Know Before You Go: a Primer for Protests and Demonstrations | The Mary Sue
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Know Before You Go: a Primer for Protests and Demonstrations

Hardly complete, but a start.


Provided you aren’t already in the thick of the various #J20 demonstrations going on right this moment, here’s a quick primer of useful info you should know before heading out to participate.

First off, though: it’s great that you want to help and that you want to get involved with resistance. Going forward, demonstrations and marches like these will become more and more important. It’s critical that we as a people stand up and make ourselves heard when others do their best to silence us. Given how it already seems that a few states are working to outlaw protests—with one state making it legal to run over and kill a protester “if it’s an accident”—it’s not that much of a stretch to say that resisting is about to get a whole lot more dangerous.

So, with that in mind, here are a few helpful tips and things you should know before diving into the thick of a protest. Please know that this isn’t meant to be a complete guide, and you should absolutely be supplementing whatever we’re offering here with the guidance and experience of those protesting alongside you—provided they have more experience than you do.

To Prepare:

  • Read up on your rights. The ACLU has a great guide on what your rights are as a protester or demonstrator.
  • Protect your digital devices. When it comes to your phone, the police have a certain amount of leeway regarding what they can do to get you to, say, unlock it, thus allowing them access to not only your potential photos/videos of the protest, but also the contact info of anybody else you may be protesting with. To prevent this, turn off your Touch ID or any other fingerprint unlocking method.
  • Protect your digital information. When communicating with friends, it’s important that you make sure your messages are encrypted end-to-end. You can do this by using messaging app—we prefer Signal.
    • The Electronic Frontier Foundation has an excellent guide on how you can protect yourself and your digital assets.

What to Bring:

  • Bring cash, coins, medications, and menstrual pads. In the event that you are arrested, you may need coins to place “your call,” and if you’re held for longer than one day, you will need your medications. It helps to also bring a doctor’s note for these things, if you have one. The menstrual pads are crucial if you have a period, as you may not be able to change a tampon while being detained. Remember: keeping a tampon in past six hours increases your risk for toxic shock syndrome.
  • Consider a mask or bandana. The neo-Nazi alt-right is often hellbent on doxxing people through photos. If you’re worried about your identity, consider a bandana to cover most of your face. Make sure you check your state’s anti-mask laws, however.
  • Bring plenty of water for both drinking and for washing. Stay hydrated, as it’s possible you could be out there a while.
    • Water in a spray bottle or in a bottle with a spray spout is useful for washing off tear gas chemicals when it’s mixed with antacids (like Mylanta).
  • Pack light. This is self-explanatory, but don’t bring anything you aren’t willing to drop and possibly lose/have confiscated.

Once You’re There:

  • Go with friends. While it’s okay to go it alone, it’s important to at least try to find out if anybody you know will be attending the march or demonstration. In case things do get a little sketchy, it helps to have somebody there you can trust and you know will have your back.
  • Dress sensibly. Wear comfortable shoes, be prepared to walk and/or run, don’t wear any complicated costumes, and bring sun protection.
  • Don’t wear contacts. Contacts trap tear gas and other irritants against your eyes—they are permeable. If you can help it, wear glasses or have goggles that seal against your face handy.
  • In the event something happens, stay calm. If you’ve been affected by tear gas or other disabling chemicals, know that the pain is temporary and that it will pass. Try not to panic and get yourself to safety. Seek help from your fellow protesters.
  • Hold the line. Stories abound of law enforcement officials going undercover to incite riots and other violent acts in order to quell a protest. Don’t let the groupthink or the mob mentality take over, and if you feel unsafe near somebody, just walk away. Try not to get dragged down into being the “peace police,” either. Everybody protests differently, and again, if you feel uncomfortable or otherwise unsafe, walk away.
  • Don’t record or take photos of people unless you have their permission. It’s one thing to get big, wide shots of a crowd, and it’s a completely different thing to record an individual burning a flag or even just marching. Like I said above, the neo-Nazi alt-right are all ready and waiting to dox people who might end up on the internet, so look out for your fellow protesters and just be smart about what you’re capturing.

Once You’re Home:

  • Check in on your friends. Chances are in the heat of the moment they won’t see your text or call, but don’t be afraid to check in with them regardless. It’s important to know that you’ve got each others’ backs. Make sure they got home okay.
  • If you were exposed to chemicals or other irritants, treat yourself and your clothing as if you were exposed to poison oak. Everything you and your shoes or clothes touch will be contaminated, and should be wiped down or washed before coming into contact with it again.
    • cold shower should be taken to wash the chemicals off, as a warm one will open your pores and allow those chemicals to penetrate deeper into your skin.
    • Skin exposed to gasses or irritants may blister up or swell. As usual, don’t panic—it will pass.
  • You can find more information about remedies over at the Black Cross Collective website, along with a list of things that you might want to pack to be ready.

Most of all, please be smart. Be safe. Be careful—you know your own limits. If you’re attending the Women’s Marches in Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, or New York, your friendly TMS staffers will be there.

We’ll see you out there, okay? Resist well, friends.

(featured image via Pietro Francesco Rizzato / Shutterstock, Inc.)

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Jessica Lachenal is a writer who doesn’t talk about herself a lot, so she isn’t quite sure how biographical info panels should work. But here we go anyway. She's the Weekend Editor for The Mary Sue, a Contributing Writer for The Bold Italic (, and a Staff Writer for Spinning Platters ( She's also been featured in Model View Culture and Frontiers LA magazine, and on Autostraddle. She hopes this has been as awkward for you as it has been for her.