protest resources

Protest Safety: Should You Be Scared?

When is a protest too dangerous? What are the signs it’s time to go home? How do you know when what you’re hearing is just a rumor — and when it’s an important message that you should listen to? 

As street medics, our goal is to spread calm. But at an intense action, rumors — and panic — can spread like wildfire. While it’s good to be aware, and it’s essential to be prepared, that doesn’t mean you need to be afraid — and you definitely don’t need to believe every rumor you hear on the streets. 

Want to be more prepared to stay calm, stay safe, and stay in the streets? Here’s how to evaluate rumors, analyze a scene, and practice situational awareness so you can protest safely. 

They say: “The cops are about to use tear gas!” 

During the months of protests sparked by George Floyd’s death, many protesters experienced tear gas for the first time. Just a year ago, here in Atlanta, the idea of police releasing tear gas seemed almost unthinkable. Now, it often feels like a certainty. For months we were tear gassed every night, and it’s become a weapon the police are far less reluctant to use. 

In 2020, we learned to always be prepared to face tear gas every time you go to a protest, no matter how peaceful you expect it to be. However, that doesn’t mean you’re definitely going to get tear gassed — and telling everyone that it’s going to happen will just make everyone more nervous. 

How to know when it’s true: If you think logically, this rumor is easy to confirm or deny. Tear gas is an indiscriminate weapon: once they deploy it, it’s just as likely to hit the police themselves as to hit protesters. So you can easily anticipate whether police are about to use it: just check to see if they’ve put their own gas masks on. When the cops put their masks on, you know it’s time to put on yours. 

What to do: Apart from the general sense of panic caused when everyone is talking about imminent gas, it can be a disadvantage to put your mask on too soon. When you’re wearing a gas mask, goggles, bulletproof vest, or similar gear that makes you look prepared for a fight, you’re more likely to be targeted. When you look like you’re ready for trouble, the police often assume you’re there to cause trouble. So you can mitigate risk to yourself by keeping your mask and other gear in your bag until it’s needed. Luckily, this is one situation where it’s always obvious when you’re going to need it. 

They say: “We’re all going to get arrested!” 

Like tear gas, mass arrests (when 50-100 people are all arrested as a group) are a tactic the police hadn’t used in a long time in Atlanta — until they did use it. It’s hard to predict at what point they’ll decide to use it again. However, as a general rule, the city tries to avoid mass arrests, for several reasons. 

First, mass arrests are bad press. Arresting a few people to tone down a rowdy protest is one thing; arresting 50 or 100 people who weren’t breaking any laws tends to draw more public criticism. The police don’t care about that, but elected officials do. Most of the time, orders from the top will discourage police from arresting huge numbers of people. 

Second, mass arrests are expensive. Most people who are arrested at protests are given very minor charges — the most common is “pedestrian in roadway,” which is a traffic violation. People aren’t normally arrested for traffic violations, because it’s not cost effective for the city to arrest traffic offenders at a large scale. Many of those charges get dismissed, and those that don’t usually only involve small fines. The cost of jailing hundreds of people, even for one night, can cost more than the fines bring in revenue, so most of the time, the city will try to avoid mass arrests unless a protest is extremely disruptive and can’t be contained any other way. 

How to know when it’s true: The only way to be certain that a mass arrest will happen is when it’s already happening. It’s very common for many of the signs of a potential mass arrest to be present and for protesters to still be able to disperse without arrest. However, you can look for indications that a mass arrest might be possible or likely. 

First, look for a large prisoner transport vehicle such as a bus — or several of them. If you see a few prisoner transport vans and you’re with a group of 100 protesters, then they probably don’t have capacity to arrest all of you (at least not yet). If you see several large buses, then they might be serious about a mass arrest. 

Second, look at where the police are gathering in relation to the protesters. If they’re only lining up on one side of the protest, then they probably aren’t planning to arrest all of you — they’re preparing to drive you back. If they’re lining up in front and behind you, there’s still a good chance they’ll let people disperse onto the sidewalk. But if they’re moving in from all four directions, with tightly controlled lines of police shoulder-to-shoulder on all sides, then the chance of a group arrest is much higher. 

Finally, look at the equipment they’re carrying. If a couple of cops are pulling out zip ties, that’s normal — but if they’re all pulling out zip ties at once, that’s concerning. Sometimes they’ll use orange netting to block exits on all sides, and if you see them forming lines on all sides with orange netting, that’s a strong indication they’re planning to trap and arrest you. 

