“Protest is inherently a dangerous activity, and it is getting more and more dangerous. So my advice to people protesting is to spend a lot of time doing very active and intentional planning around safety and contingency plans …” — Emily Gorcenski
Table of Malcontents
Pandemic specific precautions — Hygiene in Outdoor Crowds, Protecting Your Bubble, Protests and Pandemics
Mass Civil Disobedience
Know before you go
National Lawyers Guild
Plan ahead of time (1–2 days before)
Prepare for the protest (hours before)
During the protest
In case of …
i) Police violence /interaction
After the Action
Other ways of supporting
Law enforcement in the US has a long and sordid history of racism and violence, both of which have their roots in the protection of slavery as an institution during Reconstruction. While the wanton killing of Black and Indigeneous people of color by police (and civilians) has been going on for centuries — without a noticeable break even during the “Obama years” — descriptions on social media and gruesome footage of the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd early this year have led to greater awareness in the general non-BIPoC populace of The Movement For Black Lives. Starting in June 2020, there have been ongoing acts of civil disobedience in the streets under banners related to “Black Lives Matter” and “Defund The Police”, outside of just the local affected communities. These public calls for change have taken place across the nation, in cities and townships of different sizes and have been joined by people of all races.
Many participants are new to civil disobedience actions or have experience only with “peaceful” protest marches sanctioned by the authorities — like the Women’s Marches and the March for Science at which participants were thanking the police for “keeping us safe”. The Occupy civil disobedience actions from 9 years ago, NoDAPL in 2016, Flint MI, numerous other BIPOC led protests and the recent BLM protests have been different. The last are about very specific issues: systemic racism expressing itself as a disregard for the lives of Black people, and state sanctioned violence in the form of extra-judicial killings by “law-enforcement”. As such, a specific call that has been made is to “Defund The Police” and to hold “law enforcement” officers accountable for their actions.
Why is the state/police response to Occupy or BLM different from the response to the Women’s marches? Because the authorities feel threatened.
During the less than 6 months of the Breonna Taylor/George Floyd motivated BLM protests around the country, there have already been some deaths, 115 head injuries and a 1000+ hospitalizations at the hands of police. At best, for the first few days, in Oakland and SF for example, the police appeared to have had a “tolerant” approach, mostly staying a block away from the main body of the march, intervening only to prevent highway closures. In some cases, as a seeming response to the calls from some of the marchers to “join us”, some frontline cops even “took a knee”. It quickly became obvious that for them this was to look good for the press and really, just practise. Over just a few days, the police response quickly reverted to its usual mindless violence that leads to injuries and deaths of citizens exercising their constitutional right to free speech: smoke bombs, tear-gas (standard as well as battlefield grade military surplus gases), flash-bang grenades, baton attacks, bull-rushes, instigating fear through a combination of bright searchlights, garbled instructions on megaphones, phalanxes of cops encircling protestors into ever smaller areas, rubber bullets and other “less-lethal” or “humanitarian” weapons. In addition, like predators that hunt in packs, they will rush through the activists — singling out small groups and people who fall while trying to escape for detention and arrest — and use rapidly escalating violent means on those who fall into their hands. They’ve been targeting street medics as individuals (pointing them out to other cops) and targeting street medic vehicles — with prominently displayed red cross signage! — with tear gas and then destroying their supplies under detention.
All this is in addition to the 17 different ways they ordinarily have of taking your life — from choke holds through tasers to automatic weapons.
Another difference from pre-2016 is that in the last 4 years White supremacists and fascists have become emboldened in their violent actions by the explicit approval and shout-outs by political figures on the right and by a reluctance on the part of domestic law enforcement to prosecute right-wing terrorism. Far from attempting to infiltrate and disband known sources of right wing domestic terror, US law enforcement has become infested by them. So civil disobedience activists are under threat of harm not just from cops but also from armed and violent “counter-protestors”. It seems unbelievable in the Bay Area, but are Kenosha WI or Corbett OR that far away? Even a tiny shift of the center of the spectrum could lead to a large increase in odds at the long tail end.
Furthermore, “official” ambulances or paramedics are nowhere to be seen,
the state is prepared to inflict violence, but will not care for its own citizens.
If you are gassed or hit by a rubber bullet, do not expect any arm of the state to provide care.
There may exist laws meant to protect you and your rights, but cops are continuously violating the laws, which is why we are here, right? So do not assume that invoking your rights or the law is going to protect you.
Be aware that the risk of enduring physical injury or arrest is high. Please be prepared.
I. Pandemic specific precautions
Let’s get this out of the way.
