Headed To A Protest? Here Are A Few Things To Know
A community resource roundup for protestors who want to sensibly raise some hell
(Abigail Altieri/Rowdy Magazine Designer)
We didn’t think we’d ever have to research advice for how to treat a rubber bullet to the eye, but welcome to 2020.
As protests against police brutality and systemic racism continue nationwide, law enforcement officers have resorted to crowd-control tactics that can only be classified as domestic terrorism. It seems that instead of preparing for the worst, protestors should anticipate the worst.
When they strike, the police want protestors to be confused and easily scattered. Do not oblige them.
To make things easier to find than scrolling through your Twitter likes, we’ve compiled some tips and resources for people attending protests. Here’s how to be useful to your fellow protestors when situations turn violent and spot the tactics of outside agitators.
Please note: This is not a comprehensive guide for protestors, it is simply a compilation of resources and tips offered by the online activist community that we have put together for ease of access. Follow your local grassroots activists for updates as the nature of these protests continues to evolve and new resistance tactics are needed.
1. KNOW WHAT TO WEAR AND WHAT TO BRING.
You’ve probably seen suggestions to cover your face, wear nondescript clothing and cover all tattoos and identifying characteristics. Another pro-tip: Wear sturdy, comfortable shoes so you can leave an area if the situation begins to escalate and bring a change of clothes since tear gas lingers on clothing. For my four-eyed friends, ditch the contacts. Tear gas can cause contacts to melt on the cornea, rendering you blind. If you really need 20/20 vision, consider wearing properly-fitted goggles. Those swim lessons you took in grade school will prove useful if you have an old pair of goggles lying around.
And, of course, since we are still amid a global pandemic, please wear a mask. For bonus identity and skin protection points, you can also make a balaclava mask out of a T-shirt.
Bring the necessities:
first aid supplies
water for drinking and flushing tear-gassed eyes
But also consider bringing an umbrella to use as a shield against pepper spray.
If you are a builder, cosplayer or otherwise handy, now is the time to apply your skills to create lightweight, sturdy shields to use during the protest!
You can also bring traffic cones to enact the “chimney technique”, pioneered last year by protestors in Hong Kong, if necessary. Locate the canister, place the traffic cone over it to create a “chimney” of gas, then pour water over the top of the cone to put out the canister.
2. KNOW WHAT TO DO IF SOMEONE GETS HIT
While crowd-control weapons like rubber bullets are said to be “nonlethal” by police, these methods can be deadly or debilitating, something many protestors are now learning through experience. Members of the professional health community raised concerns about the legitimacy of kinetic impact projectiles back in 2017 and called for the establishment of international guidelines to prevent unnecessary injuries at the hands of these weapons. But hey, when have government agencies ever listened to health experts?
Regardless, police are firing rubber bullets at protestors like it’s their job (because it is). If you or someone else happens to get hit, be sure to clean the wound with soap and water or, if you have it, rubbing alcohol or Betadine. Then, apply an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin and wrap the wound with gauze. If the injury is serious and the person is losing blood, get to an emergency room as soon as possible.
If you or someone else gets hit in the eye with a rubber bullet and the bullet remains lodged in the eye, do not take it out. Then, be sure to cover both eyes by gently taping something like paper cups over them. It is important to cover both eyes because human eyes work together, so if one eye is darting back and forth, the other is, too. Moving the injured eye will cause more damage, so cover both eyes to make sure that they stay still until you can get to the emergency room.
Of course, if a trained medic is on-site offering to help someone who is injured, allow them to do their work. But, as we’ve seen at recent protests, police are raiding medic tents and destroying medical supplies, forcing medics and patients to flee. This means that you might be in a situation where you have to care for someone until you can get them to a professional. If you want a more comprehensive look into being a street medic, consider reading Håkan Geijer’s public domain book “Riot Medicine."
3. DOCUMENT, BUT CAREFULLY.
Videos of police officers murdering black people are finally waking up portions of the nation who were blind to the vile actions of law enforcement before now. Documentation is crucial, no doubt, but if you choose to whip out your phone camera or DSLR, be conscious of how you do it.
