Protest Tips

Going to a protest, big or small, is a new experience for a lot of people. As someone who's been to a fair number of events of all different types, here are some tips to make your experience the best it can be! A lot of these things are "common sense," stuff you'll probably hear from your mom, but they are remarkably easy to forget....

In General | Practical Matters | Signs, Banners, and Fun Stuff
Dealing with Pro-War People | Dealing with Police
At the End of the Day

Please note that these tips are meant for peaceful, permitted events. If you want to go to a blockade, civil disobedience, or other event where there is risk of arrest, you will need nonviolence training and legal briefing that I'm in no position to offer on this site. Please contact the organizers of the event you're interested in.

In General

Talk to people! Folks at protests are some of the nicest you'll ever meet, and most of them love to talk. You'll probably learn (and retain) more political information in one afternoon at a protest than in a week of reading books and websites. If you see a sign you like or overhear an interesting remark, just make a comment about it.... You'll be surprised how eager most people are to talk.

Have fun! It's easy to get caught up in political arguments or focus on your freezing toes -- but remember, you're building a brand-new, beautiful world!! That's something to smile about! Don't let anyone tell you that you have to be serious all the time if you're working for peace. True, there are times when we have to be serious about the issues, but at rallies and marches, it is a time to have fun and be joyful about the future we're building. Right now we're living in a world of anxiety, fear, frustration, greed, anger, and general unhappiness. The world we're trying to build is not just one of peace, but also joy and freedom! So live it!

Know that you ARE making a difference. It might not feel like it, especially if you're at a small event where there is a lot of opposition, but you are making such an important contribution to the world. Even if just one person learned one piece of information that they didn't know before, you've accomplished a lot. Remember that you are not alone, there are millions of people around the world who feel the same way and support you.


Practical Matters

Dress for the weather, and for the activity. Standing by the side of the road with a "honk for peace" sign, or listening to speakers at a rally, you're going to need to dress more warmly than if you're dancing and drumming all day. It's good to wear layers, and toe-warmers (from sporting goods stores, home depot, walmart, and other similar places) are a lifesaver. Remember to wear comfortable shoes!!

Bring food and drink, but don't overpack. Remember you're going to be carrying that bag all day. A thermos full of hot coffee or soup is a wonderful thing. A bottle of water is an absolute necessity. But rations to survive for three weeks in the wilderness would be overdoing it.

Bring things like tape, string, markers, safety pins, etc. to repair any props you have with you.

For really big events, all public bathrooms and portable bathrooms within a 100-mile radius will be out of toilet paper because there's so many people. Make sure you've got some tissues or something with you.

DO NOT bring anything that can be considered a weapon, or even mistaken for a weapon, i.e. pocket knives, water guns, toy weapons, mace, silly string, scissors, etc. Things that you might need to have, like scissors or pocket knives, make sure you keep them inside your bag as much as possible, and don't flash them around.

Don't bring anything breakable, like glass bottles or ceramic drums.

Don't bring anything that would break your heart to lose. You're going to be running around outside all day, so that favorite scarf your grandma gave you might get lost.

Make sure you have some cash with you, but not too much.


Signs, Banners, and Fun Stuff

Know your event -- for rallies, marches, and loud outdoor type events, there's no such thing as too colorful! Anything goes -- you're showing the world how wonderful peace can be, so you might as well have fun! Vigils are another matter, though. If you're going to something like a silent candle-lit vigil at a church for the Iraqi children killed by the sanctions, leave those bright orange clown pants at home. When in doubt, contact the organizers and ask. There's no such thing as a stupid question.

Think about props! Peace rallies are only as interesting as the things to look at and listen to :-) Be creative, and think about how you can create excitement for peace. Drums, rattles, sparkly things, and those noisemakers left over from new years are wonderful, and don't forget the bubbles.... At the same time, don't overburden yourself. There's nothing worse than aching shoulders and a bag full of useless crap on your back! Small things make a big difference.... Ribbons in your hair, flowers, beads, and fun hats will make people smile.

