Preparing to Engage in Mass Civil Disobedience

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

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Creator: Karl Mondon | Credit and Copyright: Bay Area News Group

Why Prepare?

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.

I. Pandemic specific precautions

Let’s get this out of the way.

A. Hygiene in large crowds outdoors

  1. Mask or face covering for mouth and nose, fitted snug
  2. 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.
  3. Do not touch your own face
  4. Avoid physical contact with others
  5. Do not share food/drinks
  6. Bring extra masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer for others.

B. Protecting your bubble when you return.

(Look at CDC guidelines for more.)

  1. Use chemical sanitizers if that is your thing, but keep in mind that hygiene is much more effective than sanitation
  2. Wash hands and face with soap as soon as you can.
  3. 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.
  4. If you develop symptoms, isolate for 10 days after symptoms start and for 3 days after you recover.
  5. 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.

  1. 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:

  1. What are the issues
  2. Who are the organizers
  3. What are their goals and values, and whether you agree with them
  4. What is the end goal of the specific action
  5. Why you are going and your role
  6. What are your civil rights
  7. And that your rights to privacy may not be respected

National Lawyers Guild

San Francisco Bay Area chapter, activist support

  • What they don’t: provide bail funds, your representative has to show up with these.
  • friends or family to inform and stay informed in case of your arrest
  • witnesses to police incidents
  • Informing them when released from arrest

B. Plan ahead of time:

  1. 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:
  • 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
  • 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

C. Prepare for the protest:

  1. Connect with your pod or partner (on Signal)
  2. Decide how you will get there and where you will meet
  3. 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!
  4. Eat and drink
  5. Wear your medical tag
  6. 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.
  7. Charge your phone (hey, it happens!), charge your power pack.

8. Clothing:

Cops are picking on people they recognize. So,

  • 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.

9. Avoid:

  • 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!
  • Snacks!
  • 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

D. During the action

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Walk at the pace of the march, do not crowd people in front.
  5. 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.
  6. Drink water!
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Use Signal or other secure app for communication
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Watch for obstacles — trash, rental scooters/bikes, barriers, uneven pavement, fallen signs, garbage cans …
  13. 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

E. In case of

i) Police violence /interaction

DO NOT TALK TO THE COPS. The only things you should say are:

  • “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.

ii) Arrest

If you are arrested, contact your outside support person and tell them when and where 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.

iii) Injury

If it is anything beyond what you can treat by flushing with plain water, drying, applying an antibiotic and bandaging, call a street medic.

  • 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
  • Burns
  • 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.

F. After the Action

(Not really a safety issue.)

  1. Shower in cold water if your skin has been exposed to gas at all.
  2. 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.

H. Resources

Adapted from and complemented with information from the following resources:

Resources for common injuries at civil disobedience street actions Mix of stuff you can do on the spot, preventive actions, home care and go to a medic, from boo-boos to broken bones.


Thank you to QUICC -an Oakland based street medic group- for adding invaluable “on the ground” perspective.

I stop to miau to cats.

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