What are some tips to peacefully protest but do so safely?
Tips for protesting, by Annisya from the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).
Q: What are some tips to peacefully protest but do so safely?
A: If you are planning on exercising your right to protest, especially during this pandemic, you should know how you can protect yourself and others around you. These tips apply to most protests, but specific information regarding Black Lives Matter are included here as police across the country at BLM solidarity protests have been known to act with unnecessary force including targeting journalists and spraying peaceful protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets. Be careful out there, and stay safe!
BEFORE YOU GO
1. Educate Yourself
Don’t show up to a protest and expect someone there to educate you. If you are a non-black ally, do your homework and make sure you know not only about the actions you're protesting but the context around them.
2. Know Your Rights
Knowing your rights can help you make important decisions during a protest like in the event you encounter a violent police officer, you or a friend is detained, you are not sure whether it is okay to take pictures or videos, or you find yourself in a situation where you believe your rights have been violated. The ACLU provides valuable information regarding your rights as a protester.
3. Plan Ahead
If you can avoid it, don’t go to a protest alone. Stay with a group or buddy where you can look out for one another at all times.
Designate a meeting point in case you get separated
Have at least one emergency contact know your plan and arrange to keep them posted on your status during and after the event. Consider specifics like:
What will your route be?
What time do you plan on getting back?
Where will you meet in case of an emergency?
4. Pack These Necessities
The following items are recommended by Amnesty International:
Water, water, water and more water. This will keep you hydrated and a bottle with a squirt top will allow you to wash off your skin or eyes, if needed
A cloth mask or a surgical mask to protect others from COVID-19
Snacks – preferably protein or energy snacks
Identification and/or emergency contact information only if you want to be cited out of jail in the event of arrest
Just enough money for food and transportation
Phone. Pencil or paper for accurate documentation of events, police brutality, injuries
Water- or alcohol-based sunscreen (*wearing anything oil-based, including makeup, can make it harder to wash away any chemical irritants that come into contact with your face*)
Inhaler, epipen, insulin or other meds if applicable
Menstrual pads, if needed. (*Avoid using tampons – if you’re arrested you may not have a chance to change it*)
Wet Wipes and tissues
Basic First Aid Kit
Fully charged cell phone and power bank if possible.
DURING THE PROTEST
1. Protect Yourself and Others from COVID-19
COVID-19 calls for extra caution throughout your protest. Although there is no risk free way to attend an in-person protest during this pandemic, wearing a mask to cover your nose and mouth and doing your best to keep your distance from fellow protesters can significantly help your chances of getting yourself and others infected.
If you are high-risk or live with someone who is high-risk, you may want to look into other avenues to help support your cause. At the bottom of this post you can will find a link to other ways you can make a difference.
2. Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Avoid unattended bags, backpacks, boxes or other packages
Note the location of the quickest exit points, should you need to leave quickly.
Monitor if the police are putting gas masks or protective gear on - this is often an indicator that a chemical agent will be dispersed or they are about to take action. If able, try to move away or get upwind.
3. Know how to protect yourself in the event...
You experience tear gas or pepper spray:
Try to stay calm. Panicking increases the irritation.
Follow airplane rules - help yourself before you try to help others
Blow your nose, rinse your mouth, cough and spit. Try not to swallow.
If possible, don’t wear contact lenses, which can trap irritating chemicals underneath. If you wear contacts, remove them or get someone with clean uncontaminated fingers to remove them and dispose immediately after exposure.
Street medics often use LAW solution, a mixture of 50 percent unflavored liquid antacid and 50 percent water. If you do not have access to this, flush your eyes out as best you can with water. Blinking rapidly can help increase tear production and help flush out your eyes as well.
After addressing immediate medical concerns, start walking around with your arms outstretched, removing contaminated clothing, and take a cool shower.
If an explosion occurs:
Try to quickly exit through the safest and fastest route.
Go to the pre-designated rally point and account for your group.
Assume that a “secondary” device may have been planted nearby – Be alert, move quickly, deliberately, and safely
If You Encounter a Violent Police Officer
Know that you are not obligated to have a conversation with them. In most cases, you’ll only need to give your name and address if they ask for it. This is why it's important to study the laws for your specific location before the protest.
Stay calm, keep your hands where officers can see them
Consider filming the interaction as unobtrusively as possible as a safeguard. You might even want to plan with the members of your group to arrange that those not involved in a police encounter are ready to film it as a bystander.
Try to write down or remember the officer's badge number and any defining characteristics if the badge number isn't visible.
4. Remember that you are Powerful
Amnesty International urges you to remember that “You can easily withstand most of what the police throw at you, and you are fighting for justice. The primary weapon of the police is fear: Once you control that, pepper spray and other police tactics are easily manageable. Beware of rumors: They are usually false, and foster fear. Deal with the known truth.”
After the Protest
If you were inspired to take action, don’t just go home and consider it done. Follow up with the organizers of your protest to ask how you can do more if you are interested.
Can’t Protest? Here’s a List of Things You Can Do Instead
ACLU Protesters Rights / Video
ACLU Community Resources in Texas
List of Bail Funds You Can Donate To By State
Amnesty International Safety During Protest Infographic
You can find UT SWE on social media here!
YouTube: SWE UT Austin
UT SWE creates an inclusive and diverse community and provides resources and opportunities for members to succeed in their collegiate and professional careers. We strive to create an enjoyable and memorable experience which encourages members to give back to their community and inspire future generations of engineers.
This blog post was written for SWE by Annisya Sabrina, a sophomore studying chemical engineering. Annisya is one of SWE's publicity chairs.