As I headed off to ‘Block the Bridge’ last weekend concerned friends worried about what I’d do when I was arrested. There’s a perception among lots of people I know that if you attend any protest or demo, it will end in violence, destruction and/or arrest, and I’ve seen it put people off taking part.
But I’ve been on plenty of demos and marches over the last few years, and that’s not the case. Yes, things often kick off, but it’s more unusual to get caught up in that unwittingly than it is to spend a day marching, chanting, chatting and then heading home. Either way, if you have reached the stage where you want to get out there and show your dissatisfaction but you have no idea how to begin then this is for you.
5 tips from the sideline. A protesting 101...
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The first time I got on a ‘protest bus’ I was worried there would be lots of earnest singing and sharing during the drive, but this has never happened to me. Not once. I’m sure if you wanted to you could start up a discussion group or a few rousing choruses of Power to the People, but most people seem to be content to look out of the window, doze and chat to their friends.
Kettle or not, you’re going to get hungry. Take some sandwiches and biscuits. This is also a nice way to get chatting to other people. The same can be said about taking waterproofs, sunglasses, a jumper etc. You’re going to be outside for a while (unless you’re occupying a building). Make sure you’ll be comfortable.
Getting the drink balance right is more tricky. Shouting can wear out your voice – but drink too much when you’re in a confined space or long march and you have to stop protesting in order to find a loo. Peeing at a McDonalds without paying does not count as sticking it to the man, sorry.
As for alcohol, the general consensus is a pint is well-earned after a hard day’s protesting – but starting earlier could lead to trouble. The one time I almost had a run in with the police (get me and my rebellious ways) it was because I had been drinking and drinking makes you stupid. Save it for the post-march pub analysis.
There will be people, probably wearing high-viz jackets, handing out bust cards: they look like business cards but instead of a logo and an email address they have contact details for lawyers and legal advice in the event of your arrest. Take one. I’ve never been arrested, but knowing that if I am for some reason I won’t have to figure out what to do on my own is reassuring.
Spotting the best home made slogans always keeps me entertained. They’re a good way of expressing yourself, and fun to make. But if you want to carry one without making it, at just about any protest, there will be groups with spare placards. Just check first to make sure they are not from an organisation who you utterly disagree with. Also while it’s good to have something to carry at first, they do get annoying after a few hours.
This goes double for banners – cloth is way heavier than you’d expect. Cut some holes or slits in them for the wind to go through, or you may find yourself unexpectedly kite-surfing over the heads of the other protesters.
Everyone thinks this. You’re in the middle of thousands of passionate people, you spend the day having debates, repeating chants and generally being in a space where the issue on your mind is of primary concern. And then you get home and it hasn’t even made the news.
I’m not saying this is ok – the practical lesson in media focus can be a pretty gutting experience. Just, be prepared. And take to the internet to correct the balance.