The fight for a better world is a dangerous one. We cannot guarantee our safety in this moment. But, there is time-honored activist knowledge that can help us stay safer: know how to protest, do your research, and evaluate new information carefully.
There is a lot of conflicting information about how to stay safe while protesting. To support our many students and colleagues who are out in the streets or supporting street demonstrations, the librarians of Seattle Central College have pulled together the best evidence we could find about dealing with the safety hazards of direct political action. There is a distinct lack of research on many of these subjects, so we humbly present this as best practices. If you have resources that should be included or replaced please contact us and let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org
The recommendations below come from the Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County Protestor Safety Guide, along with additional recommendations from infectious disease experts at the University of Washington :
The City of Seattle has free drive through and walk-in testing sites. Register for the free test on this website. The City says "If you live, work, or regularly visit Seattle, and you are experiencing a symptom(s) of COVID-19 and/or you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 within the past 14 days, you can be tested for free." So, if you've been demonstrating in the streets and could have been exposed to someone with COVID, you qualify for a test.
There is a lot of conflicting advice about how to deal with the effects of tear gas and pepper spray in the moment. Based on the best evidence we could find, rinsing the eyes, from the tear ducts outward with clean water or sterile saline solution for 10 minutes is the evidence-based approach. From a 2020 article on PubMed:
The face should be wiped to remove any particles before being washed. Copious water irrigation with soap should be used to remove contaminants. If there is significant skin breakdown, saline irrigation is the best choice.
For more detailed information, see the Vision Change Win Get in Formation Community Safety Toolkit section on tear gas and pepper spray
As adrienne maree brown says in her post Caring For Ourselves as Political Warfare,
protests and actions can give us the highest highs and the most gut wrenching terrors or deepest disappointments. in the midst of wildly inspiring actions and protests happening worldwide, there is increasing racialized violence and the urgency of trying to grab this moment, the feeling of pressing up against our edges.
To stay in the fight, we have to take good care of ourselves and those around us. Here are some resources for politicized self care to keep us all in the fight.
Here are some "rules" from a veteran activist that are good to keep in mind for long-term political work. To see an explanation of "the rules" click on the link below the list.
- The first rule, of course, is don't get caught.
- If by some chance the first rule is violated, there’s the second rule, which is admit
- Once they realize that you're not going to say anything, rule number three comes into
play, because they'll start asking you to name other people. So, rule number three is don't name
- Rule number four is never ever put it in writing.
- Rule number five, is a corollary to that, which is always get it in writing.And always
getting it in writing means basically working off your own paper.
- Rule number six is always ask the question advantageous to yourself.
- So rule number seven has to do with strategy.And that is, you have to always keep the
enemy in front of you...Because without a clear understanding of opposing forces, you will have no strategy, no effective strategy.
- So rule number eight is always keep your passport valid.
- Rule number nine. It's an important rule; rule number nine says,“Even though they tell
you that all your questions will be answered, all your health care needs will be taken care of and
everything will be fine; never ever go to the stadium.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County have excellent advice on how to think about phone safety at a protest. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have provided user data to companies that market to law enforcement. EFF says that through cell phones, "those engaging in protest may be subject to search or arrest, or have their movements and associations mapped. They could become targets of surveillance and repression."
This is a personal question to ask yourself, since a phone is often a key to getting help, getting around, and maintaining your safety plan. Your phone can also be confiscated by the police, and used to track your movements.
Here's another guide to quick measures you can take to make your data more secure at a protest.
More advice on what to wear and bring from the Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County Protestor Safety Guide:
It is important to know your rights, but be aware that police might lie or break the law in order to detain and intimidate protestors.
If you're worried you might not remember your rights in a moment of pressure, consider writing them down or printing them out to bring with you.
If you are being questioned by police and are uncertain, ask "Am I being detained?"
Graphic from Political Research Associates' guide Paramilitaries at Your Protest: An Activist Field Guide to the Far Right
While the most likely perpetrators of violence against protestors statistically remains uniformed police, there is an increasing chance that protestors will encounter armed members of white supremacist/white nationalist militias or counter-protestors. There is well-documented overlap between police and independent militant groups, but some militia members intentionally seek to sow confusion by claiming to be there to protect protestors from police. These are the names of some groups to look out for:
- Proud Boys
- Patriot Prayer
- Oath Keepers
- American Wolf
Many of the followers of these movements wear body armor and carry guns. Some wear Hawaiian print shirts. The Center for Analysis of the Radical Right tracks the behavior of these groups and the symbols they use that might help identify members:
This long-form article goes in depth into the ideologies and tactics of right-wing militias:
This news article with photos of militia members in Utah gives an example of what to look for:
The intention of these groups is to sow confusion and fear. We are bringing attention to them on this page in the hope that awareness will increase your safety. Protesting in these times is both dangerous and absolutely necessary.
An anti-fascist, anti-racist local organization that keeps tabs on known local right-wingers that show up at protests is the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club. They also use tactics to move these militia members away from protestors.