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PROTEST SAFETY 101

Updated: Nov 7, 2023



Sex workers and allies have a long history of investment in a wide variety global liberation efforts across intersections (whether it’s sex worker decriminalization, reproductive justice, LGBTQIA2S+ liberation, international decolonial efforts, BIPOC civil rights, environmental justice, etc) while facing heightened risk of censorship and law enforcement abuse as a result of our involvement and organizing.


As we have seen throughout history, our collective voices and efforts to demonstrate on behalf of justice and change has the potential to transform the world. There are many methods of protesting, which include organizing or participating in strategic street based demonstration, continued radical political education for ourselves and our community spaces, holistic efforts to decolonize and transform our mindsets, developing and engaging in decolonial healing spaces, multimedia centered activism, developing strategies for dissent, communicating with incarcerated individuals, fundraising and providing mutual aid for those in need, demanding change of our representatives, participating in structured boycotts or strikes, etc.


We are all critical pieces of a body working in conjunction towards a collective goal- liberation and transformation of our societies, reimagining worlds unlimited by oppressive institutions.


The following guide is specifically in relation to safety around street based protest. Full acknowledgement that this form of demonstration is not necessarily physically accessible to all and want to reiterate the significance of everyone’s role in pushing towards collective liberation regardless of what that method looks like, and we hope to contribute to a future where civil demonstration in all its manifestations is accessible to everyone. If you or anyone you know is planning to organize a demonstration or hit the streets anytime soon, we encourage you to refer to the following guidelines prior to doing so.


Health


Please note that we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. Masking is both a disability justice issue that saves lives and protects immunocompromised populations, and an effort to protect your identity and the identity of others for the longevity of movement spaces. Consequences for demonstrating have increased drastically over time, with some facing prolonged incarceration for unfounded charges for the purposes of destabilizing movement spaces.


Make sure that you take a COVID-19 test and are up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations before engaging in any demonstration to prevent spread of this virus. Sars-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, is primarily spread through respiratory drops created when infected individuals talks, coughs, sneezes, etc. Thus we strongly encourage the use of N95 respirator masks.


Stay masked regardless of your test results to prevent spread and to combat surveillance by the state.



Education


Ensure you have established an understanding of the movement that you are participating in and the impacted community prior to showing up at a demonstration, as well as the spaces that you are aligning yourself with and the strategies that they will be engaging in. If you are building a grassroots protest space, ensure that you and those you are organizing align ideologically around key issues you are advocating for to avoid future conflict that could result in direct action delays or compromised information. This blog post is not a guide for how to build grassroots protest spaces, however for more information on this refer to INCITE’s resources for organizing, frameworks that many Black and Brown femme organizers utilize in our work.


Another great resource is the in progress Activist Handbook with information ranging from strategizing to specific methods of demonstration and a great place to jumpstart additional research.


Good starting points for developing deeper revolutionary understanding include Abolition Notes, a volunteer-run radical education platform intended to foster revolutionary movement building and strong knowledge of international politics through intersectional, anti-imperialist lenses. Haymarket Books has a wide range of excellent leftist materials available covering everything from sex worker rights to the history of Stonewall to studies on indigenous resistance.


Mentally Prepare Yourself


This method of involvement is highly emotional, can be physically exhausting, and will require consistent reassessment and decolonization of mindsets. You may interact with counter protestors, law enforcement, alt right instigators, and other opposing entities that seek to silence our movement spaces and exhibit extreme levels of hate towards activists. You may experience anger, fear, sadness due to the often dehumanizing nature of the institutional forms of oppression that we are collectively fighting against.


However, you may also experience a sense of deep camaraderie and transformative hope upon advocating alongside numerous people from a variety of backgrounds who are devoted to human rights issues. You can likely expect a roller coaster of emotions while navigating these spaces. Reestablishing perspective of the plight of the communities you are trying to advocate for and deepening understanding of the intersectionality of decolonial work may aid in grounding, rebalancing, and focusing you. Locating community spaces where you can mutually and consensually share complex emotions and mindsets around social justice is also highly encouraged.


