rotesting activates your first amendment right and patriotism to check and balance institutional power. This language of the people often manifests in many different ways--gatherings of people, sit-ins, moments of silence, demonstrations, and artistic expression. Protests demonstrate collective support and political action. Therefore, the best way to ensure that is by making sure your actions keep others at a protest safe. With people kneeling in the streets with signs, medical professionals joining for a moment of silence, and art being taken to the streets, the call of people has gone out for the responsive change. In the protests that you may be attending, there are important safety guidelines to abide by so that you keep yourself and others safe. Know upfront that the protest you attend may turn into something you may not have bargained for and we will provide these things to help you prepare for any scenario and delineate what you should bring to a protest:

  • Safety Precautions to Protect You and Your Entourage
  • Numbers to Have in Your Back Pocket
  • Ensure Your Voice is Heard by Maintaining Anonymity
David Hammons artwork that depicts an x-ray-like negative image of a person wrapped in the American flag
Ensure the safety of your body while upholding your American right. Image courtesy of Hammer Museum.

Physical Preservation While Protesting

Important Health and Safety Tips

There is a beautiful act of demanding that your voice and that the voice of your community is heard. In the delicate negotiation of using your voice and using your body as a representation of the larger collective, it is important that you are taking measures to stay safe. Before going to a protest there are essential steps that you should take, such as looking up your rights as a protestor from the ACLU and pack things that you will need. 

Protesting during COVID brings a new host of concerns for activists. While many push for the sentiment that Black Lives Matter, do not undercut these rallying cries by spreading the virus to the very lives that you are trying to protect. Make sure that you wear a mask at all times, if you are sick stay at home because you could undermine the protest that you try to attend, socially distance if possible, leave vulnerable populations at home rather than on the frontlines, use your signage and body language as a message rather than chanting if possible, and look up your state’s COVID policies. It is possible to advocate for social justice and be safe at the same time, but a large group of people creates a risk for protestors.

At this confusing time, look to the experienced protestors for advice on the things you should bring and what you should prepare for. A protesting veteran, who has gone to March for Our Lives, the Women’s March, and Black Lives Matter protests, says, to keep a backpack of things for your protest needs. Here is a list of what to include and why:

  • a first aid kit (equipt with bandaids, antibiotic ointment, gauze, medical tape, and squeeze-activated ice packs)
  • granola bars
  • Sunscreen
  •  water bottles (plastic to give away water bottles to others because sharing is caring)
  • Although I love reusable bottles, single use plastic water bottles are the way to go for protests. 
  • If you suspect tear gas or pepper spray might be used, bring goggles or other protective gear
  • Proper walking shoes
  • Weather resistant attire
  • Eat before the protest
  • Use the buddy system at all times to ensure your safety

She admits that protests are unpredictable and emotionally-charged, so oftentimes logical thinking goes out the window. However, what she does and encourages others to do at this time is to plan ahead to use wisdom to take care of your body and be willing to be a helping hand to others.

There is strength in numbers. According to the same protestor, there are many non-material ways to stay safe and to elevate the voices and protect marginalized people. For instance, “If, like me, you're white, make sure to be aware of any outsiders like police/counter protestors/white supremacists who might be dangerous, and if it comes to this, put your body between those who pose a danger and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) protestors.” It is important to use privilege as a barrier to protect others in instances where people may cause harm to others. The largest part of a protest is not in showing up and screaming, but showing up for others around you and show the support of the collective for a cause.

In the event that you are sprayed with teargas, pepper spray, or hit with rubber bullets there are some measures of safety that you can take. With teargas, there is no way to manage the chemical exposure other than decreasing the symptoms of eye and skin irritation that it may cause. According to Healthline, teargas is a mist of various chemicals and there are a variety of ways to respond to teargas, such as to move away from the teargas to get fresh air, remove contaminated clothing, flush your eyes with water, covering your eyes and airways by wearing protective goggles and scarves. Finally, alert your doctor of exposure to teargas and seek medical attention if symptoms persist. Pepper spray should be rinsed with water out of the eyes. 

If hit by a rubber bullet, which hurts more than you think it would (some compare it to being hit by a fast flying golf ball), make sure to identify the location of the hit, if it is a bruise ice it and seek medical or EMT services onsite to treat, but if it hits in a vital areas like the head, neck, or chest seek medical attention immediately because it may cause broken bones or internal bleeding.

Emory Douglas' artistic depiction of the two track athletes protesting by holding up their fists at the 1968 olympics.

Remember the poignancy of the protest in the past while operating in the future. The past will remind you that shared resources, collective action, and safety measures have kept movements alive. Image courtesy of ABC.

Resources to Have During Protests

Phone Numbers to Have in Your Back Pocket

When in a bind, who will you call? Have a list of numbers in your back pocket to reach out to in the event of violence and civil unrest, as well as arrests. Make sure before you go to protest that you have a list of friends or acquaintances that live in the area that have available shelter, food and water, and medical supplies and products. In addition to having contacts in the area make sure that you have the number to lawyers and family members that will bail you out of jail if you need to. Along with personal numbers, these are the numbers you should have available:

  • 911 for medical services or local EMS numbers
  • Poison Control for symptoms of teargas and other chemicals 1-800-222-1222
  • Create an Emergency contact on your phone that is accessible with the emergency contacts that people should call in the event of an emergency (i.e. you parent, spouse, etc.)
Comic-like depiction of a young man holding newspapers that say "all power to the people" and "the Black Panther."
When engaging with media and navigating social media, remember to elevate your message while keeping others safe. The best thing to bring power to the people is by pushing a platform rather than giving up someone’s identity. So let’s keep it anonymous and change the system! Image courtesy of Penumbra Theatre.

Aliases and Other Things You Need to Know

Ensure Your Voice is Heard While Staying Safe

When elevating people’s voices, it may seem helpful to share on social media or treat protesting as an Instagramable moment. However, it is not safe to do that. Make sure that you do not share names and personal information of individuals. Sharing this information can put marginalized people in even greater danger and can put non-marginalized groups in positions to be fired, ostracized, and arrested. Therefore, it is important to not film and take pictures of protestors without their consent. Instead there are other options: promote an organization that they are a part of, censor their identity in pictures, or just take a picture of their signage. When talking about others or yourself, use fake names and general identifying statements.

Boarded up storefront with art of George Floyd on the wood.
What makes all the preparation and risk worth it is by creating the change you wish to see in the world and watching it manifest. Image courtesy of Art News.

Fight the Power: Let Preparation Make Great Opportunities

Revel in the Joy of Enacting Change

Now that you have done all that you can do to prepare and stand with others, stand proud and use your voice to make change. Remember to step in the shoes of others to ensure safety at all times. Thank you for your service and diligence to this country by protesting and challenging institutional policies. We salute you! Make sure to take care of your physical, mental, and emotional being during this hard time.

Image courtesy of Smart Museum of Art.