Across the U.S., in cities large and small, protesting increasingly is a popular way for ordinary Americans, especially young adults, to make their concerns and causes known. The First Amendment grants Americans free speech and the right to protest.
Motivating many young adults in the U.S. and Europe to organize rallies, demonstrations and marches has been administration and policies of President Donald Trump. The uptick in civil rights protests began in 2016, with Trump’s campaign for president. They have yet to stop – and address an increasing variety of issues and campaigns, most notably the “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” Desmond Tutu, the South African human rights activist, famously said.
Understanding your rights and how to stay safe is essential. Here are five tips on how to make the most out of a protest — and protect yourself and your friends.
- Go prepared: Bring water to drink and to wash off your skin or eyes, in the event police are called and tear gas or pepper spray is used. Bring snacks. Check the weather forecast. The protest may go on for hours. Make signs with simple messages. Plan your exit if you need to leave the protest quickly, if activities become violent.
- Safety comes first: Wear protective goggles over your eyes. Wear comfortable shoes that are easy to move in. Attend with a group of friends and/or colleagues you trust. Know your surroundings. If you are pepper sprayed, stay calm. Change your clothes. Don’t touch your face and other areas exposed. A baking soda solution mixed with water is best for removing it. When things get dangerous, the best advice is to leave and to protect yourself.
- Understand your rights: If you are injured, for example, you have the right to obtain medical assistance without delay. You have the right to attend a peaceful assembly and the right to be told the reason if you are arrested. Be sure to carry ID.
- Interacting with police: The police are there for everyone’s protection and to maintain order. That said, if a police officer becomes threatening or violent, get his or her badge number. Keep your hands where officers can see them. Try to film or record the encounter, or ask someone else to do it. If you’re arrested, ask to see a lawyer and stay silent until you have legal help, according to the ACLU. Follow instructions given to you. If you witness an arrest, do not try to intervene but you can try to record the event.
- After the protest: Follow up. Learn about other ways to engage to make sure the campaign or advocacy does not end with the protest.
- ACLU discusses the right under federal law to assemble and protest.
- Wikipedia gives a thorough explanation of the right to protest.
- com offers a state-by-state look at protest laws.