For those who have never attended a protest before, here are some pointers.

Protesters debating with counter-protesters, Los Angeles Women’s March, downtown Los Angeles, Calif., January 19, 2019. (Julie Dole/ Pirate)

Julie Dole / Pirate Staff Writer

Ever since the 2016 U.S. national election, protests, marches and rallies across the country have surged. Since January 2017, an estimated 10.6 million attendees participated in over 12,470 protests nationwide. Of these, California had both the largest absolute number of protesters, and the most protesters per capita. (Source:

With the 2020 presidential election coming up, and issues such as immigration, election interference, gun control, and the environment on peoples’ minds, more protests are on the horizon.

For those who have never attended a protest before, here are some pointers:

Before you Go

Travel light.  You’ll need to be nimble among possibly thousands of other people. Bring identification, a little cash, a bank card, cell phone, and charger. A water bottle, snacks, and a small shoulder bag or backpack also come in handy.  Protests often include a kiosk zone, where organizations hand out free information, water, and sometimes snacks.

Larger protests can number into the tens of thousands of people – as the crowds get huge, phone coverage may fail at these events.  Before attending, tell someone where you plan to be. If you’re going with a group or friends, agree on a location and time where everyone can meet up if you get separated.

Consider taking public transportation or a rideshare to get there and back. Parking can be hard to find near the event, and it’s often hard for drivers to navigate the blocked-off streets.

Check the start time and weather forecast – even Los Angeles gets its share of challenging weather. Wear comfortable shoes, comfortable, and bring sunscreen and a hat if needed.

Check organizers’ websites for information on any banned items. Organizers generally allow a wide range of signage at events, but depending on the event, they may limit the signs’ sizes or formats.   For example, mounting protest signs on wooden or metal poles is often prohibited for safety reasons. Organizers and local jurisdictions may also ban anything dangerous or hazardous, including firearms, open flames, spray paint, hand tools, and baseball bats.  

Leah and Chloe pose inside their protest sign, Los Angeles Women’s March, downtown Los Angeles, Calif., January 19, 2019. (Julie Dole/ Pirate)

If you’re not a U. S. citizen, bring a copy of your immigration papers. And if you’re thinking of engaging in civil disobedience, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU ) recommends bringing $100 and three day’s worth of any medicine you deem essential – just in case you get arrested.

If the protest turns rough, and tear gas gets used, holding a damp scarf or bandana against your nose may help you breathe.  And while we all love animals, it’s usually best to leave pets at home.

One thing you don’t want to leave behind at events is litter – pack out what you brought in.  Otherwise, make sure your trash finds its way to a proper trash can.

A kiosk displays protesters’ post-it notes, Los Angeles Women’s March, downtown Los Angeles, Calif., January 19, 2019. (Julie Dole/ Pirate)

Know your rights

The First Amendment protects even non-citizens’ right to peacefully assemble. This further protects demonstrators’ right to photograph, record, or video police and others in public.

Unless participants do something illegal, such as purposely blocking a road, demonstrations seldom lead to interacting with law enforcement.  Police may pat you down to check for arms, but if you are not actually under arrest, you are entitled to refuse to a search.

If the police detain you, the ACLU advises to stay calm, be polite, and not run.  If arrested, don’t resist, even if you’re innocent. Keep your hands visible, and ask if you are under arrest or are free to leave; you also have the right to remain silent.

Dealing with counter-protesters

For safety’s sake, the ACLU recommends that protesters and counter-protestors avoid engaging directly.  Local police generally separate protestors from counter-protestors, to help prevent disagreements from escalating into physical clashes.

Sometimes counter-protesters purposely infiltrate and debate or incite protesters. Some do so to capture photos, audio, or video to use on their social media. To avoid starring in the opposition’s blog posts, avoid counter-protesters, especially if they try to incite, audio-record or video the protesters.

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