A. Hygiene in large crowds outdoors
- Mask or face covering for mouth and nose, fitted snug
- Maintain 6’ hygienic distance from people not in your pandemic bubble. This is not always possible during a march, but remember that time spent within 6’ is the relevant metric and a non-immune compromised person has an exposure threshold so you’ll be reducing the chance of mutual infection by moving, and moving relative to other marchers.
- Do not touch your own face
- Avoid physical contact with others
- Do not share food/drinks
- Bring extra masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer for others.
Keep in mind that the build up of viral particle density is much lower in the outdoors and with movement of people, studies have looked for and not found increases in infection rates post-protests for BLM, because we are taking adequate precautions. We are fighting for the lives of BIPOC, who suffer mortality rates thrice (for Black people) and twice (for LatinX people) as large as the rates for White people, hence it is incumbent upon all of us to wear masks to protect the lives of others!
B. Protecting your bubble when you return.
(Look at CDC guidelines for more.)
- If people in your bubble are high risk (e.g. immuno-compromised), avoid exposing yourself at all. Find other ways of supporting social causes.
- Use chemical sanitizers if that is your thing, but keep in mind that hygiene is much more effective than sanitation
- Wash hands and face with soap as soon as you can.
- If you are attending frequently or are in high-contact roles, consider getting yourself tested on a regular cadence or 5 days after your last exposure. E.g. the street medic group QUICC has a bi-weekly testing requirement and covers the cost.
- If you develop symptoms, isolate for 10 days after symptoms start and for 3 days after you recover.
- consider self-quarantining for two weeks after your contribution to the movement is finished.
C. Protests and Pandemics:
The pandemic has had specific impacts on mass civil disobedience actions.
- It has become harder to organize, since so much of organization relied on face to face interactions, both for social reasons as well as precautions against state snooping.
- Successful protests have tended to be crowded events. Maintaining a hygienic distance from your comrades is hard and in addition to all the rest, one now has to pay attention to changes in density
II. Mass Civil Disobedience
A. Know before you go:
- What are the issues
- Who are the organizers
- What are their goals and values, and whether you agree with them
- What is the end goal of the specific action
- Why you are going and your role
- What are your civil rights
- And that your rights to privacy may not be respected
National Lawyers Guild
San Francisco Bay Area chapter, activist support
As a protest attendee, you needn’t contact them beforehand.
If you are planning on organizing a civil disobedience action, please DO read their “read me first” and contact them ahead of time.
There are two numbers!
- Jail Hotline: 415–285–1011 This is the number to call from jail
- What they do: Jail visit, jail release, initial court dates, meetings with court officials, criminal cases, pro- or low- bono.
- What they don’t: provide bail funds, your representative has to show up with these.
2. Public Hotline: 415–909–4654 (4NLG) for
- your Outside Support Person
- friends or family to inform and stay informed in case of your arrest
- witnesses to police incidents
- Informing them when released from arrest
If that number is unavailable, e-mail email@example.com
B. Plan ahead of time:
- Find a comrade/friend/family member as an outside support person (OSP) who will not be attending the protest and who will take follow-up actions:
- extract you if needed
- drive you to hospital in case of injury
- call the National Lawyers Guild (San Fransisco Bay Area chapter) 415–909–4654 415–909–4NLG in case of your arrest. If that number is unavailable, have them e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Share the following information with your OSP and what is expected of them, information to be passed on to the NLG or your lawyer:
- Your full legal name
- The gender binary you want to be processed as (Consider what binary you would be most comfortable with from the inside and how you will get treated — in CA transgender people will be housed according to their gender identity, per a new law.) This will help your OSP or lawyer to locate you.
- Your birthdate
- A short call-list (partner, a family or household member, friend … with contact info) your OSP will inform in case of your arrest or injury and what you would like them to know or do. Do: mostly, “Chill, let the NLG or lawyer handle an arrest. I’ll let you know as soon as I know where they are being treated for injuries.” Know: place of detention, who is taking care of bail, description and seriousness of injuries, who is caring for the injuries.
- Support you will need in case of arrest or serious injury (moving a parked car, paying bills, taking care of pets/kids, calling your work …). Please provide address, other household members’ names/ contact, means of entering your house, work contact …)
- Sources of financial help, say for bail, or transportation on release
- Your health insurance info
- Your medical conditions
- Dietary restrictions
3. Get a medical tag if you can (e.g. Type I Diabetes)
4. Download Signal or other secure app for communication
5. Find a protest partner or form a pod. (Some organizations have organized pods 30 minutes before the protest start time as part of their training.) Ideally the pod has someone who has been at similar protests before. Make a plan to get there, meet and disperse.