At some of the bigger events, wooden and plastic poles for signs are not allowed. Metal poles are almost never allowed. Check with the organizers to find out what you can and can't use.

For side-of-the-road type rallies, putting your sign on a string around your neck works really well, so you can keep your hands warm in your pockets.

If you want to carry a sign, choose a simple phrase, and write it in BIG, bold letters that are easy to read. It's pointless to carry a sign if nobody can read it. If you're not artistic enough to make big, bold letters, you can print out the words from your computer, then cut them out and tape or glue them to your sign. Be creative and honest. Make sure you spell everything correctly! Think about what you're trying to accomplish with your sign, and be ready to explain it to other protesters, and to passers-by.


Dealing with pro-war people

Be peaceful. There are people who support war, and you're not going to change their minds by yelling or being mean. Peace in the world starts with each one of us, and the peace we're trying to accomplish is for EVERYONE, not just people who agree with us.

Ignore their insults. Very often, pro-war people will try to make personal attacks on protesters, name-calling or saying mean things to make us angry. Try to stick to the issues, because they can't argue with facts. Unfortunately, they probably won't agree with you, but at least you've given them a bit of information. This is probably the hardest thing about small-scale events where you have a lot of interaction with passers-by, getting into debates with people who only want to prove you wrong or make themselves feel macho. But if you're prepared and you stay peaceful, it's a lot easier. Don't be afraid to step away from someone who's being hostile -- it is NOT defeat to say, "I have my opinions and you have yours, thank you for sharing, goodbye."

Know your stuff. Before going to an event where you might meet pro-war people, read up on the issues (lots of links here), and think of ways to respond to questions. Even if you don't have answers about everything, at least make sure you're clear about why YOU support peace. You'd be amazed how hard it is to answer the question "why are you standing here on this street corner?" if you haven't thought about it before. Especially if it's someone from the local news media sticking a camera in your face!


Dealing with the police

Know your rights. The cops are a lot less scary when you know exactly what you're allowed and not allowed to do. If you know what you can get arrested for, you won't get arrested, because you won't be doing it.

Follow all traffic signals. Even if everyone else is jaywalking, wait for that "walk" signal in the crosswalk. Unless the police are blocking all traffic in an intersection for a permitted march, it is illegal to cross at the wrong time. It's amazing how many protesters get arrested for jaywalking.

Keep alert. If you see a big group of police someplace, especially if they look mad, it's a good idea to stay away, or walk in the other direction.

Don't yell at police. Even if they're blocking your way, denying your rights, etc, yelling at someone or calling them names doesn't improve any situation. Remember that if you're doing something wrong, they have power over you. But if you're being peaceful, not doing anything wrong, they have no power. Nonviolence and peace are very strong tools.

Be nice to the police. Many of them are pro-peace too, they're just doing their job. It's our job to be nice to everybody, to show them how wonderful peace is. So smile at the police when you can, it might make their day. It might make YOUR day!


At the end of the day

After you've unpacked, thawed out/cooled off, and had a shower, it's a good idea to write down your thoughts, feelings, and memories from the day. Even if you're not a journal-type person, writing things down will help you sort out your experience. Doing it that night or the next day will help you get everything straight so you remember it all in the right order when you tell your friends about it!

The same is true for smaller events, and keeping track of your experience will show how much you've grown! After a couple of rallies, things that seem really difficult to handle will be old hat, but it's hard to tell how much you've learned if you don't have anything for comparison.... Trust me, you'll be well impressed when you go back and read your notes later :-)

I think that everyone learns something at every protest, but sometimes it's hard to know what you've learned until you've written about it. Sometimes it doesn't seem like a big deal in the moment, but a few weeks later, a few months later, it becomes something very important. So it's good to keep a record of your protest experience.

Shameless plug #2 coming up.... Of course, if you want to share those experiences, head on over to the message board!!