Know Your Rights and What to Do if You are Arrested


While the First Amendment protects your right to assemble and express your views through protest, law enforcement and other government entities do place manipulative restrictions on demonstration and free speech that vary by state, (typically “time, place, and manner” restrictions) with charges that have increased in severity in an attempt to quell revolutionary action. Note that the following resources are simply for your information, and not a statement on how any activist space should proceed with their method of demonstration.


Learn about your rights to protest by state at FindLaw.com


Review this ACLU article for further information on knowing your protestor rights


National Lawyers Guild comprehensive 58 page guide to knowing your protestor rights



Transportation


Before going into this point, we want to acknowledge as indicated in the introduction that street-based demonstration is often inaccessible to disabled individuals and feel that with collective effort this specific form of demonstrations can and should be transformed into spaces that are more accessible to all, however we also want to reiterate the significance of everyone’s role in pushing towards collective liberation regardless of what that method looks like, whether its organizing or participating in strategic street based demonstration, continued radical political education for ourselves and our community spaces, holistic efforts to decolonize and transform our mindsets, multimedia centered activism, communicating with incarcerated individuals, developing and engaging in decolonial healing spaces, developing strategies for dissent, fundraising and providing mutual aid for those in need, demanding change of our representatives, participating in structured boycotts or strikes, etc.


We also acknowledge that expectations for safety around transportation to avoid surveillance are not necessarily accessible, thus we encourage you to reimagine how to adapt this understanding of how vehicles are tracked to aid disabled comrades in also being able to get safely transported to sites where demonstration is occurring with the awareness that potential law enforcement interaction in itself often results in further physical harm of protestors. While this is not a protest *organizing* guide, we suggest considering these realities when strategizing escape routes in the event that police interaction occurs and discussing accessibility needs with attendees.


With that being said, don’t park a vehicle near the site of the demonstration, as the license plate can be tracked back to you or the driver. Consider parking outside of the vicinity of the demonstration area, or using public transportation or carpooling options that drops you outside of the demonstration area.


According to Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Automated license plate readers (ALPRs) are high-speed, computer-controlled camera systems that can be mounted on street poles, streetlights, highway overpasses, mobile trailers, or attached to police squad cars. ALPRs automatically capture all license plate numbers that come into view, along with the location, date, and time. The data, which includes photographs of the vehicle and sometimes its driver and passengers, is then uploaded to a central server.


Vendors say that the information collected can be used by police to find out where a plate has been in the past, to determine whether a vehicle was at the scene of a crime, to identify travel patterns, and even to discover vehicles that may be associated with each other. Law enforcement agencies can choose to share their information with thousands of other agencies.”


Highly suggest reviewing the above resource for more information about how ALPRs work and the data it collects over time.


Phone


Starting this section off by affirming that Fight for the Future and Hacking x Hustling are pro sex worker movement spaces with excellent guidelines around best practices for digital security as well as the ins and outs around surveillance in all its manifestations. We highly recommend reviewing these resources.


That being said, ultimately it’s best to not have your personal cellular device on you while protesting, but that’s a decision that must be made for yourself. If you have the means to do so, bring a pre-paid burner phone scrubbed of personal information and a separate SIM card, and turn off your location services. Please note that if you have both your prepaid and personal phones on you while protesting the locations can be linked with one another.


Ensure that you do not communicate about specific strategy through traditional text messaging or phone calls- including to emergency contacts- and rely on encrypted means of communication even if it means encouraging the people you are communicate with to also download those encrypted apps which secures transmission of messages and has options such as allowing for messages to disappear after a certain period of time without being stored on a server. A great example of an end-to-end encrypted app is SIGNAL which can be found in the Android or Apple Store. Make sure you disable all biometric unlock features.


Smartphones can be tracked with ease by law enforcement. Your cellphone carriers can release data revealing the cell towers your phone was in proximity to. U.S. police have also used IMSI catchers to impersonate cell towers, resulting in nearby devices connecting to them.


If you do choose to bring your personal device out of necessity for emergency / lawyer contact, please ensure that you turn on airplane mode even when navigating to and from the location and just keep the phone turned off unless you absolutely have to turn it on. Please reference EFF’s Digital Security Tips for Protestors guide for more information.


