Protesting 101: The ARD Guide to Staying Safe in the Streets
People from Los Angeles to Tallahassee took to the streets after Friday’s Supreme Court decision, many for the first time. We’ve already seen purported allies counsel that forceful dissent is a right-wing plot, while police beat protestors in Los Angeles (People’s City Council) and fired tear gas from the Arizona Capitol (Yahoo!). Unjust repression is only more reason to support those fighting for bodily autonomy and liberation, whether in the streets ourselves, organizing medical and jail support for those on the front lines, spreading important information, or taking less public direct action. We can’t expect forceful protest to fade away any time soon as abortion bans roll out, inflation soars, the January 6th commission ramps up, and the war in Ukraine chokes off fuel supplies. It’s one of the few remaining tactics available as the U.S. political system proves its unwillingness to confront its misogynistic, racist foundations. We’re sharing protest tips and best practices to protest safely: the ARD Guide to Staying Safe in the Streets.
• Share protest guides like this article with people you know to help them protest safely and effectively.
• Reject the narrative that protesting is useless, counterproductive, or secretly planned by a protest’s opponents.
Prepare in Advance
Go to a protest with at least one friend and stay together. Check in about your comfort levels beforehand. How long can you stay? What’s your comfort level with remaining if police threaten arrest? Do you have physical limitations your protest buddy should keep in mind (Wired)?
Make sure you bring:
Lots of water!
Nondescript clothing—and consider leaving your phone at home (we’ll get back to this!) (Business Insider)
Glasses, not contacts
A bandana soaked in vinegar in a ZipLock bag to neutralize chemical weapons (Mashable, Wired)
Write a legal support/jail support number on your body in a permanent marker to call in the case of arrest.
There’s a good chance some of these things won’t be necessary, but it’s best to be prepared.
Remember Why You’re There
If this is your first in-person protest: congratulations! The abolition of child labor and Jim Crow, funding for AIDS research, or the end of the Vietnam War would not have happened without protest. You’re joining a proud tradition stretching back centuries and across continents. We don’t win without a fight.
All the people beside you are there for the same cause. Sometimes other protestors use tactics we disagree with. Our primary adversaries are oppressive leaders and their enforcers, not each other, even if some of our fellow protestors use confrontational tactics we wouldn’t engage in ourselves.
Never Talk to the Police
Not if you’re detained, not if they lie and tell you you’re required to answer, not if you’re telling them what they already know, not if they say you’ll get released faster, not if you’re trying to talk your way out of a situation, not if you know you’re innocent. Don’t let them search your bag or phone unless they tell you why they have “probable cause” or have a signed warrant. The only words you should ever say are “am I being detained,” “am I under arrest,” “I don’t consent to a search,” and “I want to speak to a lawyer.” There is no situation where talking to the police will help you, your friends, or the cause (ACLU).
Peaceful, legal protestors face repression because protest is a threat to power—that’s kind of the whole point. Police record cell phone numbers in the vicinity of the protests and review social media posts after the fact to file unjust charges. To protest safely, wear nondescript clothing and keep your phone at home if there’s any chance the protest you’re at might face repression later on. Cover any identifying tattoos or other marks and wear a mask to prevent identification and reduce the risk of contracting or spreading COVID.
Take Care of Each Other
We can protest safely by checking in with people around us who seem like they’re in physical or emotional distress. Check in with yourself and your body, too. Pushing yourself past your limits won’t secure abortion access or end police brutality. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You can do more good if you’re able to fight another day.
There are always less police officers than protestors, which is why the number one weapon of the police is fear. Don’t spread panic or rumors, including the unfounded and dangerous narrative that confrontational protestors must be police or right-wing provocateurs.
Debrief and Keep Going
One of the most important protest tips is to check in with your protest buddy afterward. How are you feeling? Were there parts that were surprising or concerning? Are there things you’d do differently next time or protest tips you should keep in mind for the future? Are you ready to take the next step and take on other roles in the movement? How can you support each other for the long run?
Recent events have shown that it isn’t the courts or the cops that keep us safe. It’s each other.
• Protest movements have won crucial victories over generations.
• Being prepared and going with one or more trusted friends is crucial.
• We know we can win and what we can do to keep each other safe.