distribute/collect a signed photography waiver from every participant. At a mandatory minimum, you need their name, cell number, email and an emergency contact. Anyone who won’t give those or who gives fake info forfeits their $15. Make that super clear on the sign-up form. Arrange a bus departure location at a venue with available parking. We’ve used friendly churches who do not mind 25 cars left in their lot overnight.
Step 4: Buy supplies. Some of the $15 reservation fees from no-shows will cover part of these costs.
- Union Station bus parking pass that YOU PURCHASE IN ADVANCE. Confirm with bus charter, but they probably leave this to you. Estimate $75. https://www.unionstationdc.com/parking/
- 2 copies of rider log with name, cell phone, and check boxes for four stops
- Printed directions to/from Union Station for driver
- $50 gratuity per driver (two drivers likely per bus)
- 60 copies DC map with Union Station, Capitol Hill, & SCOTUS marked
- Camera, camera card, batteries
- Cell phone charger, external battery
- A packed lunch for you
- A backpack or messenger bag
- Ponchos if rainy
- 1 box of bananas
- 50 granola bars
- 100 bottles water
- 1 large bag assorted candy
- 50 bags snacks/chips
- 1 bottle Motrin (100 count or larger)
- Toilet paper
- Trash bags
- 2 DVD movies (Check to confirm the bus has a DVD player and screens. They almost all do.)
Step 5: Send another reminder email. Only give bus meet-up details to paid registrants with correct contact info. Add a few new details about the trip at the top to make it new and interesting info. Include old details at bottom in case they missed the previous email.
Step 6: Pack your bag. Since your trip will only be 24 hours, no one is bringing big luggage. You can bring pretty much anything you need in the totally-empty cargo hold. You can store protest signs and t-shirts, most of the water, and all of the snacks in the cargo hold on the first leg of the trip. On one trip, I brought a bike. You’ll probably want a change of clothes, pillow, and blanket.
Step 7: Eat a full meal and then…
Step 8: Meet the bus at your arranged location / time. Check-in every rider and verbally confirm their cell phone number. Offer a bottle of water, but save the snacks for later. Greet the driver and ask their name. Give them a paper print out of directions. You can ask the driver to use the bus’s microphone to talk to the riders through the speaker. Thank them all for coming. Introduce the driver (“Everyone say ‘Hi, Mike.”). Let them know how soon to expect a bathroom break.
Step 9: Try to sleep on the first leg of the trip. From Ohio to DC, we make one stop in each direction for a driver change in Breezewood, PA. Give the new driver a set of directions. Everyone can take a bathroom break and buy a snack. Walk up and down the aisle with a trash bag to collect waste. Introduce the new driver (“Everyone say ‘Hi, Sarah.”). Check off every rider on your list before pulling out of Breezewood.
Step 10: Arrive at Union Station in Washington DC. On the mic as you head into the city, you can host a small discussion with riders about why they came on the trip. Hand out DC map with Union Station, Capitol Hill, & SCOTUS marked and meet-up times listed; t-shirts; protest signs; extra water; bananas; and granola bars. Make sure every rider knows your cell phone number. Tell them “Write down my number. Keep my number. Do not use my number.” It’s for emergencies only (I spend one trip in the hospital ER waiting on a rider). Keep one copy of the rider list with their cell numbers with you and leave one on the bus. Hand the riders their $15 each for food. Keep the remaining cash on your person for emergencies.
Step 11: Take a photo in front of the bus. Donors LOVE that. Lead your group to SCOTUS, and take tons of pics. Get a to-go meal in Union Station after your protest, even if you’re not hungry now.
Step 12: Meet back up at the bus. Check off every rider on your list before pulling out of Union Station. Confirm the driver has directions. Hand out water, chips, and Motrin. On the mic, ask riders to share their experiences with the group. Take a vote on which movie to watch on the DVD player (Sometimes hard to hear movie dialogue on the bus, so look for classics or action films).
Step 13: Driver change in Breezewood, PA. Tip the driver getting off here. (“Everyone say ‘Thank you, Sarah.”) Collect trash. Check off every rider on your list before pulling out of Breezewood. Hand out remaining water and snacks. Start second movie.
Step 14: Arrive home 24 hours after you left. It feels like a week, doesn’t it? (“Everyone say ‘Thank you, Mike.”) Collect all trash and take with you. Tip driver.
Step 15: Send follow-up email next day to full rider list and donors with thanks and photos. You did it!
