Peaceful Protest Marching: Health and Safety Tips

How to Stay Safe and Healthy at a Public Demonstration

Protest March
Protest March. Simon Ritzmann/Getty Images

The Constitutional rights of freedom of speech and assembly are guaranteed in the First Amendment, but you may not have exercised them by joining a public demonstration or counter-demonstration before. How can you participate in a peaceful protest march or counter-protest while guarding your safety and health?

While you might be willing to fight for your cause, there are unpleasant aspects you can avoid with a little planning.

Passing out from dehydration or getting frostbitten toes won't benefit your cause. What are the ways you can prepare?

Preparing for the March

Most protest marches and demonstrations involve marching only very short distances at a slow pace but you'll need to prepare for hours of standing on your feet. You may end up walking longer distances to get to the demonstration and back home. Unfortunately, there is also a risk the demonstration will end up being less than peaceful, and you should also prepare for that.

Demonstrations often disrupt normal business operations. Stores, restaurants, and public facilities may be closed. You'll need to ensure you have the snacks, water, and any medications you'll require for the day. You might not have easy access to public transportation, taxi, rideshare services, or a route back to where you parked your car. Cellular communications can be disrupted during large protests, adding a further complication.

Buddy Up

You should always bring a partner to a demonstration as your first step for safety. Have a plan for where to meet if you are separated, as can easily happen in a crowd, and a contingency if you aren't able to use your cell phones.

Keeping Your Feet Comfortable

Choose shoes you can stand in comfortably for an hour (without sitting) and you can walk in comfortably for an hour at a time.

You may not be used to doing either, but it's likely those will be the conditions at a public demonstration. Cushioned shoes are best for standing, and flat and flexible shoes are best for walking. If you have a pair of cushioned athletic shoes, those can be a good choice.

If it's going to be cold or rainy, full leather shoes, waterproof shoes, or boots are more likely to keep out the elements. Use these tricks for keeping your feet warm, which you'll need when standing still in cool weather. One simple solution is using a paper napkin as a shoe insulator.

What to Wear for a Public Demonstration

Outdoor demonstrations are unlikely to have any shelter. You won't have a choice on whether you'll be in sun, shade, wind, or rain. Protect your skin, face, and lips with sunscreen, lip balm, and a hat with a brim.

Most marches in involve long periods of standing still and you'll discover you get colder while standing, even on mild days. Take your cue from hiking wisdom when deciding what to wear. Dressing in layers is the key. Your base layer is a sweat-wicking shirt to keep you cool and dry. In cool weather, you want an insulating layer of wool, fleece, or down to keep you warm, especially as you are standing around before and after marching.

In warm weather, a loose, long-sleeved shirt can provide shade for your arms.

Over that, you need a windproof jacket, which should also be water-resistant or waterproof in rainy climates. For quick and light protection from the elements, a disposable plastic rain poncho or a couple of trash bags can give you an instant extra layer. For protests, layers also provide some protection from thrown objects or physical altercations, which could simply be jostling in the crowd. Keep in mind that umbrellas may not be allowed.

For pants, avoid denim as it is too hot in warm weather and when it's wet it boosts your risk of hypothermia in cool weather.

Synthetic pants are a better choice, and consider rain pants for rainy weather.

Wear a hat with a brim, such as a baseball cap or visor beanie, to protect your head and face from the sun and other elements. Your hands can get cold even in mild weather when you are standing still, so bring gloves or mittens, which can also be useful for preventing splinters if you are carrying a sign on a wooden stake.

Carry a bandanna soaked in water in a zip lock bag to have on hand to use in case pepper spray or tear gas is deployed.

What to Bring With You

Carry your identification, credit card, transit passes, medical alert bracelet, $100 in cash, and coins to use for pay phones. Bring paper and a pen, paper, and a list of contact numbers in case you don't have access to your cell phone or the network is overloaded. Fully charge your cell phone and bring along a spare battery and charger cable.

