Protesting safely is what you’ll have to consider when you choose to take a stand for something you believe in. 

This may be a controversial post, but I’m going to write it anyway. 

This is going to be a “real-talk” post. What that means is I’m not going to try and sugarcoat what you may deal with if you choose to join in on a protest (this goes for demonstrations and marches as well).

Protesting is not a new concept. It comes with its own risk depending on the atmosphere in which it takes place. 

There’s always a danger in taking a stand for what you believe in. 

(picture above from Library of Congress)

Protesting safely is still your right.

Most of us choose to go out there anyway because we hope that it’ll make change somehow. 

The only constant in life is change. Either it’s happening to you or you are the one pushing for it. 

There’s a lot of unrest in our country. You may want to get out there and make your feelings known. This guide is for those new to protesting and those who want to brush up on their knowledge. 

As I’ve mentioned before on this website, not everyone plays by the rules of being a decent human being. 

What this means is, you might be going out in the streets to protest in a way that keeps those around you safe, but that may not be the intentions of everyone that shows up to where you are. 

There are some tips you can put to use to increase your odds of keeping yourself protected. These are a mixture of methods I’ve employed when I’ve gone out to marches and demonstrations, and some sources for tips and safety. 

At the time of this writing (6/1/2020) I’ve added some extra tips to take into account the additional danger of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Pre-Event for Protesting Safely

  1. Knowing Who/What/Where: Not all protests are created equal. Actually, what I mean is not all protests are ORGANIZED equally. This is key to protesting safely. When you decide to join in on a demonstration you want to make sure that the people organizing it know what they’re doing, or at least have a good plan in place in case things get dangerous. These are some of the questions you should ask.
    1. Is the organization one that has done demonstrations like this before? If so, how did those demonstrations pan out? 
    2. Are they providing water for participants? Supplies of any kind for comfort?
    3. Are they willing to help with legal aid should it be needed? 
    4. Are they working with volunteer medics in case there are injuries during the demonstration? 
    5. Does the demonstration have a permit approved by the city, or not? 
    6. For the pandemic: Are they practicing social distancing? Will you be outside or inside? 

These are just some of the questions you should look for the answers to, so that you can determine just how comfortable you are with joining in on that demonstration. 

(Note: I didn’t point out if the demonstration has a permit not to discourage you from joining it. That is only information you need to know to be aware of what you’re getting into if it does not have one. This may mean you need to prepare for legal aid if needed should you be detained by law enforcement.) 

  1. What to wear: Comfort and simplicity are your friends when it comes to joining in on demonstrations. 
    1. Dress for the weather. If it’s cold, then don’t go out in a tank and shorts. If it’s hot, then wear something that won’t make you overheat. Try to wear clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible in any case.
    2. Have emergency contacts written and stored somewhere on your body. This may mean scribbling with ink on your arm some numbers that you would call in case of emergency. Scribbling numbers on a piece of paper and pinning it to your clothing works too.  
    3. Backpack: I find this easier to wear and pack the essentials while also leaving your hands free.
    4. Mask: There is still a pandemic happening. If you wear a mask you protect those around you. Aside from that wearing a mask Is helpful against tear gas and pepper sprayed. 
    5. Goggles: Same rules as for the mask in regards to protecting from tear gas and pepper spray.
  2. What to bring: Necessity is your friend for protesting safely. You want to bring everything that is essential to keep you comfortable and energized throughout the demonstration.
    1. Water: For drinking and/or if there is tear gas- more on this later. 
    2. Snacks: You might get hungry. 
    3. Bandages and first aid supplies: Injuries happen, and you’re going to want to be prepared. 
    4. Ear plugs: It can get loud if there are blow horns, whistles, loud chants, etc. 
    5. Umbrella: If the sun gets too hot, and if there is tear gas or pepper spray- more on this later. 
    6. Cash/change: In case you need to buy something. Try not to bring a lot of cash as there is a chance you may lose it somehow. 
    7. ID: You should have ID on you at all times, but especially at a demonstration in case you are detained for some reason, or need to confirm who you are. 

During the Protest

  1. Be aware: Like I spoke on in another post, situational and spatial awareness are important in all cases. Especially for protesting safely. You want to be aware of what is going on around you and what others are doing at all times. Protests, demonstrations, and marches in general can bring large crowds. If everyone ends up breaking off in a run you do not want to be trampled. If a car comes barreling towards the crowd, you want to be aware to move out of the way. By being aware you are less likely to be caught off guard. 
  2. Listen to your intuition: If at any time you do not feel comfortable or safe, you should walk away. Protests can bring around elements of people who don’t always have the best intentions. This could be hostile agitators, aggressive police officers, and the like. If you think your life is being put in danger, and you didn’t sign up for that, then you should move away from those elements that you feel are causing that uneasiness if possible.

When Sh* Hits the Fan (SHTF)

Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Protesting safely should be your priority, but not everyone cares about your priorities. 