Police will often give a warning announcement stating that if you don’t move off the street within the next 5 minutes, you will be arrested. Like everything police say, this could be true — but it’s probably not. Most often, it’s an empty threat, and it’s rarely a sign of an imminent mass arrest. Usually a warning will be followed by a few arrests and the hope that fear will disperse the rest of the crowd. Police actions are a much better predictor of a mass arrest than an announcement threatening arrest. 

What to do: The key to avoiding arrest is to always know where all the police are — and more importantly, to know where they aren’t. Always be looking for the exits, and don’t get in a position where you’re surrounded. 

If you do end up surrounded, remember that making a sudden break for it alone or in a small group will be more likely to make you a target. Think about who’s most vulnerable in your crew, and strategize about how to get them out. Sometimes, if you comply with orders, move to the sidewalk, and calmly walk away from the protest, the police will let you leave. Their goal, after all, is to break up the protest — if you leave, you’re no longer a threat. 

If that doesn’t work and you need to get out of the situation, ask a street medic to help you. Sometimes police will let a marked medic leave with an injured person even while they’re kettling for a mass arrest. 

When all else fails, write the jail support number on your arm, and don’t panic. The Atlanta Solidarity Fund has been bailing protesters for over ten years and has helped over 800 protesters get out of jail over the summer of 2020. We won’t leave you behind. 

They say: “Protesters are under attack!” 

Most protests, most of the time, are relatively calm and rarely violent. But attacks can and do happen — from counter-protesters, from police, and sometimes even from fellow protesters. When emotions are high and situations are intense, it’s always possible for fighting to break out. 

How to know when it’s true: This is a situation where the question isn’t just whether something is happening, but what exactly is happening. It’s generally smart to be skeptical of rumors — and when the rumors are vague and unclear, you have even more reason to be skeptical. Before you panic about an imminent attack, try to get more details. Who is being attacked, and by whom? How many assailants? Are they armed, and if so, with what? If no one knows any of these details, then you should probably maintain your skepticism until you can get more specific and reliable information. Until you’ve observed a situation firsthand, or heard a detailed and specific report from someone you know well and trust, don’t panic, and avoid repeating unfounded rumors. 

What to do: If you’re a street medic, then your first instinct is probably to head toward where the action is! If you decide you want to check it out for yourself, bring your buddy. And unless you can see with your own eyes that the situation is urgent, it’s usually wise to walk, not run. When a marked medic starts running, everyone around them tends to panic. Your job as a street medic is to spread calm, so try to avoid running unless it’s really an emergency. 

If you go to see for yourself whether the rumor is true, approach the situation slowly, keeping an eye on all your surroundings so you know what you’re heading into. If you do see an attack happening, take note of specifics and details that will be valuable for others who need to know. Count how many people are involved on each side, and notice what kinds of weapons each side has. Note what the rest of the crowd is doing, and then decide whether you want to get closer or position yourself farther away. You can’t help injured people if you get injured yourself, so don’t feel obligated to rush straight into the fray (unless you want to!) — and make sure you’ve evaluated the full situation first. 

Before you go into an intense situation, think about what resources you have and what resources you might want to gather first. For example, if there’s another medic team nearby, you and your buddy can go into the danger zone to get people out and bring them to another medic team at a safer location, who can treat their injuries. 

But Should You Be Scared? 

When is a protest too dangerous? 

When is it time to go home? 

Only you can answer that question. 

Everyone has a different tolerance for risk, and your ability and desire to face risks can vary widely from one day or even from one hour to the next.  

When you’re deciding whether to go or stay, the most important question isn’t what the police are going to do, and it’s not what’s going to happen. 

The most important question is: What do you want to do? 

Protests are always inherently risky. In some ways, that’s the point.

A protest is meant to be visible. It’s meant to raise awareness. It’s meant to gain attention. Sometimes, it’s meant to be disruptive. 

All of these intentions can sometimes involve risk. 

For you, the important question isn’t whether a protest is dangerous, but whether the risk is worth it. 