Don’t get in the way of other protestors, and don’t trade helping someone for getting a video of their assault, if you’re able to step in. Don’t post or publish photos of protestors’ faces or defining characteristics. Some sources say to run these photos through face-blurring apps, but it’s best to leave faces out altogether. We all joke about the FBI agent living in our phones, but digital government surveillance is real and evolving to quash the efforts of resistors. Don’t risk exposing fellow protestors.
In fact, you should take steps to make sure your phone can’t be tracked at a protest and afterward if you choose to bring it. Turn off Face/Touch ID and set a password, set it on airplane mode, disable data and turn it off, if possible. If you need to send messages on the ground, use encrypted messaging apps like Signal. To be extra certain your phone can’t be tracked, consider making your own Faraday pouch that blocks all radio signals received or sent by your phone.
On the other hand, videos of cops inciting violence and framing protestors in broad daylight also lend legitimacy to the movement. Videos of law enforcement officers destroying peaceful protestors’ milk and water supplies and encouraging people to vandalize buildings have all surfaced in the last week. If you see any of this behavior from a safe vantage point, keep it rolling.
WIRED has posted a more comprehensive guide on responsible protest photography that you can check out for extra details.
Just please, do not post protestors’ faces. And if you’re showing up to protest just to show your Instagram followers that you’re out there being w o k e, don’t bother going.
4. BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS. TAKE NOTE IF SOMETHING SEEMS OFF.
As stated above, law enforcement and white supremacists will go to great lengths to catch protestors slipping.
If you see a mysterious pallet of bricks where there wasn’t one yesterday, ask yourself why and how it might have gotten there. If you see an individual separate from the group of protestors destroying a storefront, ask yourself whose interests they serve. This movement isn’t about you, but outside agitators are at work to appeal to your inner desire to make it about you.
Locate the protest organizers. Follow their lead.
5. BEWARE OF POLICE PROPAGANDA
Like this video shows, law enforcement officers are using pacification tactics to draw in protestors so they can pelt them with tear gas and rubber bullets. If you see police officers take a knee, it could be a front to draw the protesting party toward them under the guise of peace-brokering. Be cautious. If you are white, be ready to use your body as a shield.
And speaking of white protestors, here are some extra special tips for white allies at protests since it seems like some of us don’t know how to act right:
6. BE CONSCIOUS OF YOUR LANGUAGE DURING THE PROTEST.
While you are showing up to support a movement, you are not leading it. You certainly do not share the lived experiences of black protestors. Refrain from participating in chants that don’t apply to you, like “I can’t breathe” or “Whose streets? Our streets!” Similarly, don’t put these words on signs to carry while marching. When in doubt, the name of the movement is always a good message to put on a sign.
7. FOLLOW THE LEAD OF BLACK ORGANIZERS. DON’T BE A JAKE PAUL.
Before you show up, know who the protest organizers are, and see if they’ve shared any tips or updates on their social media. When you arrive, locate them and be sure to follow their lead no matter what happens.
This is not an opportunity to loot businesses, destroy police cruisers or pose for a photo op to fulfill your Doc Martens-clad anarcho-punk fantasies.
Blame for the damage you cause will fall on black people and ultimately hurt the movement. Follow the actions of the organizers. And if they ask for white people to get to the front (and you’re able), get to the front. If you want to put your privilege to work, get between cops and black protestors. Use your body as a meat shield.
Rowdy will be providing content on other ways to resist later this week, but for anyone reading this who cannot protest for any reason: do not despair.
Protest is not the only way to demand justice. Donate, sign petitions, cook meals, make signs, share posts, gather intel, gather supplies, house protestors, educate, listen, learn. Just don’t stay silent.
More on this later. Stay safe out there. Black Lives Matter.
(Editor’s note: ACAB.)
Peyton Whittington is a Contributing Writer for Rowdy Magazine. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on this post and a really good crusty bread recipe.