The far right is unquestionably escalating its violence against those who oppose their agenda of racism, sexism, and fascism. I’m not going to waste your time with cautions about the legal or ethical perils of physical violence. I’ll assume you are all adults and you wouldn’t be interested in damaging people’s bodies unless your own life and physical safety were under attack. Nor will I digress here with thoughts on the limits of nonviolence, or the propensity of privileged white people to demand wholly nonviolent activism, while ignoring the impact of structural violence on non-white, non-privileged people. Maybe in another post. My purpose is simply to alert people to the process by which the alt-right tends to escalate “protest” into mass assault, and provide a few basic ideas for reducing injury to oneself is such a situation.
I’m fortunate to live in Austin, Texas, with a rich history of activism and ready access to elected officials. Since the election of November 2016, I’ve protested racists and Neo-Nazis, Islamophobia, misogyny, tax fraud, racism, and climate change denial; I’ve helped with safety on marches, rallies, lobbying events, and townhalls; I’ve used tactical non-violence skills on campuses, at City Hall, the state Capitol, and the offices of Congressmen. I’ve learned a lot about crowd management, dealing with DPS troopers, and how to use a walkie-talkie. I’ve also learned a great deal about my own strengths and weaknesses in the high-energy, sometimes high-conflict setting of civic activism. I’ve learned that anyone can do this work, but it’s a lot easier if we pool our knowledge. So here, in no specific order, are some tips for others interested in, or already doing, work to keep civic protest as safe and free of violence as possible.
Since November, I’ve been writing and teaching almost exclusively on the topic of resistance to political violence. So a few changes are in order:
I’ve posted a PDF version of the DRAFT protest safety training manual I’ve been developing. It covers the basic skills critical to safe and effective protest:
- emotional grounding
- boundary setting
The step-by-step guide is intended to help users acclimate themselves to the skills, and then teach them to others, as soon as they have basic familiarity with the concepts. It is very close to a peer teaching model, not because that’s necessarily the best way of disseminating these skills, but because it’s fast, and time is of the essence. As the pressures on our democracy increase, the odds of conflict will continue to rise. The more people who have exposure to these skills, the better our odds of avoiding unnecessary violence.
What this guide does NOT cover:
- Skills specific to civil disobedience, including how to respond to police and other state-sponsored violence. I’m working on a short training guide for CD, and I strongly recommend Bruce Hartford’s four-part post on tactical non-violence training.
- How to plan and run a safe protest. I’m working on a tips sheet for this that covers how to train and deploy volunteers, talk to law enforcement connected to the venue, etc. I’d love to hear from others who have been organizing actions, about what they’ve learned.
- How to be heard at townhalls and other public forums. Some basics for those situations are covered in this post, and the Indivisible Guide also has good advocacy advice. Here too, I’m working converting training materials into a useable guide for others.
I’m building a dedicated page for this website that will cover those topics and additional teaching guides. If you’re interested in such resources, please contact me via Gmail (gsschorn) or Twitter (@susanschorn).
Download the DRAFT Basic Protest Safety Guide (June, 2017 version)
Go to this earlier post to download all the handouts mentioned in the Guide.