The better you get at evaluating situations and analyzing what’s really likely to happen, the better you’ll be at deciding whether the goal of a protest is worth the risk for you. 

street medic trainings

How to Organize a 20 Hour Street Medic Training

Do you want to form a new street medic collective in your community? Do you have a group of people who want to start providing medic support at protests, but you’re not sure how to get started? Organizing a 20 hour street medic training in your community can an effective way to start a new street medic collective. It’s also a great way to invite new medics to your collective, and we recommend that active collectives host trainings regularly if they want to grow their membership. 

For many years, the 20-hour training has been recognized as the “gold standard” of foundational skills that every medic should have before they mark as a medic at a protest. Today, many collectives are experimenting with other variants of training, such as modular training and regular skillshares. A 20-hour street medic training usually involves 2.5 long days of training, which can be difficult for many working people to attend. Furthermore, learning so many new skills quickly in a short period of time does not result in skilled medics; it only provides the foundational knowledge that, with experience, will enable a person to become a skilled medic. 

Nevertheless, the 20-hour continues to be an important street medic training method. Atlanta Resistance Medics usually hosts at least one 20-hour training every year, and our trainers are available to travel to your community to provide this training. 

If you want to organize a 20-hour training of your own, here’s how to get started. 

One Month in Advance

  • Contact known street medic trainers and schedule a time when they’re available to come (typically this is a Friday, Saturday, Sunday). We encourage you to reach out to the closest established street medic collective to your community. Normally, you’ll need to provide housing and food for the trainers, and if possible, it’s good to offer a small stipend for travel costs. (If you’re in the southeast, yes, our collective can send street medic trainers for your event!) 
  • Once you’ve chosen the date, find a space. Look for spaces where it is ok to be loud, and where you can have the space for the entire weekend. You’ll need room for all your participants (typically about 20 people) to move around freely. Make sure it is mobility accessible and there is option for multiple forms of transportation (or set up a ride-share). The ideal space will also have some outdoor space you can use for training activities. 
  • Open registration, and promote it in your community. We usually use a Google Doc form with a spreadsheet, which makes it easy to organize. Collect contact information (email and phone), allergies, housing needs, and dietary restrictions. Ask for a donation of money if the trainers
    are coming from out of town to help pay for their travel costs (usually this is “pay what you can”). Ask organizers in your community to share the announcement and registration with their groups. 
  • Create information packets. Create welcome packets for people who register with all the information they need.

Three Weeks in Advance

  • Close registration once it’s filled. How many spots you offer depends on your space and the trainers. If you have a lot of interest, consider keeping a wait list to fill spots if people drop out last minute (as inevitably happens). 
  • Confirm the space, and make sure you have all the supplies you need.
  • Find someone to organize meals for Saturday and Sunday. Ideally, this will be a different person than the person who’s organizing the logistics of the space and registration! If you have a collective, or if you’re starting one, this is a great way to get more people involved in an essential role. If your space has a kitchen,you can have someone designated to cook a meal on those days. Ask participants to bring something to contribute (don’t expect a lot) and snacks. You can also talk to your local Food Not Bombs about getting food donations.

Two Weeks in Advance

  • Communicate with the trainers in person or on a conference call a few weeks out to iron out any remaining details. Double check your supply list. Ask what supplies the trainers will or will not provide for their demos. Check to see if there are any last remaining needs.
  • Recruit volunteers for practice scenarios. Most trainings will involve a “mass casualty” scenario on Saturday or Sunday (or both!), and if you can bring in additional volunteers, that will enable all the training participants to play the role of medic in those scenarios. Talk with your trainers about how many volunteers you need — usually, the more the merrier! 

One Week in Advance

  • Send reminders! Text, call, and email people who registered to confirm that they are going to attend. If they bail out, fill their spot from the waitlist. Re-emphasize that they must attend the entire training in order to become a trained street medic. Make sure they understand that they must be on time. Also send out reminders to all your volunteers for the food, the space, and the scenarios.
  • Take all your supplies to the space and visit the space to ensure it is ready. Make signs to post on location doors or at street corners to help direct people to the right place if the space is not easily found.
  • Confirm with hosts if you have people hosting participants who are traveling from out of town. Check in with trainers about any last-minute needs. 

Training Day – Celebrate! 

  • Confirm registration as people arrive. You may want to contact no-shows to confirm they’re unable to come. 
  • Introduce yourself and your medic collective. If you’re starting a new collective, this is a great opportunity to talk about the projects your group wants to do and invite soon-to-be medics to be part of them! 
  • Introduce the trainers. 
  • Enjoy the weekend! 


