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10 Ways to Prepare for a Protest

know your facts Apr 30, 2024
Multiracial crowd holding protest banners with fists raised. Banners read,

In light of the student protests happening at universities across the country, I’m asking folks who are planning to support by showing up or leading their own protest to do so safely. Protect yourself and the people around you.

1. In General

  • Stay Calm: Spread your calm to others.
  • Know why you’re going: Understand what’s happening now and learn something about the history of the movement you support.
  • Be part of a group: There’s safety in numbers and in someone knowing who and where you are. Meet up beforehand, stick together, and leave together. Notice each other’s strengths and divide up roles/duties. Who’s good at first aid? Who’s good at monitoring emotions or when to eat/drink?
  • Maintain situational awareness: Someone in your group needs to know what’s happening around you. Does anyone stand out from the crowd? Could they be a cop or someone looking to make trouble? Where’s the nearest medic? Does someone need help? Where are the nearest restrooms? Pay attention.
  • Help those around you: You’ve shown up for the same cause. Be friendly. Share if you have extra snacks or power in your portable battery. And assume that your actions and words are being surveilled.
  • Use your privilege! That means being willing to speak up, use your body, and block for marginalized groups. For example, white people standing between police and Black folks or other people of color can save lives. Practice with your group so you can be ready.
  • Record police interactions. Being a witness can save a life.
  • If you’re showing up in solidarity, don’t try to take charge. Support those most impacted who are already doing the work.


2. Dress for Safety

  • Mask: Covid and other diseases are airborne and being in close proximity, even outside, is a risk. Masking makes it easier for people with disabilities to participate. We are a surveillance society, so why make it easy for facial recognition technology? And if law enforcement uses tear gas, you’ll have one layer of protection.
  • Eye wear: Shatter-resistant eye protection (sun glasses, goggles, face shields, gas masks) will also protect against chemical agents.
  • Clothes: Cover as much of your skin as possible, again, to protect against chemical agents.
  • Shoes: Comfortable, close-toed shoes you can run in if it's necessary.
  • Hat: To protect you from the weather and further obscure your identity.
  • Avoid: contacts because they can trap chemical agents like tear gas. Makeup, like eyeliner, can trap chemicals as well.


3. What Else to Bring

  • Backpack/Bag: Something small and lightweight that lets you keep your hands free. Some folks also wear a fanny pack for essentials in case they lose their backpack.
  • Water: To drink and use to wash off your skin or flush your eyes, if necessary.
  • Snacks: Lightweight, nutritious
  • Change of clothes: In case you’re exposed to chemicals or just get gross
  • ID (maybe): Not having it might keep you detained for longer if you get stopped. But in some states you don’t have to show ID. Know your local laws.
  • Phone (maybe): Leave your regular phone home to avoid surveillance. Also, if you always take it with you, start turning it off or leaving it at home sometimes, so it’s not obvious you left it to attend the protest. Consider taking a burner. Download an app like Signal or another encrypted messenger service to stay connected to your friends. Do not use WhatsApp, Messenger, or any service owned by Meta since they have worked with law enforcement. Disable face and fingerprint recognition and use a 6 digit passcode to access your phone. Keep it turned off until you need it to make it harder to track your movements.
  • Emergency contact: You can write this info on your skin.
  • Cash: Using a debit or credit cards makes it easy to track your movements. Put some bills in your bag and some in your shoe, or pockets, or another secure place.
  • Portable charger: For phones and other devices.
  • You can find more suggestions here.


4. Photography Ethics

Point your cameras at the cops, not each other – to protect your identity and the identity of those around you.

If you must take pics:

  • Ask for consent when possible (and it’s usually possible)
  • Don’t take close ups
  • Blur faces of anyone who hasn’t given consent before you post
  • If specific identities are easily identifiable (only a few Black folks, only a couple of easily identifiable people with disabilities), delete the photo
  • If you’re there as a spectator, don’t just document. Get involved in the struggle.
  • Get more information on the reasons for these rules from this article in The Anarchist Library.


5. Know Your Rights

  • Generally, people can congregate in “public forums” like streets, sidewalks, parks, in front of public buildings, etc. as long as you aren’t blocking access to the building
  • Police are supposed to treat protesters and counter-protesters equally, even if they keep the groups separated.
  • If police give an order of dispersal, they must provide a clear and detailed notice, including how much time, the consequences of not leaving, and what exits are available. Police are also required to provide a reasonable opportunity to comply, including enough time and an unobstructed path to leave.
  • Learn more from the ACLU.


6. Photo/Video Rights at a Protest

  • On public property, you have the right to photograph anything in plain view, including the police and federal buildings. The owners of private property can set the rules for photography and video.
  • Police may not confiscate or demand to view your photos or video without a warrant. They may not delete data. They can order folks to cease activities that are truly interfering with law enforcement operations.
  • There is a difference between the video and the audio portion of a video based on some states’ wiretapping laws.
  • Learn more about Protester’s Rights from the ACLU.


7. What To Do if You’re Stopped or Detained (also from the ACLU)

  • Remain calm
  • Ask if you are free to leave. If the answer is yes, calmly walk away.
  • If you are not under arrest, you don’t have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings. Consenting can affect you later in court.
  • If you are under arrest, you have the right to ask why. Otherwise, ask for a lawyer immediately and don’t say or sign anything without talking to a lawyer.
  • Police may do a pat down to make sure you don’t have a weapon and can search you after an arrest.
  • Police cannot legally confiscate or demand to view your photos or videos without a warrant and they may not delete data.
  • Learn your rights about detention from the ACLU.


8. If You Believe Your Rights Have Been Violated:

  • Write down everything you can remember, including officers’ names, badge and patrol car numbers and the agency they work for.
  • Get contact info for any witnesses.
  • Photograph any injuries.
  • You can file a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board.


9. If You are Exposed to Tear Gas:

According to Medical News Today

  • Get away from the gas as quickly as possible. If you’re exposed indoors, get outside. If it’s been detonated outside and you’re indoors, close doors and windows. If you’re outdoors, move to higher ground.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with clean cloth. Or wear a mask and goggles.
  • Remove contaminated clothing as soon as possible without pulling it over your head, so the chemicals on your clothes aren’t wiped on your face. Seal your clothes in a plastic bag.
  • Rinse your eyes for up to 10 minutes, without letting the water drip down your face. DO NOT USE MILK. It can cause infection, especially if it's been in your bag unrefrigerated.
  • Wash your face and body with mild soap.
  • If you have a strong reaction, seek medical help.


10. If You Can’t Protest, You Can:

  • Deliver water or food
  • Be someone’s emergency contact
  • Offer childcare for someone who can go
  • Provide transportation
  • Fund bail
  • Donate money to the organizers
  • Educate yourself on the issue
  • Be a sounding board, safe place to decompress after


Being prepared to protest is more than just showing up. Knowing why you're there and planning ahead means you and those around you can stay focused on the cause, reduce the danger to yourself and others, and be ready to help.

Ready to DO something right now? Download the Everyday Activism Action Pack and get started today.

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