We have the privilege and the responsibility of being alive for one of the biggest civil rights movements in U.S. history. Here are 10 important things to know and do if you want to get out on the streets and march for antiracist change.
Hydrate the day before and day of, and bring a water bottle. Use the bathroom in your home before you arrive—you likely won’t have easy access to a restroom during the protest. Apply sunblock before you go.
It’s smart to bring a small backpack to carry essential items, such as your phone and a small first aid kit, but don’t load it down with unnecessary items. You’ll be carrying it all day, so you want any baggage to be as light as possible. Make sure your phone is fully charged, and bring an external charger if you can.
Wear comfortable shoes and lightweight clothing that won’t be easily identifiable so you can’t be easily doxxed in pictures or videos. Cover any tattoos, for the same reasons.
Make your own signs and bring them with you. If you want to go above and beyond, make extra signs for people who may have forgotten to bring their own!
2. Wear A Mask.
The Black community is at a higher risk of infection and death from COVID-19.* If Black lives truly matter to you, you’ll do everything you can to protect them. There’s no excuse. Wear the mask.
Please try to maintain social distancing at protests as well. If you think that your attendance at the protest could risk infection to a vulnerable person, please stay home. There are other ways to help the cause, like donating to bail funds, buying from Black businesses, and most importantly, voting in local, state, and national elections.
*This higher risk is due to higher comorbidity rates with other medical conditions (such as diabetes and hypertension) as a result of long-standing inequity in access to resources, systemic racism and unequal treatment in healthcare, and the stress caused by social inequity (CDC). Racism kills in more ways than one.
3. Use The Buddy System.
If you can, attend the protest with another person you know well. Carpool if possible, or arrange to meet them at a specific predetermined location. Due to the high volume of people in the same area, you may not be able to rely on cell or internet service. Make sure you and your buddy know ahead of time exactly where you will be meeting so you don’t lose each other.
Stick together the entire time. With a lot of people around, it’s good to have someone familiar in the crowd. Agree on a rendezvous point for if you get separated. Have a clear and defined plan for leaving the protest. Be aware of any changes the protest may cause for public transportation routes, and make sure you have enough money to get home. If you drive, take note of where you parked so you can find your car later.
While you’re there, take care of others around you. If you notice someone looking scared or overwhelmed, offer to let them walk with you and your buddy. Be considerate and neighborly to those around you.
4. Know Your Rights.
Know your rights. The ACLU has a very helpful guide to protestors’ rights, how to interact with the police, and what to do if you believe your rights have been violated. Know your state laws as well–protest laws vary from state to state. Find out what protest laws are in place in your state here.
Verbally repeat these rights to law enforcement if you or another protestor is being harassed by the police. Informing the police you know your rights will make it harder for them to intimidate you or someone else, and may even help de-escalate the situation. Know what constitutes police misconduct so you can identify it, record it, and report it. The ACLU even has a helpful app just for that!
You also need to know what laws you are expected to follow. Find out if your area has a curfew. Unless you are deliberately planning to violate that curfew as an act of civil disobedience, make plans to leave the protest well before the curfew time arrives.
Do not co-opt or take advantage of a protest by instigating violence, looting, or destroying private property. Do not harass or provoke law enforcement. These actions may endanger everyone at the protest.
5. Be Prepared For Every Eventuality.
Even peaceful protesters have been arrested. Even your demonstration is completely peaceful, you need to be prepared for the possibility, however slight, that you may be arrested or intimidated by the police.
Write your emergency contact number on your body in permanent marker. This will be the number of the person you call if you are arrested. Make sure this person knows you are going to protest and has a contingency plan (ie, calling your lawyer, bailing you out, etc.).
If you don’t have sufficient money to bail yourself out, chances are there is a bail fund for protestors in your area. Search online to find the information for one of these bail funds and give that information to your emergency contact ahead of time.
Do some research on the kind of questioning and intimidation tactics protesters have been faced with upon arrest so you know what to expect. The safest way to respond is to say you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately. Do not, under any circumstances, say or sign anything without a lawyer. This is all worst-case scenario, but it’s better to be safe and prepared than sorry.
6. Educate yourself ahead of time.
Unless you’re attending a teach-in, don’t show up expecting others to educate you upon your arrival. There’s no reason to ask someone else to do emotionally taxing unpaid labor when you could easily find plenty of resources online. Know what you’re fighting for—which racist policy is being protested at the demonstration you’re attending? What specific action and systemic change are you calling for?
