How to Peacefully Protest
Protests are a great way to bring attention to a cause while expressing your discontent, but your message might be lost if violence, rioting, or vandalism occurs. If you are organizing the march, work ahead of time to identify safe and legal avenues to protest. Participants should use unaggressive tactics to gain visibility without confrontation. This can be done by working with both the police and legal aid to ensure that nobody violates the law or individual rights.
EditOrganizing a Protest
- Decide what type of protest you want to do. There are many forms of peaceful protest that can express dissatisfaction without resorting to violence, anger, or rioting. Your location, time, and permits may depend on the type of protest that you choose.
- Picketing is a type of rally where people hold up signs and chant slogans to express their complaints. In some cases, you may not need permits to picket.
- Marching moves the rally through the streets. This allows you to get more visibility, but it requires more permits and organization.
- A vigil is a quiet form of protest in which people gather silently at night to hold candles. They are often done to memorialize a tragedy.
- A sit-in is a rally where people occupy a space or area. They may refuse to move until their demands are met or acknowledged.
- Research your local laws. In the United States, the government cannot deny you the right to protest, but they can set rules for how you do it. Check with your local city council or police to learn if you need permits to protest in your town. Ask them what laws or regulations there are surrounding protests.
- Generally, you can protest on the sidewalk without a permit as long as you are not blocking the way.
- If you are planning to march, you will need to get permits to close the streets.
- You may be required to get permission if you plan to use loud speakers.
- If you are protesting on private property, you will need to get written permission from the property owner to protest.
- Get a permit to protest if needed. Permits are typically granted by the police or city council a few weeks before the protest. You will need to tell them the time, date, and location of the protest. Keep in mind that the government cannot deny you a permit based on what you’re protesting.
- When you apply for a permit, you may be granted a police presence at the assembly to help keep the peace.
- If your permit is denied, you may be able to appeal the decision. You can offer to change your route, time, or location.
- Be prepared for a worst-case scenario. Many forms of civil disobedience, such as blocking traffic, are illegal. You can be fined or arrested for these acts. Even at a legal rally, there is always a risk that participants might be arrested. Understand these risks, and prepare yourself ahead of time just in case.
- Get legal representation ahead of the protest. If you are arrested, ask to call your lawyer immediately.
- You may want to save money in advance to pay for bail or fines. Ask a partner, friend, or family member to pay your bail if necessary.
- Do not plan to resist arrest.
- Recruit speakers to motivate the crowd. Speakers can help spread the cause by talking about the movement that you have started. They should also motivate the crowd to keep protesting. Short, brief, and proactive speeches are best.
- You should approve all speakers before the event. Remind them that this is a peaceful protest. They should not incite violence or encourage people to break the law.
- Advertise your protest. Once you have gotten all of the right permits, you can start advertising your protest. Make sure to specify that this will be a peaceful protest. Use bright colors and large fonts to catch people’s eye. To advertise, you can:
- Post flyers in local coffee shops, university campuses, libraries, and other public venues.
- Make an event page on a social media website and share it with your friends.
- Inform the local news channel about the location of the protest.
- Make an announcement at a society meeting, church, charity event, or other public gathering.
EditKeeping the Protest under Control
- Work with the police to ensure that no violence occurs. A healthy, mutually respectful relationship with the police is a good way to ensure that neither side will become aggressive during the protest. Visit the police station before your protest to talk to a representative about how to keep the protest peaceful.
- A police presence is not a bad thing. If there are people who oppose your cause, the police can protect the protestors. They can also help keep the protest organized.
- If you are planning on having a police presence, tell your volunteers in advance. Remind them that the police are there to protect them, not to harm or arrest them.
- Request a legal observer. A legal observer is a lawyer that will observe the protest to make sure that it follows the law. They can help keep protestors in line by discouraging illegal activity. If protestors are arrested, they will work with the police on their behalf. If the police overstep their boundaries, the legal observer will record the details of the event to file a complaint later.
- You can hire legal observers from a local law firm. Civil rights organizations may also have legal staff that can be loaned out to the protest.
- A legal observer will not protect protestors if they break the law. They are there to make sure that no laws are broken, either by the police or by the protestors.
- Rope off the area where the crowd will protest. It is a good idea to keep the crowd contained. Not only can this prevent the protest from spreading out uncontrollably, but it will also help your crowd look larger and more organized in photographs. This will help you advertise your cause in later protests.
- Designate marshals to help control the crowd. A large group of core volunteers will need to help manage the protest. These volunteers should be responsible for controlling the crowd, handing out flyers, and enforcing the rules.
- If some protesters start to heckle people or vandalize, the marshals can talk them down before the violence spreads.
- If the police are acting aggressively towards peaceful protestors, the marshals can talk to the police to help negotiate a peaceful resolution.
- If the protest will be moving, the marshals can help keep the crowd in line so that it does not spread out beyond its designated boundary.
EditParticipating in the Protest
- Wear clearly identifiable clothing to associate yourself with the cause. Many different types of people can join a protest. There may be police, medics, and counter-protestors at the event as well as advocates for your cause. To associate yourself with the peaceful protest, wear bright, identifiable clothing that has the logo, slogans, or colors of the cause you are working with.
- For example, if you are at a protest for LGBT rights, you may want to wear rainbow clothing, as this is an identifiable sign of the cause.
- If counter-protestors start causing problems, this clothing can identify you as part of the peaceful crowd.
- Create signs that explain your cause. A good protest will gain visibility for a cause by catching the eyes of people passing by. Picket signs are a great way to show why you’re protesting without confronting people.
- Make short but catchy slogans for your signs, such as “Stopping pollution is the only solution” or “If you can read this, thank a teacher.”
- Avoid slogans that bully, insult, or dehumanize other people. For example, if you are protesting a local law, you should avoid calling your political representatives names like “idiots.” Instead, criticize the law itself.
- Hand out flyers to advertise your cause. Instead of yelling at or assaulting spectators, you should make sure that they understand your cause. Flyers should contain information on where the person can learn more about the cause. List a website, email, or charity that the person can contact.
- You may want to collect emails at the protest so that you can contact people afterwards to continue the good work. Spectators can give their email address to learn more.
- Informative flyers should contain bullet points with the most important facts and persuasive statistics.
- You may want to include information on how someone can become involved in the cause. For example, you might include the mailing address for your political representatives or the date for your next action meeting.
- Interact with police in a calm and respectful manner. If you are arrested at the protest, you should not resist, even if you believe that you are being unfairly treated. Instead, cooperate with the police to ensure that you are not charged for other crimes.
- Ask if you are being arrested. If they say yes, do not resist. Instead, ask to speak to your lawyer or the legal observer.
- Be honest about your identity. Hand over your ID when requested. You do not have to answer any other questions.
- If you believe that the police are unfairly arresting someone, remember that interfering with the arrest is a crime. Instead, document the arrest by filming it or writing down the officer’s badge number and name.
- Protect yourself in case something goes wrong. Protests can be unpredictable. Even if you are peaceful yourself, some disruptions can still occur. In that case, make sure that you are prepared to get yourself out of the situation safely.
- It is best to have a buddy or group of friends with you at the protest. If something happens, help each other get out of the situation safely.
- Bring any essential medications, even if you do not think you will need to take them during the protest. This includes inhalers and epipens.
- Take some extra cash in case you need to get a taxi or use a payphone to call for help.
EditSources and Citations
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