- Wear comfortable clothes and flat shoes, preferably work boots. This is not a Sexy Protester costume. You’re here to work. Wear layers in cold to moderate temperatures. Hats are advisable. Before you leave, do three things: eat something light, pee (no, seriously, pee before you leave), and check yourself over using your logic brain instead of your mirror.
- Take only what you absolutely need. This has three purposes: lighten the load, don’t risk losing your stuff, and don’t carry anything that will cause problems if you get arrested. Take a snack, a small water bottle (drink slowly & sparingly), and your protest sign. At least one person in your group should carry a phone, but not everyone needs to. (If you are the person with the phone, carry a charger pack.) If you may need life-saving medication, take that with you (in the original packaging, if possible).
- Use the double buddy system: Go with at least one person, and let one person staying home know where you’ll be and what time you should be back. Have a back-up location to meet your march partner(s) if you get separated. Make sure your stay-at-home buddy knows what to do if you drop out of contact: call your march buddy, your lawyer, etc.
- Police are trained to play on your trust and civility. If they stop you, ask “Am I being detained?” Ask until they answer. Say nothing else. If you are being detained, say “I want a lawyer.” After that, go peacefully, but you are done talking to them. The ACLU has some good guides on how to handle all of this. Practice your lines to prevent freezing up in the moment.
- Beware the narc. Anyone who tells you to throw a brick is an infiltrator. Anyone who asks you questions without knowing you or IDing themselves is probably either an opposition “journalist” or a cop. If someone is acting sketchy, spread the word about them. Take video. Do not tell them a damn thing.
The Advanced Stuff:
- If you want to secure your phone: Lock it with password, encrypt it (IOS and Android both have a built-in options for this), and use end-to-end encrypted messaging like Signal. Make sure that it locks immediately, not after thirty seconds, and that it locks when you press the power button. Uninstall any apps that are not vital, as many things in the app store are not as safe as you think. Find additional tips here and here. To be honest, digital security is a long and complicated game. You can go so far as to delete all of your existing accounts, open new ones with more secure services, and only use the internet via TOR, but most people won’t do this.
- If you want to DRASTICALLY secure your phone: Start with a password manager, use generated passwords for all your accounts, encrypt and lock your phone, use Signal, and don’t install anything you’re not sure of. The next level is to stop things from tracking you: turn off Google Maps history, set DuckDuckGo to your default instead of Google Search, and nuke your Facebook because it’s a monster that tracks everything you look at. Beyond that is the land of TOR, and more education than I’m going to fit in this blog. Independent research is your friend. You might not think this matters all that much, but activists in some countries, in 2017, are covering their phone cameras with electrical tape because their government has used a selfie cam against them. Remember what your parents told you about scary strangers on the internet. One final thing: You can secure your phone physically as well as digitally. A Faraday cage (you can make one with some tin foil and copper tape) will interrupt signals. A serious case like an Otterbox can save the device itself from falls. Getting a case with a wrist strap isn’t a bad idea, either. All of that said, the best security for your phone is to leave it at home, locked, encrypted, and somewhere safe. Use a prepaid hunk of junk when you’re out and about.
- If you want to be a street medic: You need training. I recommend starting with a Red Cross Adult First Aid & CPR course. They do cost money, but they’re worth it in both knowledge gained and certification carried. You can find more info here or a full manual here. You will need to carry some special stuff if your protests are likely to see confrontations with police, like L.A.W., earplugs, and face masks. Keep in mind that you are not a doctor or a Jane, and your job has legally defined parameters: you can render aid within your level of training, only with patient consent, and often your job is to stay with someone until EMTs arrive. This is not meant to discourage you. Street medics, hedge witches, and all manner of educated community care personnel are vital. You should become one to whatever level possible.
- If you want to be a safehouse: You may want your home to be the one friends can come to in case of an emergency. Anyone can do this to get people off the street in the short term. For ongoing emergencies, though, I’ll be honest up front: doing it right is expensive. Some things are easy, like making sure you have bottled water, extra canned food, flashlights, candles, batteries, and a portable radio. Everyone should have those, as well as a B.O.B. If you want your house to serve as a real safehouse, though, you’ll need places for guests to sleep, at least one resident trained in first aid (plus a good kit), and a home with reasonable security in a good location unlikely to be affected by natural disasters. Truthfully, outfit yourself for the zombie apocalypse and go from there. If you’re storing supplies like food and medications, make sure that you cycle through them before they expire. Check at least once a year.
- If you want to be an activist artist: Start anywhere, go everywhere. Graffiti is the language of the people, but be aware of your local law (whether or not you intend to break it) and don’t vandalize places like small businesses or schools. That’s just a lousy thing to do. If you somehow got the idea in your head to, say, photocopy the bill of rights and wheatpaste it on every flat surface in your neighborhood, you didn’t get the idea from me. Remember that art itself is still legal and there are many things you can do without risking a misdemeanor. You can stand on the sidewalk in front of city hall with a painted canvas for as long as you’d like. You can organize a human statue demonstration with your friends and a big bag of flour.
- If you want to be a better activist: Watch documentaries. Read all kinds of nonfiction. Listen to people who are different from you. Do not believe everything you hear, and do not discount someone just because their beliefs differ slightly from yours. Start a group that meets every week with a mission: to talk about the world, to track local politics, to call your senators, to escort patients at Planned Parenthood, to share and discuss documentaries, to make art, or just to form a community and take care of each other. Watch, listen, learn, decide, act.