For non-Black protesters, it’s important to know what chants, slogans, and symbols you can and cannot use. Raising the Black Power fist and chanting “I/we can’t breathe,” are examples of words and actions that belong exclusively to the Black community, and it would be inappropriate for allies to perform them. Don’t try to lead a chant. Your presence is enough. Hold your sign up high, walk alongside your Black brothers and sisters in solidarity, and raise your voice when the right time comes.
If you’re white, don’t make it about you. Your role at a protest is to amplify the voices of Black people. Make sure you’ve already done your own work–reading, watching relevant documentaries, and seriously re-evaluating your old ways of thinking. Follow the lead of the community organizers in charge of the protest, and be humble and open-minded.
7. Don’t Post Pictures.
In the age of Instagram, we all want to whip out our phones whenever something interesting happens in our lives. However, at a protest, pictures and videos can have real consequences for the people in them. Photos and videos can be used to identify and track down individual protesters, making protesters and community organizers vulnerable. Your lastest post isn’t worth putting someone else at risk.
Consider why you are taking your picture or video. Is it to document the protest and show the strength of numbers? Is it private, to serve as a reminder for yourself to carry the momentum forward? Or is it for a photo op to show how woke you are? If you’re not Black, your place at a Black Lives Matter protest is to amplify Black voices and stand in support of the Black community. Don’t use social media to turn the attention back on yourself. You’re fighting for something bigger than yourself.
If you do want to take pictures, for any reason, be sure to ask for permission before taking anyone else’s photo.
8. Leverage your privilege.
If the police begin advancing on Black protesters and you are white, this is the time when you intervene. Pull out your phone and begin recording the officer. Verbally tell the officers that they are behind recorded, and ask the officers why they are doing what they are doing.
If appropriate, use your physical body to put distance between the police and Black protesters—lock arms with other white protesters and form a human wall in front of the officers. the police will back down when confronted with the likelihood of harming white bodies instead of Black bodies.
If you’re white and you see another white person doing something that might endanger the protest (harassing or agitating the police, destroying property, looting, etc.), take it upon yourself to call them out and do what you can to stop them with the help of other white protestors around you. Take it upon yourself to educate and call in other white people at the protest if they are behaving or engaging in ignorant or inappropriate ways. We all need to help each other be better.
9. Neutralize Tear Gas Properly.
Again, even peaceful, lawful protests have been met with tear gas, so it’s important to know ahead of time what to do in the event that you are exposed to tear gas.
Wearing a mask will help keep the gas from getting into your lungs–yet another reason to wear it! Don’t wear makeup or contact lenses–the powder will cling to makeup and get trapped under contact lenses, damaging your eyes. The more skin you cover with clothing, the more protected you will be from the gas.
If you are exposed to tear gas, face the wind. This will blow excess tear gas powder off you and prevent any from blowing back in your face. Flush your face, eyes, and clothes with cold, clean, water. Be sure to use cold water; hot water will open up your pores and allow more powder in. (Milk will help if you are exposed to pepper spray, but not tear gas.)
10. Don’t let it end there.
Participating in a protest is a valuable action in keeping the momentum going for the Black Lives Matter movement, but if you aren’t willing to back it up with action once you go home, there’s no point in going at all.
Create antiracist change in your own life by reading antiracist books, listening to podcasts by Black creators, and diversifying your social media feed to include Black artists and influencers of all kinds. Try to change your purchasing habits–purchasing from Black-owned local businesses is one of the biggest ways you can personally help close the wealth gap and build equity in your community.
And most importantly, don’t forget the power you already hold in our government. Register to vote now, and research your local and state politicians to find out which candidates are promoting human rights and antiracist policy in your area. Write to your local and state representatives and tell them what policies you, as a constituent, want to be changed, repealed, or implemented.
Thank you for exercising your civil rights and participating in the fight for racial justice. If we fight for systemic change, we can build a better world. If you have any tips of your own for protest preparation and etiquette, please share them in the comments below!
Featured Image Source via Insider.com
A. A. Ford is a writer from St. Louis, Missouri. She is currently a student majoring in English and Theology at the University of Notre Dame. In addition to her articles for Society 19, Ford is known for her poetry and fiction, which can be found at https://aafordstories.wordpress.com/. In her free time, she loves directing stage theater, spending time with her friends and family, and trying her best to glorify God by her life.