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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
At the end of
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!!