Safety at Protests: A Quick Guide

As some of you are probably aware, Donald Trump will be holding a campaign-style rally in Phoenix, AZ on Tuesday August 22. The rumor is that he's using this platform to pardon convicted felon and former sheriff Joe Arpaio. After the events in Charlottesville, VA last week tensions are high, emotions are roiling, and people are going to get out and DO whatever they can to fight fascism. So let's talk a bit about what you can do to make your protest experience as safe as possible for yourself and others.

Know What To Expect
Read articles about previous protests. Watch videos. Learn from other protests so that you can be prepared for anything, and know what to do if things go sideways. Here's an article describing some of last week's events in Charlottesville.  Also, know the terrain of the protest site. Use Google maps or something to figure out where you'll be and locate nearby areas for food, bathrooms, safety, transportation, public phones, etc. 

EDIT: A tip from a seasoned protest pro: "Remember that there will be agitators on both sides looking to start trouble so that the other side can be blamed for it." Nip it on your side. Some people might just lose their cool and start doing something that escalates. At all times, remember that escalation is counterproductive and try to calmly stop it if you can without further exacerbating the problem. 

Safety In Numbers
Start by going with other people. I repeat, do not go alone. Here in Phoenix there are two groups (that I know of) putting together protests for Tuesday's event. Get together with people via social media, or within your own friend group. Carpool or take public transportation together. There are protesters offering rides for those who need it. If you see people at the protest who appear to be on their own, link up. Befriend them and keep an eye out for each other. Plan ahead with your group of where you will meet up if you get separated. Stay together if and when you can, and remember that no one gets left behind. 

Group 1
Group 2

What To Bring and Wear
Wear comfortable clothing and shoes (you're going to be on your feet and out in the elements.) Here in AZ, cover as much of your body as you can with clothing (beware of sunscreen, see below) and wear a hat. If you're going to wear a costume or cover your face in some way, do so with caution. Keep in mind that law-enforcement officials are likely to be .... edgy....and therefore, your clever costume or pun might be misconstrued as a desire to do violence, incite violence or conceal your identity for the purpose of committing a crime. 

What NOT to wear:

  • Contact lenses - pepper spray and chemicals can cling to them. 
  • Tampons - if you're arrested, you might not have a chance to change. Carry/use menstrual pads. 
  • Oil-based sunscreen/moisturizers, etc - These can trap chemicals onto your skin. 
  • Loose jewelry, ties or any other clothing that can be easily grabbed. 

    Have a backpack with the following gear:
  • Small First-Aid kit
  • Bottled water and protein-packed snacks (stay hydrated!!!)
  • A clean set of clothes in a plastic bag so that it isn't contaminated with tear gas/pepper spray or other things. 
  • Inhaler/epipen or other medications you might need on hand if you are arrested. 
  • A watch, paper and pen  for documentation that does not involve a phone, social media or the need of a charger. 
  • Cash for phone or transportation.
  • Identification
  • IF YOU ARE NOT A CITIZEN, bring proof of your visa/immigration papers. 
  • Fully charged phone, charger, extra battery pack (pre-charged!) 
  • The phone numbers of personal emergency contacts, local ACLU or other legal services that are likely to help you. Have these on your device AND written on a hard copy. 
  • A small bottle of milk. DO NOT USE WATER TO WASH AWAY PEPPER SPRAY OR MACE. It will only make it worse. Use milk on the face or eyes. 
  • IF YOU NEED MEDICATIONS TO SURVIVE/FUNCTION, it is recommended that you have a list of these signed by your doctor. Carry three copies (one for the legal team, one for a medical team, and one for you. Look here for more info.

If you are expecting the worst (a riot), Amnesty International suggests that you also have the following:

  • Shatter-proof/resistant glasses or goggles
  • A bandana soaked in vinegar or lemon juice to aid with breathing during chemical exposure. 

    EDIT: A follower sent me a link to these products that are specifically for wiping off pepper spray or other chemicals. They're similar to moist towelettes and come in pre-packaged single-servings. 

Tech Tips
Some mobile phone apps could be very useful during a protest. Uber or Lyft might be a good way to get in or out. Periscope is an app that broadcasts live from your phone. If you see brutality or heinous shit going down, broadcast. FireApp allows you to use your cell like a walkie-talkie with other people who have the app within 200 feet of one another. 

Also, lock your phone with a passcode. This will help protect information (pictures, video, etc) from being removed without your consent. 

CHECK IN REGULARLY ON SOCIAL MEDIA!!! Before you go, make sure that multiple people who are not at the protest know where you are going, and check in with those people to let them know you are okay. Maybe set up a code phrase that can be quickly texted if things are going poorly. Prepare ahead of time what you will do if riots break out or if you are arrested. 

Speaking of which...

If you're detained or arrested...
If you are simply stopped or approached by police, be calm, be polite, and ask if you are free to go. Don't run. If you've been detained, but not arrested, and officers start searching you, clearly state that you do not consent. But do not get physical with the officer. Remain calm.
If things escalate and you are arrested, the ACLU and this article have some good tips, mainly....DO NOT resist arrest. Invoke your right to remain silent, and your right to a lawyer.  

If You Can't Be There
Not everyone is physically or emotionally able to handle a big, angry crowd. Even peaceful protests can trigger anxiety attacks. If for whatever reason you cannot go to a protest or march, here are a few tips. 

  • It's totally okay. You aren't judged by if you're there or not. It's okay to take your safety and needs into account. Don't force something that is just going to cause you or others harm. It's okay. 
  • Do what you can. Use your social media to help connect people at the protest. Keep an eye on friends' feeds, news reports. Be the Eye in the Sky, Oracle, whatever. You can help from home. 
  • Use your strengths. Can't go? Set up your home as a place to get ready, or a rendezvous point for after the event. Be the safe place your friends can return to for food, showers and much needed decompression. Use your words on your blogs, sites, social media. Make phone calls. Donate time or money. Do what YOU can.

This shit isn't easy, guys. I have to believe we'll get through it. And the only way we all will is if we're looking out for each other. 

If you have suggestions for what I can add to this list, please let me know. I will keep updating it as necessary. 

Sources I used for this (linked above in context).  and other helpful links:

Activist Safety
Your Right To Protest and How To Do It Safely
Protect Your Protest
Safety During Protests

How to Stay Safe During A Riot
How To Deal With Pepper Spray and Tear Gas

ACLU: While this specific link was for the Women's March in January, there are a lot of good tips on dealing with law enforcement, and it's a good place to start when trying to figure out what phone numbers you need to protect yourself. Also, it's the ACLU, scour this site for how to exercise your rights.