Activism Supplies
June 18, 2018 10:41 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to a protest in San Francisco tomorrow. What should I bring? What should I do for prep other than "bring stuff?"

I work in downtown SF, and there's a protest at the ICE field office starting in the early afternoon. I plan to attend. I may stay through the rest of the workday; I may go back to work, and return later.

I've looked at various "planning for protest" websites, and while there's some good advice, most are focused on "protesting against the wishes of your local community" rather than an expectation that local politicians may be marching along side you. (I'll bring a handkerchief/scarf and bandages, and even rubber gloves since we have those, but I'm really really not expecting tear gas.)

I have:
11x14 dry erase board & black marker | Red and black permanent markers | Scarf (couple kinds) | Cloth bags that fold down to pocket size | Notebook, pens | several American flags: about 11x17, on ~2 foot long sticks; they stick out of the backpack | Backpack that will hold 11x14 dry-erase board, but will not hold my 11x17 laptop (not that I'd bring that) | Trenchcoat with literally 18 pockets and maybe more; I've had this coat for a year and I'm still finding places to stash things in it.

Albuterol inhaler (which I don't need, but don't mind carrying in case someone else does) | Sunscreen - and enough to share | Ibuprofen - just in case, for whatever | Cough drops - recommended for people who may spend an afternoon yelling | Nitrile gloves | Small stack of bandages

Can also bring water, protein bars, maybe snacks.

In addition to advice on what to bring, I'd like suggestions for signs/posters, and, in an ideal world, a link to a half-page flier that I can hand out to people at BART stations, to say, "our gov't is being even more dickish than usual; please help us find ways to stop sadistic thugs from torturing children."

Songs suitable for singing at protests are also welcome, including ones where I might have to have a small stack of lyric sheets to hand out.

My biggest limitation is how much I can comfortably carry; second limitation is that I'm fairly shy and introverted - I don't mind bringing poster supplies but past experience says it's hard for me to offer them to strangers.
posted by ErisLordFreedom to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I attended the one last Friday, and I think it was at the same office you’re going to. 630 Sansome Street? I literally brought nothing but my phone and ID. I would have brought a sign, but I didn’t have enough time to prepare. So I just brought myself and my voice. I chanted loudly with the crowd. Maybe this one will be very different, but the one I attended was heartfelt and hopeful, but not dangerous at all. A couple police officers stood nearby. They left us alone, even though we were blocking half the street. There was a helicopter above, but I don’t know if that was from a news station or the police. There were lots of news present. And unlike the one I attended on Sunday, the one in San Francisco was very well shaded. So I didn’t even need sunscreen or a hat.

Ideas for chants are great, as at some point, it will get silent and awkward. Some of the ones we did were simple: “Crush.. ICE!” Or “Defund ICE!” And others were the very traditional “Hey Hey Ho Ho! Detention centers have got to go!” And “No Trump, No KKK, No fascist USA!”
If you can do some in Spanish, that’s great, but I don’t speak it to suggest any. I can only meekly follow along and hope I’m not butchering it.
If there are kids there, asking them what they would like to say to the children separated from their parents is a great idea. You can likely take their words and make them into a chant. You can make almost anything into a chant.
There may be someone who is in charge of the events, who will give some motivating speech. Often times they will not have a microphone. Be one of the very vocal people at the front who encourage the speakers to phrase their speech in short part-sentences, as though it were being translated, and have the first few rows shout a repeat back to those who can’t hear. It’s very demoralizing to be more than four or five rows back and not be able to hear anything that’s being said. Organize the human microphone, and push back on those speakers who are uncomfortable with it. Hopefully, if this is not their first rodeo, they’ll be amenable to it. Last Friday, they were very uncomfortable with the human microphone, and while they were mildly annoyed at having their speech interrupted, it was nothing compared to the annoyance of most of the crowd who couldn’t hear.
Thank you for standing up and being heard!!!
posted by greermahoney at 11:22 PM on June 18, 2018 [8 favorites]

