I’m updating this post for M1GS. Due to the anticipated participation of less-experienced protesters, I’ve decided to assemble a quick “How To” guide for safe protesting.
Please remember that these are, as always, all my own opinions and suggestions, and they are therefore not representative of any organization, group, or committee associated with Occupy, the Red Cross, or anything else imaginable.
What to Wear:
- Layers: Protecting your skin from sun is important, of course, but using layers instead of oil-based sunblock fulfills multiple purposes. One, not using oil-based sunblock reduces the chances of chemicals like tear gas and/or pepper spray adhering to your skin. Additionally, as temperatures are prone to change, being able to take off or put on more clothing is always beneficial. Finally, layering gives you the ability to completely change your outfit in a jam. Taking off or putting on a sweatshirt/jacket, baseball cap, etc. can help alter your appearance if you’re in a sticky situation.
- Glasses: If your vision is impaired and requires correction, it is best to wear glasses, ideally with lenses that will not shatter. In the event of police action involving chemical deterrents, contact lenses can exacerbate the situation by trapping the chemicals against your cornea. This can potentially cause lasting damage, so it is best to just leave the contacts at home. Additionally, glasses can always be removed to alter your appearance as well.
- Comfortable shoes: Since protesting can involve lots of walking and standing, and there is always the potential need for a speedy getaway, it is very important to wear shoes that provide adequate support and cushioning for walking, standing, and running. For safety purposes, it is also best to wear a shoe that covers your entire foot.
- Hats, sunglasses, etc.: Similar to layers, these can be taken off and/or put on to change your look, should you find yourself in need of making an expedient and unnoticed escape from a potentially gnarly situation.
- Synthetic materials: Lightweight synthetics keep you warm, keep you cool, AND do not absorb chemicals like pepper spray and tear gas. NOTE: It is important to remember that if you anticipate being exposed to any very hot surfaces, most synthetics will melt. Clothing choices should be made with this in mind.
What to Bring:
- Water: approximately 1L of water to get you through the day and prevent dehydration. Alternately, it may be a good idea to bring a bottle of water AND a bottle of Gatorade (or other electrolyte beverage) to replace electrolytes you may be sweating out.
- Cliff Bars, Powerbars, etc.: It is always a good idea to bring compact snacks along to keep you sustained. Cliff bars and Powerbars are great because they contain sugars and proteins, and are compact enough to be tossed into a purse, backpack, fanny pack, or even back pocket. Alternatively, dried fruit and nuts can provide similar benefits.
- Your local NLG phone number: It’s always a good idea to write your NLG chapter’s phone number on your arm IN SHARPIE, so that if you are arrested, the information is readily available.
- Your cell phone: There are various arguments for and against this. *I* believe that it is a good idea to have an emergency means of communication, and *I* believe that it’s important to have phone numbers of your affinity group members (the people you protest with) in it. HOWEVER, if you intend to take more “militant” actions, it may be a good idea to forgo the phones, in favor of establishing meet-up locations in the event of a separation.
- Your ID: Again, there are various arguments for and against this. I bring an ID because I know that if I am arrested, an ID will get me out of jail more quickly. HOWEVER, again, if you plan on engaging in something on the shady side, you may want to carefully weigh the pros and cons of carrying your identification with you.
- A map: You should always know where you are, where you’re going, and where to go if something crazy happens. Establish meetup points with your affinity group, and make sure you’re carrying a map if you’re not intimately familiar with the locale of the protest
- A basic first aid kit: Even if you are not a trained medic, it’s always a good idea to carry band-aids, gauze, water and/or saline solution, and tape for cleaning and bandaging minor wounds.
- A gas mask or respirator and goggles: While it is entirely probable that you will never need them, it is always a good idea to carry these items just in case. Make sure whatever you’re using seals properly, and practice putting them on so you can do so quickly if needed.
- Prescription medication: If you need to take prescription medication, it is best to carry it with you, IN ITS ORIGINAL, LABELED CONTAINER! If possible, carry a signed doctor’s note along with it. It is recommended to carry approximately 3-4 days worth of your medications, and a couple copies of your doctor’s note, if possible.
What to Do Before You Arrive:
- Prepare your pets: If you are going to a protest, there is no guarantee of when you will be home next. If you have pets at home, make sure to make contingency plans for them in case you’re detained. It may be a good idea to leave enough food and water to sustain them for 3-4 days, and if you have a spare set of keys that can be left with a friend, that’s a good idea too! Even if you do get arrested and released immediately, property and prisoners do not always go to the same facility, and it is not always possible to get your property back right away.
- Use the bathroom!: You never know how long it might be before you find a usable bathroom. Best do so while you have the chance!
- Clean your house: If for some reason you have drawn up a diabolical scheme, it might be best not to leave your plans lying about at home, alongside the emergency phone tree master sheet for all of your minions. Just sayin’.
- Make sure YOU are clean: This means you should make sure you’re not carrying anything that could be considered incriminating, including weapons, drugs, or propaganda. Also make sure you’re not carrying anything irreplaceable. A protest is not the place to wear your Grandmother’s heirloom cameo necklace, or carry your child’s favorite teddy bear for luck. If you are arrested, there is no guarantee you’ll get everything back; don’t carry anything you can’t stand to lose!
A Few Things to Remember:
- Protesting is about raising awareness: Tell anyone who will listen WHY you are protesting. Be rational and friendly about it, and try to dispassionately explain to outsiders what the protest is about. It may not win anyone over, but it’s more likely to bring in new converts than screaming like a crazy person is.
- Keep your wits about you: Protest safety is entirely about situational awareness. Don’t get so caught up in chanting and sexy activism that you become out of touch with your surroundings. Protests draw troublemakers, and keeping your eyes and ears open can prevent you from being drawn into their bullshit. While I don’t advise trying to police the people around you, it can definitely be beneficial to observe and disassociate yourself from individuals whose tactics may be more aggressive than your own.
- There is ALWAYS a possibility of arrest or bodily harm: Let’s face it. Protests (especially those involving tents!) often piss off the government on every level from local to federal, and sometimes your fellow citizens too! This means that there is ALWAYS the potential of police involvement and/or civilian aggression, and if you’re able to keep these things in mind, you’re both more likely to be able to AVOID these things, and to behave rationally in a tough situation.
- There is NO SHAME in not wanting to be hurt or arrested: Continue to assess your personal feelings on your situation as the action progresses. If at any point you feel that your risk level is greater than the potential rewards for staying, it is time to leave. There is no shame in wanting to protect yourself, whether from harm or arrest, and keeping yourself out of danger means you can come back to protest again if needed.
- DON’T PANIC: Riot cops are scary. In a perfect world, there won’t be any at your protest, but if there are, remain calm! You are easier to hurt or arrest if you panic. Maintaining understanding that they are intending to frighten you, and that you are safer with the group is the best way to avoid doing something that could get you into trouble, or escalate the danger of your situation.
- DON’T RUN: Police will often charge at you, and your fellow protesters, in an effort to scare you into running away. If you feel you need to leave, it is important to do so calmly and carefully, so as not to trample any fellow protesters. Running also makes you more likely to hurt yourself by stepping in a pothole, tripping over a tree root, etc., and worst of all, running can sometimes make you look like a “target” to the police whose instinct will then be to catch you.
Hopefully this has been helpful. I look forward to seeing all kinds of new faces on May Day!