Form an AFFINITY GROUP—a group of friends to protest with. Swap names, phone numbers, emails, and emergency contacts. Keep together and plan what you’re likely to do if confronted by the police, keeping in mind that some people in your group may be more susceptible to police harassment, brutality, and arrest (e.g., people of color, and trans folk.) It can be a challenge to stick with a big group, so also consider having a “Protest Buddy”—one person that you march/ action with. Afterwards, check in and debrief with the whole group; reflecting on your experiences, and offering each other social and emotional support.
The biggest risk with a sustained protest outside in cold weather is HYPOTHERMIA. Stay dry (always carry a rain poncho), eat, drink (always carry a bottle of water), and rest. Make sure you dress in layers: next to your skin wear thin synthetic (not cotton) material, then add something thin and warm, followed by a thick layer like wool or fleece, and finally a wind/waterproof layer, a hat, and mittens. If clothes get wet, change; and if you become too hot, remove some layers (it’s better not to sweat). For really cold days, put a small amount of cayenne pepper in your shoes (not in your socks), or use heat mits. As a group you should also try to find a nearby location in which people can warm up. To stay warm while sleeping: wear dry clothes, have extra socks, keep your bedding dry and off the ground, close all tent entrances, and try and source an electric lamp as this will also give off heat. Finally, keep an eye out for signs of severe hypothermia—if you or someone else has stopped shivering, is cold, has blue or puffy skin, are mumbling, and/or stumbling, get help! (Check out the “Occupy Winter” group on Facebook for more tips on dealing with the cold.)
RESPECT that many people are involved here. (Yay!) Some are seasoned activists, others are brand new. Some of us are very conscious of things like sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, and abelism and will notice these “isms” even in the protests. Be PATIENT with each other. People aren’t usually trying to be bigots—they’re just new to understanding how these insidious oppressive ideas take root in us and how we all perpetuate them to some degree. Assess the situation.
Seek out support and SPEAK UP in a manner you feel comfortable with if you feel someone’s causing harm. “Safer Spaces” groups and other groups in various Occupy encampments will be working on ways to make it easier to address these issues. Try to stay calm and LISTEN to one another—we all have a lot to learn from people who are historically marginalized.
Respect your INTUITION and your BOUNDARIES. Just because someone is in the same protest doesn’t mean they’re necessarily a safe person to hang out with; you have to feel that out for yourself, and may want to show up initially with a good, trusted friend. Also be mindful about what you need to do to take care of yourself. We all have roles to play, and some may find that certain actions are not for them. Sleeping outside, for instance, day in and day out, in cramped spaces filled with people, can be very hard on our physical and emotional selves. For example, to take care of our mental health one of the most important things is to get enough sleep, but the encampments can make that hard—while you could use earplugs, you then won’t be as safe when it comes to dealing with possible police problems. Or maybe you’re in a situation in your life where you absolutely can’t risk getting arrested, so you have to make strategic choices about which activities to engage in. It’s important to know that there’s many ways to participate in these movements—contributing what you can, when you can, is wonderful. One of the beautiful things about being involved in protests as a diverse collective (rather than as an individual) is being able to create a space where people can step forward or back as they need to, without feeling like they are carrying the full responsibility of the movement on their shoulders. We are in this together.
Avoiding ARREST isn’t always possible because the production of fear, panic, and aggression, is a key tactic used by police to undermine protesters and protests. However, we can keep our collective ears out for clues of impending arrest situations: Police will be more tense and coordinated. Pay attention to their radios and bullhorns, discretely listen in on conversations, and be aware of shift changes. In addition, consider how police have been treating the protests in general—if they have been arresting people at random during marches that don’t have permits and you can’t risk arrest, then consider sitting these ones out and/or supporting the action in other ways (like writing letters of support to the newspaper or calling political officials). If you are arrested, stay calm. If you have important medications that you need, demand them repeatedly; you may also request to go to a hospital. You also have a right to a sandwich. Make a note of officer badge numbers and names. Make sure you have the LEGAL SUPPORT phone number written on your body. Also have some spare quarters, and call them as soon as you can.
Police BRUTALITY during an action and/or arrest poses another significant risk to our emotional, social, and physical well-being— particularly for folks who are brown, black, and/or trans and therefore more likely to be targeted for violence. Stand up for/with each other— name and shame attacks that are blatantly racist, sexist, or homophobic. In a possible arrest situation or march, take off earrings or other dangly jewelry, tuck long hair away, keep scarves and other clothing close to your body, and try not to have a bag with a long strap—all of these may get pulled and lead to added harm. Yell “MEDIC!” if you or someone else is hurt. (Street medics are trained in basic medical procedures to help protesters; they wear red crosses on their clothes.)
Notice if police are carrying a big canister that looks kind of like a fire extinguisher—this may be PEPPER SPRAY (they may also have it in pellets, foam, or small cans). It will burn your eyes and skin like crazy, and can make you nauseous. If you get sprayed, try to take your contacts out (for this reason it is actually best to avoid wearing them at all during actions). Don’t rub your eyes; instead OPEN THEM AND CRY. Wash them out with LAW (liquid antacid—Maalox—and water). Tip your head to the side and start from the inner eye so that it runs across and out the other side.
Look out for police in riot gear with gas masks—some may be holding huge TEARGAS guns that they use to shoot out teargas canisters. If you have asthma, other breathing issues, or are pregnant, try to get out. If possible walk to higher ground as teargas will sink to lower areas. (General protest etiquette is to not run because people can be trampled, but in extreme situations, you might consider it as a way to care for yourself.) Teargas makes you feel blind and like you can’t breathe for about five to twenty minutes. It can also have long- term physical effects, but mostly it can be an extremely TRIGGERING experience for many. It is loud and scary. It is possible to hold your ground, too, though often police use the teargas as a way of clearing an area, storming in like a line of robots. Be aware that the teargas canisters are extremely hot and can burn you if you try to pick them up without heat-safe gloves. One way to protect yourself is by wearing plastic goggles (like tight-fitting swim goggles) with a respirator. For a more low-tech option, cover your mouth and nose with a water-soaked rag and close your eyes. Teargas is not as effective when there’s water, and cider vinegar in the water on the rag can also help. Breathe through your nose, not your mouth. Afterwards wash your face in COLD water and castille soap. Later, take a cool shower, and wash your clothes as they will continue to off-gas.
Assume UNDERCOVER police are around. They may act as provocateurs, or just be spying on you. Don’t out anyone’s name or other info without their consent.
Collectively DEBRIEF after difficult situations. Some Occupy areas have set up “Emotional First Aid” tents where you can talk, rest, or engage in other types of healing. Sometimes it’s also a good idea to connect with people who are far removed from the action, as people who are on the scene themselves may also become traumatized. You may want to take some time away from the protests to revive yourself.
BE PROUD! You’re joining a historic and transnational legacy of strong, effective struggles for resistance that make injustices visible and intolerable, pushing us towards a better reality. Remember that Occupy is a site of protest, and of possibility. Work together to incorporate politicized playfulness and creative performances into your protests. An atmosphere of fear, aggression, and competition is not sustainable for our psyches, souls, or communities; an atmosphere of desire, vibrancy, and connectivity, is.