Protests have been ongoing in North Texas since last weekend, and the issues behind this surge of activism are nothing new. Though the fight for racial equality and against police brutality has been ongoing, there are many who may be participating in protests for the first time ever.
We spoke with Anthony Lazon, the founder of Dallas For Change, a nonprofit grassroots organization whose mission is police accountability and justice, and to Julie Ross, a political and disability rights activist who has organized protests involving just about every major human rights issue. Here is what they had to say.
Know what you’re getting into
Lazon says protesters should bear in mind their safety is not guaranteed. “And that falls on the hands of not only the organizers, but also the police departments, and also falls on all of the tactical units that are being deployed. … It is a dangerous situation.” Ross recommended getting familiar with your rights as a protester and what to do if those rights are violated. These are spelled out on ACLU’s website and include the right to free speech and to photograph anything in plain view in a public space. She also suggests printing out or writing down this information and carrying it on your person when you go to a protest.
Do your research
There are a lot of protesting and demonstration events being shared widely on social media, but the trick is to find the right one. “I am not feeling 100 percent confident that the people organizing some of these protests have control, or are doing enough to maintain organization, or have the best interest of the protesters at heart,” Lazon says. “I would suggest to do some research on which organizations you would feel most comfortable in approaching and asking for further information about these protests.” Both Lazon and Ross suggest doing research to know more about the event you are going to than just finding out the time and location. You should know if you trust and agree with the organizers before you put yourself in harm’s way for the cause they are fighting for. “When people see an event on Facebook, everyone should always exercise good judgment and healthy skepticism,” Ross says. “Because when you go to a protest, you're photographed in that crowd, it basically looks like you're endorsing everything that's said from that podium.”
Know what to bring
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Lazon recommends bringing comfortable clothes, a first aid kit and milk of magnesia to treat tear gas. And face masks. “You know, we are still technically under a pandemic, and cases of COVID-19 continue to rise statewide,” he says. Both Lazon and Ross recommended having a phone number of a civil rights attorney written on your arm, or the number of a friend or family member not at the rally, who can post bond for you or help you if you get arrested. Ross also recommends having a backup phone battery, lots of water, energy bars, protective eye gear and a backup mask, just in case. “And I always bring an extra scarf. You can help tie up a wound that way, you can cover your face. And you can also cover your face and wipe away any gas that's been sprayed,” Ross says.
Stay with your group
Ross recommends having a buddy system, and Lazon suggests having a designated meet-up area in case your group gets separated. Additionally, you’ll want to have backup who isn’t at the protest with you. “You need to have someone back home that knows what time you plan to be there,” Ross says. “Have your plan, check-in times and what time the action will end and what time they can expect to hear from you.”
Remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint
“I can feel the anger and people building up, because they feel that their constitutional rights are being further violated, because they are not allowed to protest peacefully. And I think that the state troopers and the National Guard and these military tactics are only going to aggravate the situation,” Lazon says. “So I do not see them phasing out anytime soon.” It’s day six of worldwide protests as a response to the death of George Floyd, but the activists insist that the fight is far from over. “I mean, this is a fever pitch that we reached with police brutality and institutional racism, and I don't expect it to fade,” Ross says. “I will say fatigue is real. It's hard to sustain outrage days on end. It takes a personal toll on top of a pandemic.” Ross emphasizes that it's vital to take care of your mental and physical health during this time. “We do need to engage in self-care, because this is not a short-term fight. This is long-term,” she says. “And if we're going to affect any conditions, systemic change, change institutional biases … don't go and kill yourself, literally, for one event, for one protest. It's a long game.” Ross also insists that people should do more than protest. “I challenge you to do more than three hours standing in the hot sun holding a picket sign. I challenge you to register to vote, to know your elected officials and to hold them accountable.”
And if you can’t protest?
Ross is a mother of two who has disabilities and understands that not everyone is able to get out there and protest. “I don't want them (people with disabilities) to feel that if they're not hitting the streets, they're not supporting the cause. That's a fallacy," she says. "There's so many things we can do. We can call our elected officials. You can call your members of Congress. Some people are making things in their yard to say, 'We love our friends and neighbors. Black lives matter.' People are getting creative.” There are many things you can do if you want to support this movement but can’t physically be at a protest, like attending virtual protests and making donations. There are extensive actions you can take from the sidelines if you're immunocompromised or have other reasons to stay at home. Former President Barack Obama wrote in a recent Medium essay that in the end, we are also going to bring the same passion and spirit we fought at protests to the voting polls. “So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics,” Obama writes. “We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.”