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.