bring noisemakers? Whistles, tambourines, metal pan lids and wooden spoons, etc, to back up the chanting and make noise generally when there's nothing else happening? Quiet marches, unless people are being silent on purpose, come over as too relaxed.
posted by runincircles at 5:03 AM on June 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Water and if it's your kinda thing, sometimes people will go somewhere else for more political conversation and beer afterwards.
If you're keen to chant and hold signs, that's cool, if that's not your thing, people will understand. If it's going to go long, a little bit of food/snack wouldn't hurt. Speeches will always go on longer than you expect/ they are planned to. Every time.
I don't know what gets sung over there, but if anything gets started up here it's either, The Internationale, The Red Flag or Solidarity Forever. All great, and worth knowing the lyrics to, even if I wouldn't sweat it to much.
Also I would recommend bringing some small amounts of money if that's your kinda thing, gold coins is what I'd say here, 1$ and 2$ coins, so I guess some 1$ notes is the equivalent for y'all.
You may not be interested, but people will probably be selling relevant magazines and badges, and the like.
Also, again, different circumstances, but I wouldn't dream of bringing Australian flags to anything here. The only people who do that are recent immigrants who are anxious about seeming ?ungrateful? Everyone else would consider it a bit of a faux pas, but you do you I guess.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 5:09 AM on June 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'd say take less rather than more. You'll have to carry it all and having loads of luggage at these things is a real pain. Your body and voice are the most important things on the day. Wear comfy shoes, and layers to be prepared for different weather.

I was at an event at the weekend where a version of the protest song Bella Ciao was being sung and it worked well, was easy for people around to pick up and you'll probably find a few other folk know it, so if you have time to write some appropriate words and print copies off you could circulate those among fellow protestors (or just make up some simple words and people will pick them up). Tho YMMV if you're introverted and not big on bursting into song. As AnhydrousLove suggests, maybe worth just listening to it a few times so you know the tune if anyone else busts it out.
posted by penguin pie at 6:43 AM on June 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Agree with the less is more mantra. A sign and markers is good (we have resorted to using blank file folders.manila folders and markers - good to distribute to people who did not bring a sign). Wear very comfortable shoes since you will be standing for a while, and water and a bar/snack is always a good plan.
posted by something_witty at 6:57 AM on June 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Solidarity Sing Along, as the name suggests, has a plethora of crowd-friendly activisty songs. The latest songbook edition I'm finding is June 2015, and there's a musicians' edition for some of the early songs if that helps. The songbook is meant to be printed double-sided as a tall skinny booklet on 8.5x11 sheets, but you can also just pick and choose the songs you want and hand them out as flyers. Please feel 100% empowered to change the lyrics to better fit your specific rally.
posted by teremala at 7:05 AM on June 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

Less is more.
Here's what I typically bring:
A few snacks
Some cash
Cell phone battery chargers
Pens and markers
Masking tape
A sign if I can
I always wear sneakers
posted by k8t at 7:10 AM on June 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'd shove some toilet paper and/or wet wipes in one of those pockets. Large crowds aren't good for toilets.
posted by kjs4 at 7:28 AM on June 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Find what the local first defense/arrest representation legal aid agency is and write their emergency 24/7 number on sharpie on your arm. Or on a stack of index cards to share with people.

I'm in the less is more crowd--small band aid kit, pill case, wipes, phone, ID, cash & keys in a tiny waist bag. Maybe a snack bar. Hat with a brim. I wear a Suffragette-type sash that reads "Resist" on one side and "Persist" on the other.

I always set a rendezvous point and time with the people I've gone with in case of separation.
posted by crush at 7:42 AM on June 19, 2018

If you think there's any chance of being arrested, write the number of a friend/family member on your arm. They will take your phone and you'll be wanting to call someone.

Water (one of those plastic collapsible bottles is especially good since it's light and you can easily refill it), sunscreen, a snack bar of some kind (I prefer trail mix, but it's a little messier), a small amount of cash in small denominations and a few quarters, a small umbrella if you expect either rain or intense sun (you can use it as a parasol). I also throw in a little tin with portable first-aid supplies from my go-kit, so a few bandages, a couple packets of antibiotics, a couple of those things for blisters. But it's best to go light, so I wouldn't take a whole tube or a giant box of anything.
posted by praemunire at 7:48 AM on June 19, 2018

Also, there is nothing gauche about bringing an American flag to an American protest. Different cultures, I guess.
posted by praemunire at 7:52 AM on June 19, 2018

If you want to bring anything for other protesters, bottled water, granola bars, chocolate squares.
Thanks for protesting the current vile activities.
posted by theora55 at 8:33 AM on June 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've been to a zillion protests, both permitted and unpermitted.