Bring energy snacks and a full water bottle, enough for being out for four to eight hours. Bring any personal hygiene articles you will need for the day. While it's good to patronize local businesses, they may be closed during a demonstration.

Carry a small first-aid kit that includes bandages and disinfectant wipes. In case of pepper spray or tear gas, a small pack of water-based flushable baby wipes can come in handy.

What Not to Bring With You

Leave your jewelry and valuables at home. Don't bring fragile camera equipment. Other than well-trained service animals, leave your pets at home. Crowds, chanting, noise, and congestion can be very stressful to them. Carefully consider whether to bring your children with you into this chaotic environment.

When You Have a Medical Condition

If you have diabetes, asthma, or another medical condition, ensure that you have your medications, blood sugar monitor, inhaler, EpiPen, and other health supplies. To be prepared for the worst case scenario, carry a three-day supply of your essential medications. Be sure you have medical alert identification on you in case you have an emergency in the crowd.

Mobility aids such as wheelchairs, canes, walkers, or baby strollers should be allowed, but check with the organizers and police to see if there are any restrictions, precautions, or alternate routes.

How to Carry Your Stuff

A backpack is the best way to carry your stuff and have carrying capacity for putting on layers and taking them off. However, demonstrations may have rules about whether backpacks are allowed and of what size. A clear backpack, which can be found at Amazon and other vendors, might meet the security requirements. Check with the organizers of your rally.

Carry your wallet and ID items securely as pickpockets are likely to be attracted to any group of people. Use a front pocket rather than a back pocket. It's a good idea to use a money belt, traveler's security pouch, or one of these clever ways walkers carry essential items.

A fanny pack or small backpack worn in front is another good option, especially for items such as your cell phone and snacks that you may need easy access to when in a tight crowd.

Planning Your Routes to and From the Protest

You will likely have to do more walking to and from the demonstration than you will walk during the march. Do your research on which streets may be closed for larger protests and where public transportation may be diverted. Scout stops in each direction in case your way is blocked.

Start Well-Nourished and Well-Hydrated

Have a good, balanced meal before you go to the demonstration. Drink a large glass of water an hour before you leave home so you are well-hydrated but have a chance to eliminate any excess fluids before you leave. Keep in mind that there may not be access to restrooms during the demonstration.

Staying Safe During the Protest

This is the time when you need to be constantly aware of what is happening around you. Are counter-protesters also remaining peaceful? Are the police requesting you move or remain where you are? Is the crowd becoming alarmingly congested and it would be wise to move to the periphery?

Follow your gut instincts when the situation might be turning dangerous. It's better to leave safely than remain when a peaceful protest begins to turn into something different.

In a peaceful protest demonstration, follow the directions of the police. They are there to ensure the safety of everyone. Many factors lead to their requests that you probably are not aware of in the crowd. Your calm behavior can help defuse potential conflicts.

Showing courtesy and concern for all around you can help keep the demonstration safe. Lend assistance to those who may be vulnerable or are having a medical issue.

Crowd Safety

It can be very scary to be trapped in a tight crowd. Keep your arms free rather than pinned at your side and use wide-spread footing for balance to prevent falls.

When the crowd is moving, go with them rather than attempting to remain still, but look for openings to make your way incrementally towards the periphery and out of the congestion.

Warn others about obstacles in your path, holes in the pavement, and other tripping hazards. You should immediately seek assistance for anyone who has fallen.

Leave No Trace Ethics

Don't contribute to litter. If trash cans are not available or are overflowing, pack out any wrappers, food debris, and signs with you to dispose of them properly. As when hiking, seek to leave the environment is as good or better condition than when you arrived.

After the Protest

If you noted problems or unsafe conditions, give your feedback to the organizers after the event so they can have them in mind for future rallies. Suggest solutions that will enable you to continue expressing your freedom of speech and assembly in safety.

Continue Reading