- Determine your risk level and your pod’s lowest common level of informed assumption of risk
Green — I’m here to hear people speak, to march and to be counted in support. I would like to leave if the police issue orders to disperse.
Yellow — I am willing to stay beyond orders to disperse in order to support my comrades who may be targeted and to bear witness to police behavior, but I will not confront armed authority nor participate in actions like de-arresting, creation of barricades etc. I do not wish to be in the frontlines myself nor to directly court arrest. I understand I may be tear-gassed or be a victim of “humanitarian” weapons and that there is a possibility of my being arrested regardless of my actions and their legality.
Red — I am willing to continue with the planned action in the face of police threats (explicit or implicit) and orders to disperse. I am willing to participate in actions such as de-arresting comrades, constructing barricades and occupying public spaces. I understand that my risk of injury due to direct violence from the cops — bullets, batons, tear gas canisters, stun grenades, bodily impact etc. — is high. I am willing to be arrested.
6. Familiarize yourself with the start, end and the route of the march
7. In general if you plan to attend any protest: Set your social media to private. Some people may choose to: untag themselves from pictures, remove where they work and live from apps., remove photos of their vulnerable community members. This is not always easy, you may want to escalate this as your involvement increases. We are in a police state, and civilian fascists who support and are supported by cops may use this information. Your decision to do this should reflect your level of involvement.
C. Prepare for the protest:
- Connect with your pod or partner (on Signal)
- Decide how you will get there and where you will meet
- On your arm, with a permanent marker, write the contact number for your outside support person and any medical conditions you may have. Also write the National Lawyers Guild SF legal hotline: 415–285–1011 This is the number to call from jail, different from the one your OSP will use!
- Eat and drink
- Wear your medical tag
- Disable Touch and FaceID on your phone. You should carry cash, write an important phone number on your arm and memorize it, study a map to familiarize yourself with the area of the protest, carry a camera if you want to record and post photos or videos. People who are planning to participate in a higher level of engagement typically use burner phones.
- Charge your phone (hey, it happens!), charge your power pack.
Cops are picking on people they recognize. So,
- Take your cues from organizers when deciding what to wear. Events during the day generally call for normal day clothes. Nighttime events or events that are yellow/red usually call for fitted, dark, non-descriptive clothing.
- If you are wearing dark nondescript clothing, bring at least a partial change of clothes for approaching and leaving the area of the event. This can include: a colored T-shirt, a casual jacket, a wraparound skirt, tennis shoes instead of boots …
- A face covering, to avoid identification.
- Cover your hair if it is dyed an unusual color, to minimize identifiability.
- Cover tattoos and other identifiable markings.
- Carry a change of clothes in a plastic bag or leave one in personal transportation. You may be exposed to tear gas which will stay in the fibers of your clothes.
- Closed toe shoes.
- Weather appropriate clothes. Be ready for temperatures to dip if the sun goes down. Full sleeves and legs to protect from the sun and pepper spray.
- Sealed goggles will help protect you from tear gas.
- Wear well-fitted clothes that are comfortable and easy to move in. You may have to move quickly.
- Contact lenses: They will absorb tear gas.
- Swimming goggles. They can easily cause serious eye injury.
- Makeup, sunscreen, mineral oil, vaseline, moisturizers: they can react chemically or absorb tear gas.
- Jewelry: It could become caught or cause further inflammation if you are injured.
- Wearing or carrying easily grabbable stuff, e.g. a backpack with large handles or a purse
- Displaying a red cross unless you are First Aid certified, trained in Street Medic specifics or working with a medic group. Cops have been targeting street medics and their supplies, often using the red crosses to identify and target them. If you have expertise to share or you want to learn, join a street medic group whose values you share, e.g. QUICC, look at others in the “Resources” section.
10. Do Bring:
- One form of ID, cash in at least two different places.
- A wet bandana (store it in a plastic bag, soaked in water or diluted lemon juice or vinegar) to wear over your nose and mouth if tear gas is used, or a PM100 mask (or better) if they are available and not causing scarcity for health care workers. Activists who are willing to expose themselves more, or street medic team members are investing in military grade gas masks (available at military surplus stores, ~ $70. Use caution when buying from surplus stores. Many masks are defective, despite what the shopkeeper says. Avoid masks from former Warsaw pact countries. NATO countries are best.)
- A spray bottle or squirt top water bottle for rinsing eyes: use only plain water!
- Water bottles (two qt.s per person)
- A 3-day supply of any allergy or prescription medication (inhaler, epipen, insulin …) in a protective pack, along with original packaging.