1. Less is more. I don't even bother with signs any more; I'm content to be a body in the crowd. But, at a minimum, I bring a phone with spare battery and cord, a water, and money/ID/transit pass.

2. Prepare for anything you bring to potentially be damaged, destroyed, and/or confiscated. It happens.

3. I found that a neck pouch tucked under a shirt is perfect for carrying things like my transit pass, ID, heal insurance card, money, etc. Less chance of getting pickpocketed, or your wallet getting lost in the crowds. Just last weekend, I found someone's wallet at a protest on the ground. (It got back to their owner without a problem.)

4. If, at any point you feel overwhelmed or unsafe or tired, it's totally OK to leave a protest early or to take a break in the middle of it. You showed up and did your part.
posted by spinifex23 at 9:19 AM on June 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Here are some tips on digital security for protestors.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:27 AM on June 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

FWIW, I've been to multiple dozens of protests in my life and have never been tear gassed. I say this because I agree with others that less is more when it comes to protests. I usually don't bring a bag, even - if I have to, I will carry my wallet, phone, and keys in a pocket, along with maybe a protein/granola bar if I think it may go long (but also, if it's in an urban area, you can always duck into a sandwich place or something to get lunch). I'll usually just carry a water bottle in my hand if it's hot, but otherwise I don't even like to bring water because I don't want to have to find a place to pee (I also have an irrational fear of being arrested and not being able to pee, though it's extremely unlikely you would be arrested at a protest like this in a city like SF).

If you're coming from the office, I'd suggest leaving most of your stuff there - just bring your phone, ID, and maybe some cash.

The biggest thing I would say in terms of personal safety is to be aware of your surroundings. If things seem to be getting tense with the police where you are, walk calmly to another part of the crowd (unless you want to engage, which I do not recommend if you are not experienced at dealing with the police in situations like this). Same if it seems like you find yourself in a crowd of people doing things that make you feel unsafe.

I personally don't tend to bring signs to protests because that's not my thing, but there will often be people passing out signs. If you want to bring one, don't put it on a stick - that's a good way to get it confiscated. Just carry it in your hands.

Thank you for doing this!
posted by lunasol at 12:08 PM on June 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also - Protest Peer Pressure is A Thing. If someone - or a group - approaches you and asks you to engage in an activity that you do not feel comfortable with? Just say 'No thank you' and walk away.

There have been agent provocateurs at events that have tried to get the crowd riled up, to increase police suppression against the protest.
posted by spinifex23 at 3:05 PM on June 19, 2018

Echoing a lot of what others have said.

Water, sunscreen, a hat with a brim or visor and/or sunglasses. If you bring wallet, perhaps take out most of the contents except the most necessary (don't have ALL your cards and cash in there). Be prepared if it gets stolen (make sure you know the relevant info to cancel any cards, etc).

If medication is a concern, maybe bring individual doses and not the pill bottle in case of confiscation or loss (unless proof of prescription is needed - does someone else want to chime in on that?).

If you bring any snacks that you might share, consider bringing something that's individually wrapped and unlikely to contain common food allergens.
posted by acidnova at 3:23 PM on June 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I failed to achieve protest today. Work was busy with all the people who aren't normally in the SF office, and I couldn't get out until almost 5; I went to the ICE office but the protest was all gone. :(

Not worried about being pressured into things or getting stuck if the crowd gets ugly; I have plenty of practice in crowds and getting out before things turn dark. And also, this is SF; the authorities aren't trying to make us go away, just trying to keep things reasonably contained. But I'm also aware that anything I bring could wind up destroyed; don't bring valuables other than the cellphone.

I am very happy to have all the suggestions; I now have a nice light go-bag to grab for protests in the future. (Like, Pride weekend and the 30th.)

Doubly happy for all the emotional support; I spent the day talking with a coworker who had heard of none of this, and discovered she casually accepted the standard racist propaganda... "but we can't just let them come here and get on welfare and breed like rabbits! We have to stop them somehow! This will discourage them!"

I made some headway by mentioning that child torture is not an acceptable penalty for adult crimes. But only some; she said the kids might even be better off - "at least they're being fed and getting a roof over their heads."

...Obviously I need to attend local activist meetings to figure out what kind of talking points work on our local "centrist" people.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 7:10 PM on June 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

Brush up on your rights.
posted by bendy at 7:29 PM on June 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

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