Pictures


Please be responsible in your methods of photographing demonstrations. If you must take images / video, please make a concentrated effort to be considerate of the safety of the demonstration and of those around you. Avoid taking pictures that feature people's faces, identifying characteristics, tattoos, etc unless you are photographing law enforcement for accountability purposes. It is not good practice to take images that would make people easily identifiable.


If you do accidentally capture someone's face in a photo, eliminate the photo's metadata and black or blur out faces using software that does not store information. For example, doing this on a mobile app may result in unedited files being saved to a cloud. Make sure that your location settings are off when capturing photos, and that you are in airplane mode. It's preferable for you to not unlock your phone at all to capture pictures.


If you intend to post the photos to encourage your audience to become more engaged in demonstration, take screenshots of the photo and upload them rather than using the original, and with the discretion of the protest organizers you should consider waiting to do so when the demonstration has ended as you do not want to have your data on and actively be on social media while at a protest as it could reveal information that could put the protest in jeopardy.


Identification / Wallet


This is more of a personal choice based on the laws in your specific state. If you are arrested, it’s possible that not having your ID on your person would result in you being held even longer.


You may also want to consider bringing your clearly labeled prescription bottles with you in the event of arrest if you choose to take the route of protesting with your ID.


Cash is preferable to debit/credit cards because you don’t want to breadcrumb your whereabouts.


Write the number of a legal aid agency identified by the group you are organizing with on your person with a sharpie, but cover it with a sleeve. You may also want to have unlabeled emergency contacts memorized or on your person.


Clothing


Make it a priority to stay masked to avoid spread of COVID-19 and other airborne viruses, while also protecting yourself from facial recognition, as right wing groups and law enforcement are notorious for surveillance of revolutionary action. If you can, pair your mask with a balaclava, hat, or other face / hair covering particularly if your hair is identifiable from a distance. It is also useful to have eye goggles or sunglasses on your person in the event chemical agents are used.


Dress in comfortable closed toe walking shoes e.g. sneakers or boots that can hold up during a long day of walking and would aid you in quick evasion of the territory if necessary and protect your feet from being trampled on.


If you have identifiable tattoos or birthmarks, long sleeves and long pants/skirts/leggings are highly recommended. The point is to remain incognito so to keep yourself and those around you safe from future arrest, stalking, and surveillance that has been known to initiate from the day of a demonstration to years in the future.


While not necessary, you may want to consider bringing a non-bulky change of clothes in the event that you are evading an area and were exposed to harmful substances.


Additional Supplies


We are a drug user friendly, harm reduction centric space that is strongly urging you to not have any illicit substances on your person while demonstrating due to potential escalation of charges for you and those around you if arrested.


Store your essentials in a nondescript bag / fanny pack / backpack with the logos removed.


Hand sanitizer or antibacterial wipes.


Phone powerbank and cords.


Flashlight / emergency glow sticks


If you have the means to do so, bring water with you. Water and saline solution will keep you prepared to flush your or another person’s eyes in the event that your group is targeted with a chemical agent such as tear gas or pepper spray. While this piece of misinformation has been widely spread over the years, medical aid spaces have strongly urged against use of milk to flush your eyes.


If you have the means to do so and are unsure of whether a medical aid group will be on the ground and simply want to have supplies available to help others, it’s recommended to have a basic first aid kit on your person, spare masks, gauze, blister prevention agents, and ear plugs.


Bring a few protein rich snacks with you to keep your energy up.


Highlight


We encourage you to support Black-Trans led organization LIPS Florida, a nonprofit organization dedicated to uplifting and empowering Black Trans women. Executive director Ashunte Coleman is currently raising funding for Trans Day of Remembrance (November 20th), an event which memorializes beautiful souls lost to senseless transphobic violence and seeks to continue the work of transforming our socio political landscape which has fostered institutional patterns of trans misogynoir.


This funding will go towards costs for the event as well as continued mutual aid, resource provision, and peer led case management resources that LIPS provides as one of the few Black-led trans centric organizations in Central Florida. Their continued operation and growth is imperative for the safety and well being of our community spaces.


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