- A battery pack for your phone.
- water-based sunscreen and a hat
- Flashlight or headlamp
- A First Aid Kit that you are familiar with using
- Notebook, paper, pen and watch to document police activity
Before you head out, do a little bit of deep breathing or watch silly kitten videos. Things can get quite chaotic quite quickly, so it is best to be in a calm frame of mind.
D. During the action
- Everybody in the pod sticks together and leaves together unless it is safe to do so by unanimous agreement. Don’t protest alone. Set a location to meet if people are separated.
- Always be assessing your surroundings and have a person in your pod who is looking around — this person should not participate in any other activity like speaking into a bullhorn or photographing police activity. Know which direction to go in if you need to get out. Keep in mind where your transportation away from the event is.
- At the beginning of the action, look for the street medics and keep a general idea of their location relative to you. * If you have medical experience or supplies you want to offer, introduce yourself to the medics. This is important if you plan on providing aid.
- Walk at the pace of the march, do not crowd people in front.
- Do not run. Regardless of what is happening, running will lead to more injuries and will expose you to police snatching. Remind those around you to walk as well.
- Drink water!
- Be mindful of press interactions. We are here to support our communities whose members face ongoing targeted violence by cops. If somebody asks to interview, direct them to a core event organizer first. If you do speak to the press do not even identify yourself as a DSA member -let alone represent DSA- without press training.
- Civil disobedience actions in support of M4BL have been specifically convened to oppose police violence against people of color. Lighter-skinned members of DSA should follow the lead of the event organizers. If the cops threaten the activity, white or light-skinned comrades should step up to protect BIPOC. Don’t leave our Black and LatinX comrades exposed to police repression.
- Use Signal or other secure app for communication
- DO record arrests and acts of aggression from the police and counter protesters. This footage is proving critical in many court cases now. In this case, it is ok to film identifying footage.
- No protest porn: Do not record anything which enables police to identify people. Be prepared to have your camera blocked defensively by fellow-activists, they don’t know your good intentions and have good reason to distrust anyone given the long history and continuous infiltration of civil disobedience movements by right wing and other police collaborators. Understand why they are doing it, without getting confrontational.
- Watch for obstacles — trash, rental scooters/bikes, barriers, uneven pavement, fallen signs, garbage cans …
- If you see someone else being detained by the cops, document (write down where, when, name of person if you know them, any identifying badges on cops, injuries) or photograph. Then call NLGSF 415–909–4NLG = 415–909–4654 or e-mail email@example.com
E. In case of
i) Police violence /interaction
DO NOT TALK TO THE COPS. The only things you should say are:
- “Am I under arrest?” If you are not, they must let you go by law. But … they may just hold you indefinitely.
- “I am exercising my right to remain silent. I want to speak with a lawyer.” If you have a lawyer already, give that name, otherwise call the NLG SF Bay Area 415–909–4654 from outside jail. Your constitutional right to silence is only valid if invoked. Simply remaining silent is insufficient to bar using your silence against you. Invoke your rights but don’t say any other words. The NLG or a public defender will help you get out.
If you are arrested, contact your outside support person and tell them when and where you were arrested
- The OSP will call the NLGSF at 415–909–4NLG = 415–909–4654 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to let them know you were arrested.
- From JAIL, call NLGSF at 415–285–1011
- If you are Black/LatinX, trans or queer, let the NLG know so they can prioritize getting you out.
- Give other arrested people the hotline number from jail 415–285–1011.
If you are in temporary detention (not in jail) or have been released from custody, please call NLGSF at 415–909–4NLG = 415–909–4654 and inform them of your state of well-being, charges and court date. If the line is unavailable, e-mail email@example.com
If it is anything beyond what you can treat by flushing with plain water, drying, applying an antibiotic and bandaging, call a street medic.
Street Medics have First Aid/CPR training, some have 20+ hours of street specific medical training, a few are paramedic professionals volunteering their efforts. If you can do better than that, join them!
- If you’ve been exposed to any crowd control gas, do not rub your eyes. Move away from the area, close your eyes and ask for help “MEDIC!”. Stay calm, cough and spit, do not swallow, wash your mouth out, blow your nose (do NOT do nasal irrigation)
The injury may be to yourself, a pod member or another activist. If the injury is ambulatory, walk to a safer location or to a medic post and assess. If not, call loudly and calmly “MEDIC!”. If a comrade is injured, move them out of immediate danger (advancing police line, gas canisters) and call for a medic. Avoid moving them after that. Let the medics evaluate and decide how best to proceed. They will ask for explicit consent from you.
