January 17, 2017
Thousands of people are preparing to protest the inauguration around the country on Friday, or planning to participate in one of the many women’s marches that take place nationwide on Saturday. And for many of you, it will be your first time to take action.
Welcome! Taking the streets for justice can be exhilarating, and a well-directed protest can help change the world. At the same time, marching is hard work, and the potential for police violence is worse than ever. That shouldn’t scare you away — but you should take steps to be prepared.
If you can, you should form an “affinity group” with a few of your friends or close allies. An affinity group is a small team that agrees to work together and watch each other’s backs. Before you protest, get together with your new crew, maybe over dinner, to decide your goals and boundaries for the protest. Make sure you know what you hope to accomplish together, and plan in advance how you’ll communicate and make decisions during a potentially chaotic event. Once you’re at the protest, stay together and respect each other’s decisions, including about when it’s time to leave.
Whether you protest as a group or alone, it’s vital that you know your rights and how to stand up for them. The ACLU has a great guide to knowing your rights at a protest, and what to do if your rights are violated. Be sure to also review the ACLU’s guide to what to do if you’re stopped by the cops, and to assert your right to remain silent.
Remember that the police are not your friends. Don’t talk to them or offer them information about your plans. The police will have undercover agents in the protest. Don’t let anyone talk you into taking actions you’re uncomfortable taking. If someone is trying to convince you to commit property damage or acts of violence, they are most likely a cop or even a right-wing provocateur trying to spark a riot. Once the police are able to get someone to commit violence or vandalism, they can then safely arrest everyone without further justification. So it’s often very useful to the police to get protesters to act violently.
Keep in mind that police behavior can vary a lot from moment to moment and location to location. For example, in some cities, it’s normal for large groups of people to march without a permit, while in others the cops will arrest you the second your foot steps off the sidewalk. Pay attention to the vibe of the crowd around you, and trust your instincts about when it’s time to get somewhere safer.
It can help to make a few preparations in case a protest becomes a police riot. Those bandannas that activists like to wear on their faces aren’t just about revolutionary fashion: they can help to protect your identity from police cameras, and, if you soak them in vinegar, offer a small amount of protection against tear gas.
If police break out pepper spray, the best treatment is a mixture of Liquid Antacid and Water (a.k.a. LAW), mixed 50/50. You can prepare ahead of time by bringing half a bottle of water, then pouring in liquid antacid to fill the rest. Apply the mixture to flush the eyes, or rinse the skin where it’s been hit with pepper spray. If you don’t have LAW, milk or even just water will work in a pinch (though it will sting more).
Speaking of drinking water, be sure to stay hydrated, bring snacks and dress for any weather conditions that could arise. In the U.S. right now, that mostly means being prepared for the cold and wet, depending on where you’re marching.
Remember that protesting is a vital part of American democracy, but marching on Friday or Saturday alone won’t be enough to turn back Trump or the corporatocracy as a whole. Use these marches as an opportunity to connect with other activists involved with the causes that you’re passionate about. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and we’ve got a lot of work to do.