Taking part in a protest can have a significant impact on your wellbeing. In this guide, we explain what you can do before, during and after a protest action to take care of everyone's wellbeing.
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First aid at protests
Check out Riot Medicine for more information about giving first aid at protests.
For some people who will take part in your action, this might be the first time they have ever protested. For others, this might be a new tactic that they are not familiar with. Make sure people know beforehand what they are getting into
Make sure to clearly communicate your action consensus. These are basic principles that you expect everyone to follow during your protest (for example, see the Extinction Rebellion action consensus). This way, everyone knows what to expect from each other and can feel safe during the action.
Get people to know each other and build trust. For example, get together and paint some banners beforehand. Make affinity groups and pair up buddies (see the section below for more info).
If you are organising a civil disobedience action, make sure to give a legal and police training beforehand. Getting arrested and having to deal with the legal consequences of civil disobedience can be a traumatic experience if you are not well prepared for what to expect. Also very important: make sure everyone knows how to behave around police. They might provoke you to do something that they can use as an excuse to use violence. In the vast majority of cases, non-violence is the way to go, so make sure to communicate this clearly to the police, participants and the public.
Train people for roles
Wellbeing support, de-escalation, first aid and arrestee support (see the section below for more info).
One week before the action, make sure to share short documents with all necessary information for each role (for example, see this wellbeing action brief by Extinction Rebellion, meant to be read by wellbeing supporters).
Check-in with coordinators
Coordinators are prone to burnout, make sure to look out for them too!
The better you are organised, the easier it becomes to make everyone feel safe. Each of these roles plays a part in ensuring the wellbeing of all your action participants. It is highly recommended to give each role a differently coloured high visibility vest.
First aid: First aiders provide medical support at protest actions. We have a large collection of guides about providing first aid at protests. Make sure to read it and practice before taking on the role of first aider.
Wellbeing support team: Wellbeing supporters make sure everyone feels well. They give _physical suppor_t, such as a blanket if it's cold, tarps and umbrellas if it rains, biscuits if people have a post-adrenaline sugar crash. They also give emotional support: for example asking how people are doing, looking out for vulnerable people and supporting people while they are being arrested.
De-escalation: De-escalators defuse tensions using non-violent communication. They are especially useful if you are organising an action where bystanders are likely to become frustrated (for example, if you are blocking a road).
Personal anchor: The anchor is someone who does not take part in the action, but provides remote support. They are a point of stability during the tumult of an action and offers check-ins as needed by activists on the ground. They might be someone who can’t come to the action or wants to support from a distance, thus conserving their energies, especially for pre- and post-action support.
Arrestee support: The arrestee support team is a group of people who specifically are there to offer support to those that get arrested.
Spokesperson (no separate guide yet): Not everyone likes talking with press. Spokespeople are well-versed in the narrative of your action and core values and demands of your movement.
Police liaison (no separate guide yet): person who talks with police
Legal observers (no separate guide yet): people who watch police behaviour and keep track of any misconduct.
Affinity groups & buddy system
You can easily feel lost in the crowd at a protest, so it is nice to have some people you know and trust around you. This is especially the case for inexperienced activists or people taking part in civil disobedience actions. Forming affinity groups and pairing up buddies can make people feel much safer.
Meditation & breathing exercises: In our day-to-day lives, mental health is often dismissed as unimportant. You may feel a bit uncomfortable with the idea of doing meditation or breathing exercises. But we highly recommend you to try to experience it once, as it is actually a really nice way to calm down and be open up to your emotions. You can do it alone, but we encourage you to also do it in groups before, during or after an action.
Songs & music (no separate guide yet): Singing songs can help spread your message, create a good atmosphere and bring energy to a protest. It can also help to bring stress levels down or de-escalate tensions.
- Emotional debrief (no separate guide yet, reuse this article by XR)
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This article was written based on the practices of Extinction Rebellion. If you know about any practices used by other movements which are not discussed here, do add them!
Protest actions vary widely. The practices used here are useful for the type of civil disobedience actions that XR uses. It may be valuable to also discuss practices for other types of protest tactics.
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