I mentioned in my Beginners Guide to Protesting that it’s a good idea to carry food and water to a protest. This is true, but it’s not really the whole story. There are more things that many people recommend having with you, especially as you get more serious in terms of how long you want to spend out at a protest or how much risk you are willing to take on. I’d like to share here a bit more about what I wear and bring currently to a protest march, and what I’m going to start doing in the future.
I want to be clear here that these are my own choices, and reflect my own risk tolerance. The risks you are willing to take on may be higher or lower than mine. Your financial means may be higher or lower than mine as well.
In order to increase my safety and the safety of those around me I NEVER wear or carry:
Contacts lenses (I wear glasses)
Firearms or any other weapons
Knives, including pocket knives
For a protest march I currently carry:
A backpack. Gotta have something to carry things in! I make sure NOT to use my regular every day bag because I want to make sure I don’t accidentally bring along one of those items above that I shouldn’t have on me.
Water. I usually carry two liters of water in Nalgene bottles because they’re sturdy and won’t open up in my bag if it gets roughly handled. Carry as much water as you can comfortably.
Snacks. I like Clif Bars, but anything that is easy to carry and eat on the move works. Having a good meal before the protest begins helps too.
My ID. I have no intention of refusing to give my name to cops if arrested. There are others who have different opinions about this. If you intend to refuse to give your identity to police be prepared to spend a lot more time being held than you would otherwise.
Quarters. I try to carry at least a dollar in quarters to make a phone call if arrested. I don’t want to have to call my lawyer collect!
My lawyer’s number. I have a defense attorney I know I can call if I am arrested. I write her phone number on my arm in sharpie when I go to protests. Assume that any paper on you and your cell phone will be taken away from you if arrested, so make sure you either have memorized or written on your body the number you will want to call.
My inhaler. Any legal medication you are likely to need, especially in an emergency, you should definitely have on your person.
One or more bandannas. These are versatile as heck. They can cover your face to obscure your identity. When soaked in vinegar they may help a little bit to protect against pepper spray and tear gas (but not as much as better options below). They work as bandages. They can keep the sun off you, soak up sweat, keep the wind off your face, or flag your kinks to potential hookups.
Dust masks but I am soon ordering a few P100 masks, which are more protective against riot control chemicals. They’re no gas mask, but they are recommended for low concentrations of tear gas or for escaping a contaminated area. You may want to invest in a half mask respirator instead. If you do, make sure you are using P100 filters or P100/Organic Vapor filters. Remember that none of these options are a gas mask. If you want to use a gas mask instead please do your research on them and know what you are doing.
I generally do not cover my face (with a bandanna, filter mask, or other mask). I will do it to protect myself from chemicals, but not to obscure my identity. I want my face seen at protests because I am proud of the movements I participate in and I am willing and able to be seen. I also believe that obscuring one’s face increases attention from the police and therefore increases risk of confrontation rather than decreases it. I understand that many others have differing opinions on those issues, and that others are at greater risk (due to work or family) if recognized at a protest. I don’t judge those who obscure their faces, but I choose not to.
Safety glasses that fit over my regular glasses. I have never needed to use them, but if objects start flying (bottles, bricks, rubber bullets, tear gas canisters, etc) these would help protect my eyes. They may also help protect from pepper spray and tear gas, but I plan on upgrading to full-coverage goggles soon.
Sharpie markers. People ALWAYS ask if anyone around has these, in order to make/update signs, or to write phone numbers on their skin. I usually carry several because they’ll disappear at protests.
An external battery pack with built-in flashlight. A separate charger and flashlight are fine, I just like that mine has both.
Cell phone. I currently carry my regular cell phone to protests, but I’m going to buy a burner phone. It’s important to me to be able to take video if needed and to stay in communication with friends who are also protesting, but my every day phone is probably too expensive to keep taking to protests. Plus, I learned recently that the Chicago Police Department employs cellphone tracking and if I am arrested I’d rather my phone not be in the hands of the police, so a cheap prepaid phone is probably a good idea.
Ear plugs. I have really sensitive hearing. Wearing ear protection in a crowd helps me withstand the situation longer. I only wear them when the situation feels pretty safe and low-key, but having them significantly lengthens the amount of time I can be out protesting.
My trans pride flag. I wear my flag as a cape, and Spouse has a rainbow flag and a non-binary pride flag. We’re currently participating in protests opposing the incoming Trump/Pence administration. These protests have been inclusive of a huge range of issues, from support of immigrants, to queer rights, to environmental issues, and more. I feel strongly about all of these issues, but my trans identity is the most personal one for me. I want the needs of the trans community to be visible in opposition to the oppression we face, and I can best do that by putting on a big flag. I sometimes carry signs as well, but those are not as important to me as the flag.
Of course your preferences are likely to be a little different than mine, but hopefully this helps you consider some things you may want to bring along to your next protest! I just hope you get out there and participate because protesting is what democracy looks like.