If a pod member is injured, do your best to follow the medics to where they take the person. You will become a critical point of support or transportation.
- Consider calling your OSP for an extraction
There may be different causes and types of injuries. It is impossible to prepare for or anticipate all of them. This is not the place to learn First Aid, to teach tourniquets and splints etc. or to try and wing-it. Here are some of the most common injuries per the experience in Oakland, Portland and LA of QUiCC Street Medics and participants who’ve written about the protests (Keep in mind that police tactics and usage varies in time and by place.):
- Pepper Spray
- Tear gas and other battlefield grade military surplus gases
- Bruises, Contusions, Broken bones from “Humanitarian Weapons”
- Scrapes and cuts with small amounts of bleeding from falls
- Head injury
- Trauma from vehicular injury
Here is what you can do about some of them in terms of untrained self-care, per the experience in Oakland, Portland and LA of QUiCC Street Medics:
- Pepper Spray and exposure to gases: Flush eyes with plain water, be prepared for pain for 20–30 minutes.
- Scrapes and cuts with skin damage or bleeding: flush with water (or your own spit), dry, apply antibiotic and a bandage.
- Bruises, contusions: ice for 3 days.
Dehydration, sunstroke, fatigue, cold, hunger etc are normal life issues not specific to civil disobedience.
F. After the Action
(Not really a safety issue.)
- If your clothing is exposed, do your best to remove and isolate it in a plastic bag before entering your vehicle or house. Wash it immediately, or store it outdoors until you can.
- Shower in cold water if your skin has been exposed to gas at all.
- MSM doesn’t tell the full story by far neither about the discipline of the civil disobedience action nor the ways in which police initiate violence and inflict harm. Many of our liberal friends are “Shocked! Shocked!” that this is happening in the US herenow. Share your experience on social media.
G. Other ways of supporting civil disobedience causes
No endorsement of any organizations is implied, it is your responsibility to investigate.
Join your local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America
Donate to a community fund
Donate to National Lawyers’ Guild SF
Donate to the Anti repression committee Bail fund
Donate to People’s Breakfast of Oakland
Donate to QUICC Queers United In Community Care, a street medic team
Offer to be the Outside Support Person for activists
Offer to drive people or provide extraction if necessary.
Lend bail until refunded
Sign up to pick up drop off from detention/jail
Donate to or join HERO tent which strives to build sustainable civil rights activism
Adapted from https://siliconvalleydsa.org/protest-safety/ and complemented with information from the following resources:
National Lawyers’ Guild SF Bay Area Chapter Activist support : Call 415–285–1011 only from jail, this is the number you should write on your body.
Anti repression committee bail fund
Amnesty International 1-page guide, with a more extensive list of rights and freedoms: of expression, of assembly, of medical attention without delay, from excessive use of force, from arbitrary arrest and detention … fat lot of good that’s done in reining in the cops, they just ignore this stuff, like in any half-decent fascist state.
UC Berkeley: One-pager on Protesting during a pandemic, focus is on hygiene in crowds. The extra bit not already represented above is hygienic bullhorn etiquette.
Seattle Central College Library guide on safety while rising up: They don’t shy away from criticizing the MSM or pointing out that Right wing groups are spreading misinformation. Read their other tabs, they have more resources.
Wired.com how to protest safely, starts with “long history of police brutality” (who wudda thought!) and only gets better, very comprehensive, including what to expect from National Guard, how to not make this about you (White and White-passing people), getting the right mindset …
Consumer Reports, leads with “People protesting police violence in the U.S. have faced tear gas, rubber bullets, batons …”. Adds “…these protests are ‘vital to the national public health and to the threatened health specifically of Black People in the United States,’ a group of infectious disease and public health experts wrote…”.
Very Well Mind: In addition to staying safe during a protest, it links to a list of alternative ways of supporting social justice causes.
DiabetesWise: specifically addresses what people with Diabetes need to keep in mind for protests.
NPR How to keep your household safe when you return and what to do if you’ve been infected: Worthwhile perusing, but keep in mind that the articles are outdated in terms of somewhat over-blowing the risk associated with outdoor civil disobedience, when there is people or air movement and participants are practising good hygienic distancing. You are a hundred times more likely to be infected at the nomination ceremony of a SCOTUS justice.
Resources for common injuries at civil disobedience street actions
Self.com Mix of stuff you can do on the spot, preventive actions, home care and go to a medic, from boo-boos to broken bones.
Urban75 goes way beyond what untrained people can do
Thank you to QUICC -an Oakland based street medic group- for adding invaluable “on the ground” perspective.