I am someone who is most certainly, in the grand scheme of brave women and men standing in front lines of solidarity, an unseasoned or merely vigilant protestor. However, I have witnessed in a handful of different countries — America, Palestine, Turkey, France, Greece — the tide of humans who stand against governmental, environmental, political, and enfranchisement injustices, putting their lives often in the crosshairs of danger. From tear gassing, to police or military brutality, running in the right direction and what exactly to wear, here are 10 pieces of advice in arriving home virtually unscathed from a protest, having survived it both physically and ethically.
Always bring a scarf or a bandana. This is primary. On the occasion that tear gas is fired, you should have a light version of these materials tied around your neck, ready at a second to be wrapped around your face. Some even suggest lightly soaking the bandanna in lemon juice or vinegar to cut the mincing burn. Goggles, gas masks, veils — these work too. Other wear is pretty implicit: dress for the weather. Shoes…won’t even state the obvious. If you’re wearing heels, you must be a Channel 22 news reporter. Dress vaguely. You don’t want to be picked out of the crowd.
Bringing four forms of identification, an address book, or coordinates to your solidarity movement’s hush-hush location or convening place will ensure some swift ramifications for you and your siblings-in-solidarity. Keep your profile low, even from your pockets. Don’t give a reason to be arrested. Smoking pot and carrying a bag of it with you is simply a just cause for detention. No firearms!
Will there be road blockades? Will you be able to enter a street but not exit because of a police barricade? How is the area you’re rallying in set up? Where can you run to? Pertinent questions before your arrival. Make like Hansel and Gretel, leave your invisible breadcrumbs behind you in an unknown area in order to make it back safely.
Only delicious together when you’re reeling from the sting of tear gas. First factoid about tear gas: in moderate doses, the unbearable sensation lasts for less than two minutes; it will pass. First thing you DON’T do: splash water on your face or drink water! This will stoke the burn even more. Drink milk or pour it on your eyes and face. Also, packing small onion bulbs is crucial, as they can be slipped into your mouth. When chewed, the acid counteracts the chemicals inhaled. The Independent has a basic guide to the ins and outs of tear gas.
Many an injury has been had in a protest stampede. When the front lines pull back quickly, the domino effect occurs, and panicking friends can get trampled. Walk quickly, either to a location of higher elevation, around a corner, or if the “Riot Control Agents” (RCA) are too all-consuming, inside the nearest building.
Some bullets are larger, clunkier, and easier to spot, like tear gas canisters. If fired in a “considerate” way, they will be launched upwards, showering down about ten seconds later with a white arc of gas following behind — watch carefully and be prepared to move away from them. Numerous worldwide cases have seen fatal injuries due to being shot by tear gas at close range. Be extra careful of riot police who conduct themselves like the one above in Turkey. And if the rubber bullets start flying…get to safe cover.
If you are attending a rally for, let’s say, another country’s freedom from oppression, it might be more respectful to march alongside subtly. Standing in the front lines, ululating with a passion that might not be entirely founded on your own cultural experience may be stealing away the occasion for others who are simply more entitled to express their fervor. Don’t be a “joiner.” The same person moving from Ferguson, to Hong Kong, to occupied East Jerusalem with homemade signs might have some questions raised, internal and external. Stand in solidarity, not in stardom.
If the event calls for it, have fun. If it doesn’t, respect that. If you don’t know how to feel, probably should scoot on home. Some issues have been so long-running, it’s hilarious that they’re still even being protested. Sometimes, spectacles are in store. Other times, it’s a grave and serious matter of life or dignity-threatening proportions. The Gay Pride rally can be a colorful, fun way of saying “Here we are, we’re not changing!” The Palestinian protest against the Israeli occupation is raging: “Here we have always been, we’re not leaving!” The Hong Kong protest is screaming: “Here we are, leave us alone!” All of them united in their fights for civil justice, all of them unique in their struggles.
A protestor with scruples is one who knows his or her rights. Naturally, it varies in every city and country; some have markedly more freedom to demonstrate than others. Law enforcement agents can and will find grounds for detaining demonstrators. In the United States, you must apply for a permit before blocking streets. General public spaces are open to demonstrations, but there can be sudden and jarring exceptions. If you are quite aware that your rights as a protester have been violated, remember law enforcement badge names. Also, have entire respect for the space of those around you who are not involved in the demonstration. Finally, listen to Howard Zinn: “Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.”
You’ve survived an intense, police-raided, RCA-infused rally, but the message needs to survive as well. The boycott, the pen, the tweet, the meeting, the posters, the pamphlets, the calls to local representatives, the inflexibility under pressure, the awareness of other global causes, the educating of ourselves and the teaching of others: this is how to keep it all alive. If the world isn’t doing you right, then you have all of her streets to do something about it.
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