The world is a dumpster fire. At least, it can certainly feel that way, as news of the latest injustices come in every day. With immigrant rights under constant attack and a growing climate crisis, it’s tempting to feel hopeless. Attending protests is one way you can channel your despair into action and maybe even scrounge up some hope along the way.
Before you make your sign and hit the streets, don’t forget the most important DIY: a protest kit to keep yourself and your comrades safe. Doing it yourself doesn’t mean doing it alone. In fact, protests are proof of the power of collective action and DIY. Even if you’re not doing anything illegal and the protest is nonviolent, always hope for the best but plan for the worst. Here are five items you should always bring:
Hydration is important, especially if you’re attending a long march. Some organizers recommend using clear plastic bottles so law enforcement can’t interpret your water bottle as a weapon. (Your big, heavy stainless steel water bottle might be good for the earth, but it’s also great for whacking people.) And remember, water does not flush out pepper spray so don’t rely on it for relief purposes.
On the long list of worst-case-scenarios to be prepared for (are you sensing a theme here?) facing the dissemination of tear gas and pepper spray are top priorities. Pack shatter-resistant goggles to protect your eyes from a potential attack. In the spirit of solidarity, bring a few extra pairs to offer to other protesters. Related pro-tip: don’t wear contact lenses to a protest; they trap the contaminants from tear gas and pepper spray in your eyes.
Having a form of identification with you is optional in some states, but it can speed up your release if you do get arrested or detained.
The police cannot require you to identify yourself or detain you unless they have a reasonable suspicion that you are involved in illegal activity. An easy way to find out if they have a reasonable suspicion is to ask the officer “Are you detaining me, or am I free to go?” If they do not have a reasonable suspicion, then their only legal option is to say that you’re free to go.
However, we live in a Hellscape™ and not all police officers follow the law, so if they still compel you to produce your ID, it’s up to you to decide to produce it or to inform them that you want to talk to a lawyer first. If you’re undocumented, the ACLU has a list about specific rights you have when asked questions about citizenship and identification.
4. Phone Number for Legal Help
Unless you’ve studied the law, your legal protection is not something you want to DIY — but you can prepare yourself for a potential arrest or detainment.You have the right to talk to a lawyer before you decide to answer questions from law enforcement, but the government doesn’t have to provide you one for free unless you’re charged with a crime. Detention does not involve being charged with a crime, but an arrest does. Write the phone number of a legal defense organization on your arm so you will have it even if your belongings are lost or confiscated. The National Lawyers Guild can help connect you to free or inexpensive legal counsel. They have also published a helpful know-your-rights manual, which you can use to brush up on your legal know-how.
5. A Buddy
I know, I know — this isn’t something you just toss into your fanny pack, but protesting with a buddy is a key safety tip. Never go to a protest alone, and especially do not walk to or from the action without support. Your buddy can be a close friend or someone you meet through the organizers of the action. Pick a buddy that you trust before attending the action and inform each other of your names, ages, and accessibility needs. Plan an exit route before you attend. You should also write the number of an emergency contact down. This is a trusted friend or family member who knows you will be at the protest but is not attending themselves. Inform your emergency contact of their potential responsibilities, such as contacting a lawyer for you or updating your social media.When it comes to fighting for change, it’s not just safer to work together — it’s an embodiment of the revolutionary spirit of solidarity.
Our current political moment is rife with cruelties and tragedies, but it’s also filled with activists mobilizing for change. The Resistance Calendar is a great resource to find local actions to get involved with; just put in your zip code and search. Get your toolkit together, and get out there. Your elected representatives aren't going to do it. It’s time to do it yourself.