EMAIL TO RIDERS
Thank you for registering to go to Washington DC on March 1 & 2 for the oral arguments for Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
The bus is leaving at 11 p.m. on Tuesday, March 1 at First Church of Cleveland, 100 Shaker Boulevard, Cleveland, Ohio 44000. You can park at the church during the trip.
Read the waivers attached from NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. You can print, sign, and bring it; or I’ll have copies to sign when we get on board.
If you cannot go, please let me know ASAP. We have more people who expressed interest and couldn’t register. They’ll take your place.
If you have a compelling story to share about abortion, our national office would like to interview you. Please let me know.
Please read my FAQs below to get a sense of what to expect. Let me know if you have any additional questions.
Thanks for being awesome!
Where are we going? The bus will park at Union Station in Washington DC. The station is immediately adjacent to capitol hill and the US Supreme Court building. Check out this map: http://www.pcms.org/images/Capitol_Hill_Map.gif
What will we do there? We’ll be joining a rally led by the Center for Reproductive Rights outside the US Supreme Court during oral arguments for the case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (formerly Cole). The rally is from 8 a.m. to noon on Wednesday.
Rally info — http://www.reproductiverights.org/rally
Rally FB event — https://www.facebook.com/events/792467357531915/
Case info — http://www.reproductiverights.org/case/whole-womans-health-v-hellerstedt
Wait! I can’t go! What do I do? There’s a waiting list of people who can take your place. Please email or call me at 614-XXX-XXXX to let me know ASAP. We won’t be able to refund your $15 deposit, but rest assured we’ll put it toward snacks for everyone on the bus.
Will we be inside the Supreme Court building? Probably not. The rally is outside the building. You might have the chance to enter the Supreme Court building after the rally, but access for tourists is extremely limited on Oral Argument days. Find more information here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/faq_visiting.aspx
What if it rains? We’ll get wet. Dress appropriately. Weather: https://weather.com/weather/today/l/USDC0001:1:US
When are we coming back? We’ll meet back at the bus at 3 p.m., and arrive back in Cleveland some time around 11 p.m.
Where will we eat? Union Station has a food court, so you’ll be able to grab breakfast before we walk over to the rally. You are on your own for lunch. The US Capitol Visitors Center is immediately across the street from the Supreme Court, and has a gift shop and cafeteria. I also highly recommend the restaurant in the National Museum of the American Indian https://goo.gl/maps/kLBnzSUo2fF2. Grab a meal to-go as you pass back through Union Station when you return to the bus, even if you’re not hungry.
Who’s driving? We’ve chartered a 56 seat motor coach with Lakefront Lines. The bus *might* have electrical outlets and wifi, but no promises.
Is there a bathroom on the bus? Yes, and we’ll be making one stop at a rest area halfway on both the trips there and returning.
Are there TVs on the bus? Yes! We’ll play a movie or two on the trip home to pass the time. Have a suggestion on what to watch? Bring a DVD (think goofball comedy) or email me with your preference on what’s in a Redbox right now and we’ll vote on the way out of DC.
Will we take the Metro? Nope. For this trip, however, everything we’re doing is directly adjacent to Capitol Hill. If you feel the need to ride the rails, make sure you keep your ticket into the station – you need it to exit when you arrive at your stop.
Can I stop at a museum or tour the US Capitol? Sure! After the rally ends at noon, feel free to do a bit of sightseeing before meeting at the bus at 3 p.m. It’s a long ride home, so enjoy some free time during your visit. https://www.visitthecapitol.gov/
What should I bring? Headphones. Snacks to share. A book. Headphones. Water. Comfortable footwear. Maybe a small pillow, toothbrush, and a change of socks. And headphones.
What should I wear? No one expects you to be sporting neck ties or high heels. Jeans and sweatshirts are appropriate for political rallies. Dress for the weather and be prepared to walk a lot.
Can I bring … on the bus? There’s an enormous storage area under the bus for coolers, etc. If you feel you need to bring something on the bus, there’s probably room. That said, you won’t have access to the under-bus storage during the day. You can access the under-bus compartment during stops and when we’re arriving & departing. It will be inaccessible when the bus is parked…and when driving.
Can I bring … on the bus? Oh, you meant that? No weapons, using illegal drugs, smoking, or drinking alcohol on the bus. I don’t care if you have a beer at lunch, but this isn’t that kind of party bus.