  • Food for lunch Sat/Sun and snacks for the entire weekend (accommodate dietary restrictions)
  • Dishes/bowls/utensils
  • Tea & coffee (hot water boilers, coffee pot, filters, mugs, sweeteners)
  • Drinking water
  • Toilet paper
  • Pens and paper for note taking
  • White boards and markers for the trainers
  • Chairs for all participants
  • Demo medic supplies if not supplied by trainers 
  • Real medical kits, reading materials, and other examples for show and tell
  • Fake cop uniforms and gear
    • For fake tear gas canisters to be used in demos, take two cups, put some dry beans inside, and tape them together securely with duct tape so they have some weight with the throw. Bring noise makers(megaphone, whistles, etc) and cop uniforms. For fake batons, a stick wrapped in electrical tape is sufficient.For fake pepper spray, a sprayer bottle with water inside works well. To make scenes even more realistic, soap dyed red makes excellent fake blood and washes off easily. Think about demo scenarios and bring any other props that may make it more realistic. Talk to the trainers about what props they think they’ll need.
  • Tarps to keep down the mess of demos if indoors
  • Information about the local medical collective and how to get involved
  • Information about upcoming opportunities to medic
  • Name tags
protest resources

Protest Health: Stay Safe, Stay Dangerous

Heading to the streets? Be prepared, and know what to do for protest health and safety! When you bring what you need and you’re ready to take care of yourself, you’ll be able to care for others too. 

Here are a few basic suggestions for every protester: 

  • Bring your own gear and be prepared for what is likely to happen. Closed-toed, solid walking shoes, and plenty of water for yourself are the basic supplies for any protest. If there’s a possibility of police violence, then bring goggles that seal, a mask that seals, a helmet, and extra layers of clothing so you can remove your outer layer if you’re hit by tear gas. 
  • Decide ahead of time what you want to do and how you can be useful. Maybe you just want to stay out till 9 pm and hold a sign and chant and not leave til 9 even if you’re scared. Maybe you want to bring extra water for everyone. Maybe you want to bring lots of sharpies and tell people the jail support number to write on their arm. But don’t just be a tourist. Don’t just go for the experience. Think about how you can be useful. More bodies in the streets are always useful, as long as you move where people are needed. 
  • Never, ever, ever, ever talk to cops. It’s great to yell/chant at cops along with the crowd. But never have a conversation with a cop. They are trained to get information without you realizing they’re doing it, and anything you say could be used to harm you or other protestors. It doesn’t matter if you tell the truth; the cops are trained to twist the truth to make people look guilty. Unless you are a trained police liaison and have been asked to fill that role for this protest, don’t talk to cops. 
  • Try not to run unless you really have to. When some people are running, others get scared. It spreads panic. And it makes you more likely to trip. If cops are advancing, you can move away more effectively by walking quickly.  
  • Don’t pick up tear gas canisters to throw them back with your bare hands or with regular gloves, they’re literally on fire. They can be picked up safely with welding gloves or similar fireproof protection. 
  • Practice situational awareness. Pay attention to what’s happening on all sides, all the time, and think about what it could mean. Share information with people around about things you observe. But….
  • Do not spread rumors or make definite predictions! It’s great to share confirmed information. So, if you see cops putting on their gas masks, do tell everyone around you, “Hey, the cops are putting on their gas masks” (and put yours on too!). But don’t say “ohmygod the cops are about to tear gas and trap us!!!!” because you don’t know what’s going to happen. And don’t spread rumors about stuff you hear, like “The cops are massing around the corner and they’re about to arrest all of us!!!” Even if you saw a group of cops assembling around the corner, only report what you saw: “There are about 100 cops in riot gear forming a line blocking the cross street around the corner.” Let people draw their own inferences from facts, not rumors. 
  • Don’t tell people what to do. You’re not in charge. Share information and offer resources. Respect the autonomy of other protesters. 
  • Bring a buddy. Always have a buddy. Never lose your buddy. If things get chaotic and everybody starts running, it’s smart to hold hands with your buddy so you stay together. 
  • Don’t pour antacid, baking soda, milk, milk of magnesia, or any other weird solutions into the eyes of someone who’s been tear gassed. Chemical reactions in eyes are a bad idea. Particulates in eyes are also a bad idea. Just water or saline in eyes, nothing else. Water is cheapest, most multi-purpose, and easiest to carry! 

