On the whole, most recent protests have been reasonably peaceful; in fact, many of the organizers of the larger protests are moving away from civil disobedience into less confrontational actions. However, I was a Girl Scout and I believe in being prepared, so here are hints on how to survive your first protest.
1. Get non-violence training. This is vital if you intend to engage in civil disobedience. The Reclaiming Community does free non-violence workshops before many major protests, and they know their stuff.
2. Go with a group, or a buddy, and try to keep together. Keep an eye on each other and protect each other. Make sure someone who isn’t at the protest knows where you are. Cell phones are handy to keep in touch, though if you are arrested, you may lose them.
3. Be alert at all times. Take note of who is where, and what is going on. Keep an eye on exit routes.
4. Take care of your body. Bring lots of water to drink, and keep hydrated. Take something to snack on, especially if you are prone to low blood sugar issues. Wear comfortable, closed-toed shoes or hiking boots; you don’t want someone to step on your toes by accident. If you are worried about tear gas, wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible. The stuff not only burns the lungs and eyes, it irritates skin, too. Don’t wear black in the summer. If you feel overheated, drink water, and try to get to the edge of the crowd to sit down. All of those bodies pressed together over asphalt can get really, really suffocating really fast.
5. Prepare for tear gas. It’s not likely, but just in case, take a bandana soaked in vinegar sealed in a ziploc bag, as well as another generous bottle of water. If tear gas flies, tie the bandana over your nose and mouth and breathe through it. The vinegar neutralizes the gas. (Later, when you get clear of the gas, you can use the vinegar to wipe off your skin. Wipe it on your hands, then rinse in water, before flushing your eyes with water.) If you get caught without the bandana, remember to breathe. You can breathe tear gas; it hurts, but you will get oxygen. Head for cover, clean your hands, then flush your eyes with water, and rinse your mouth, spitting several times before you drink.
6. Be careful around horses. Police departments often use mounted police officers for crowd control. In most situations, this is nothing to be afraid of, most horses are trained to stand still when people pass behind them as they are being groomed or shod; they are taught to be at rest when they feel a hand on the rump. Remember, police horses are used to crowds, but even the best-trained horses may shy under extreme duress, so do your best to not upset them. Be gentle around horses, speak in a soft voice, stay away from their back ends if you can. If you must pass behind a horse, and are pressed up close, you are pretty safe. Put a flat hand on top of its rump, gently, and move closely past the hind legs. Any horse can spook, so the best plan is to stay away from them if you can, but don’t panic if you have to be close to them.
7. Stay calm and use common sense. If you see someone throwing rocks, don’t follow suit. Just because there are people stomping on cars stuck in traffic like something out of The Matrix Reloaded doesn’t mean it is a good idea. Engage in no violence or property destruction. If violence erupts, try to stay calm and leave as quickly as possible. If you are grabbed, protect your head by ducking your chin to your chest, and wrapping your arms over your head, curling your knees up to protect your vital organs. Protect your friends, too.
More good information is available on the Internet at: www.starhawk.org/activism/trainer-resources/trainer-resources.html.
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