The first step to joining a protest is simply showing up, but it’s also important to be prepared for all situations—from a long day in extreme weather conditions, to close contact with others in the midst of a pandemic, to possible arrest.
Plan ahead for what you’re going to wear and bring to a protest to protect yourself and others. In general, less is more, but there are a few non-negotiable items for your own safety and security. Here’s what you need to know before you go.
What to wear to a protest
Comfort is key, especially if you plan to be out for a long time. You also want to blend into the crowd—do not wear bold clothing that stands out or makes you easily identifiable in photos. Likewise, cover tattoos, piercings and unique physical features.
Wear the following:
- Layers appropriate for the weather. If you’re out in the winter, wear lightweight items that can be easily removed and stuffed in pockets (including gloves, hats and scarves). If there’s a chance of rain, a clear plastic trash bag can work as a poncho. In the summer, go for light clothes, a hat and sunglasses. Even in warmer weather, cover your skin to protect against both sunburn and chemicals (like tear gas).
- Nondescript items in neutral colors. Go for grey over neon and avoid anything with large logos.
- Sturdy, comfortable shoes. You’ll likely be walking a lot or standing for hours, and you could encounter mud, rain, snow or rocks along the way. Choose footwear that’ll hold up in all weather and that you can safely walk or run in.
- A mask. Even when we’re not in the middle of a global pandemic, carry a mask with you in case you get tear-gassed. If you don’t have a mask, a scarf (in the winter) or bandana can work—just note the International News Safety Institute’s cautions against soaking cloth in water, vinegar, or citrus juice; contrary to myth, these won’t help (at best) or could make the effects of the gas more severe (at worst).
- Googles. Goggles or shatter-resistant glasses can protect your eyes from tear gas.
- Heat-resistant gloves
- Hair ties. Pull long hair back for both comfort and safety (hair can get grabbed or pulled in a scuffle). It’s also a nice gesture to have extra hairbands to share with others.
What to bring to a protest
You’ll also want to come with some basic supplies for your health and safety:
- Water and snacks. Make sure you stay fed and hydrated. Bring a water bottle that has a sport top—it’ll double as a squirt bottle for flushing out eyes or wounds.
- Cash. Bring enough money in small bills to purchase food, cab fare or other incidentals.
- Your ID. Bring some form of ID and keep it on your body, like in a shoe or pocket.
- Emergency contact information. Memorize it and write it down on a notecard or on your arm—both a personal contact and the number for local legal help. If you have a medical ID, wear it.
- Basic first aid supplies. Carry a few bandaids, OTC pain relievers and any important prescription medications you’ll need if you’re out longer than expected.
- Your phone—with location services and biometrics turned off. You can use your smartphone to communicate and take photos and videos, but make sure you disable features that will make it easy for you to be tracked or for your device to be unlocked by law enforcement.
- A bag (maybe). If you can carry all of your items in pockets, great. Some protests and gatherings may not allow bags, and some organizers recommend clear packs. Check guidelines and recommendations before you head out.
What not to bring
This is probably obvious, but we’ll say it anyway: don’t carry weapons, drugs, valuables or anything you wouldn’t want to lose or be arrested with. Don’t bring more than you need, as it’s best to be able to move freely.
Finally, always, always check with protest organizers about how to prepare, and listen to their instructions while you’re on the streets.