There are some scenarios that you should prepare for. Being prepared is a big part of protesting safely.  

If You Get Pepper Sprayed 

This is not a good feeling, but there is a possibility that police show up to the protest and decide to use pepper spray. 

Pepper spray comes in two forms — as a fogger and as a stream. 

Foggers, what police often use, can be intense and will cause intense coughing if inhaled. Streamers can get to the lungs, but not as strongly. 

Here are some steps if that happens. 

  1. Calm down and stay still: It won’t be easy but it’s the first thing you need to do. Staying calm in this situation will speed up the process. Also, if you run or get too excited, you breathe harder, thus making your lungs work harder. This is no good with pepper spray. You could also fall and injure yourself if your eyes are closed and you can’t see. 
  2. Soap and water: If someone has some soap you’ll need it. Not for the pepper spray, but for any oil and dirt on the area that may entrap the pepper spray, making it stay longer.
  3. Milk: Applying milk to the affected areas can help ease the burning. But do NOT put it in your EYES. Your eyes are sensitive. Only use water for your eyes. 
  4. Water (cold): This is where that water bottle does double duty. Flush the area that has been sprayed with water repeatedly for three to five minutes. 
  5. Blink (a lot): Blinking your eyes while the water runs over will help push the pepper spray articles out of your eyes. Overall try to keep your eyes open. Closing them may cause swelling. 
  6. Stay exposed: Don’t bandage the area. You need to leave it uncovered in order for the irritant (the pepper spray) to evaporate. 
  7. Get home: If you can, as soon as possible. You need to take the clothes off that you got sprayed in and hop in the shower ASAP. Try not to let any of the pepper spray get close to your private parts– that would be SUPER painful. 
  8. Drink lots of water and rest: You’re going to need it after what your body went through. 

If You Get Hit By Tear Gas

This is also something that sucks when it happens. CS gas (chlorobenzalmalononitrile) known as tear gas, is a powerful chemical that can inflict pain in seconds.

As Popular Science explains, tear gas is actually a crystalline powder that is converted into a fine spray and propelled from a grenade or canister by a small pyrotechnic explosion.

Here are some steps if that happens.

  1. Hold your breath: You do not want this getting in your eyes and mouth. It will be painful.
  2. Leave the area: Quickly! Don’t stand around in it. 
  3. Use your umbrella: You can block some of the tear gas with it, or use it as a stick to hit the canister away. 
  4. Rinse your eyes: Adding water will be tricky, but just like with pepper spray you’re trying to get the particles of the irritant off of you. You’ll need LOTS of water if you’re going to use it. The bottle of water might not cut it.
  5. Wash your hands: This way you don’t put any of the tear gas on your face or get it on others. 
  6. Air out your clothes: You may not be able to leave the area immediately. Try to walk around, away from others, with your arms spread to let the wind naturally air out the tear gas from your clothes. 
  7. Go home and wash off THOROUGHLY: You need to remove the clothes (wash them separately) and then get in the shower and thoroughly wash with soap and water. Make sure to wash your hair–  A LOT– as a lot of the CS may have settled there. 

Know Your Rights 

Speaking of tear gas and pepper spray, you might have to deal with law enforcement. When that is the case it is good to know your rights. 

It is your right to protest safely. 

Here are some major pointers from the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union): 

  1. You’re safest in “traditional public forums.” This means streets, sidewalks and parks. Private property can cause complications as the owners of that property may have a set of rules for speech on their property.
  2. When you are lawfully in a public space it is your right to photograph and record anything in plain view. This includes videoing police. 
  3. You do not need a permit to march in the streets or on sidewalks, as long as you are not obstructing car or pedestrian traffic.
  4. Cops may not break up a gathering unless there is a clear and present danger of riot, disorder, interference with traffic, or other threats to public safety.
  5. If police do issue a dispersal order they have to give you enough time to comply. This includes a clear path for you to exit. 
  6. If you are stopped, stay calm and make sure your hands are visible.
  7. Ask “Am I free to leave,” if the officer says “yes” walk away calmly. 
  8. If detained you have a right to a local phone call, and if it is your lawyer police are not allowed to listen.
  9. You never have to give consent to a search of yourself or your belongings. 
  10. Police are allowed to pat you down if they believe you have a weapon.
  11. Law enforcement is not allowed to confiscate your photographs or video.

And most importantly from the ACLU: 

“If you are under arrest, you have a right to ask why. Otherwise, say you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately. Don’t say anything or sign anything without a lawyer.”

These are some of the major basics that have helped me in the demonstrations I’ve attended, and hopefully they are of some use to you. 

Just know, it is your right to stand up for what you believe in. It is also your right to do that safely. But, it is also your responsibility to protect yourself as not everyone respects those rights that you have. 

Stay safe and stay aware, Final Girl. 

Updated: (6/1/2020)