Protest Health & Safety Resources 

Stay Healthy So You Can Stay In The Streets
A simple handout created by the BALM Squad with basic things to know before going for protest health and safety.

Staying Healthy for Civil Disobedience Actions
How to prepare for arrests and things to consider prior to engaging in civil disobedience. Created by the BALM Squad.

Safety During Protest
A quick printable guide to basic protest health and safety from Amnesty International. 

Know Your Rights
Your rights as a protester, from organizing to what to do if you’re detained by police. ACLU guide. 

Shit! We’re Going to Get Arrested!
A list of things to do to prepare for being arrested at a protest or other action. This condensed version of the “Staying Healthy for Civil Disobedience Actions” sheet is a quick reference for use when it looks like you and your friends are about to be arrested. Created by the BALM Squad.

community health

Community Health Resources

Providing first aid support at protests is just one part of our work as street medics. One of our core values is to resist hierarchy and oppression, and the inaccessibility of health resources is a core aspect of existing oppressive structures. As street medics, we support and create community health initiatives to make healthcare (including both western and traditional medicine) more available to everyone who needs it. 

Want to get involved in our ongoing work for community health? Contact us to come to a meeting to learn about our nascent and growing projects. Or get involved with one of the grassroots community health projects that we admire and support: 

Atlanta Community Health Projects

Herbalista Harriet Tubman Foot Clinic
The foot clinic provides herbal foot care to people experiencing homelessness in Atlanta. It has thrived for many years, and several ARM members serve regularly as “footsters.” 

Apocalypse Training Collective  
The ATC is a queer- and trans-led skillshare collective that teaches skills for “surviving and thriving in apocalyptic times.”  

Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition 
The Harm Reduction Coalition provides resources to reduce the impact of STIs and substance use through programs like needle exchange, Narcan distribution, and STI testing. 

General Resources for Community Health

Where There Is No Doctor
The most widely-used health care manual for health workers, educators, and others involved in primary health care delivery and health promotion programs around the world.

Where Women Have No Doctor
An essential resource for any woman or health worker who wants to improve her health and the health of her community, and for anyone to learn about problems that affect women differently from men. Topics include reproductive health, concerns of girls and older women, violence, mental health, and more.

A Community Guide to Environmental Health
This guide contains information, activities, stories, and instructions for simple technologies that help health promoters, environmental activists, and community leaders take charge of their environmental health.

Sanitation and Cleanliness
This chapter from A Community Guide to Environmental Health, available as a 48-page booklet, offers basic information on toilet building as well as learning activities to help communities understand and prevent sanitation-related health problems.

Water for Life
This chapter from A Community Guide to Environmental Health, available as a 48-page booklet, helps communities improve drinking water sources, treat water to make it safe for drinking, and organize water projects to protect access to clean water.

A Book for Midwives
A vital resource for practicing midwives and midwifery training programs around the world, this book covers the essentials of care before, during, and after birth. It has been updated to reflect new WHO/UNICEF guidelines and standards for mothers and newborns.

Where There Is No Dentist
This basic dental manual uses straightforward language and step-by-step instructions to discuss preventive care of teeth and gums, diagnosing and treating common dental problems, and includes a special chapter on oral health and HIV.

Helping Health Workers Learn
An indispensable resource for health educators, this book shows – with hundreds of methods, aids and learning strategies – how to make health education engaging and effective, and how to encourage community involvement through participatory education.

Disabled Village Children
This manual contains a wealth of clear and detailed information along with easy-to-implement strategies for all who are concerned about the well being of children with disabilities, especially those living in communities with limited resources.

A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities
Developed with the participation of women with disabilities in 42 countries, this guide helps women to overcome the barriers of social stigma and inadequate care to improve their general health, self-esteem, and independence as active members of their communities.

Helping Children Who Are Deaf
This groundbreaking book, packed with activities on how to foster language learning through both sign and oral approaches, supports parents and other caregivers in building the communication skills of babies and young children.

Helping Children Who Are Blind
The simple and engaging activities in this book can help parents, caregivers, teachers, health workers, rehabilitation workers, and others help a child with vision problems develop all of his or her capabilities.