This is the second episode in a two part series on street action. In this episode, I’ll be looking at what happens once you hit the streets, including how to do a basic eye flush and some ways to deal with an arrest. If you haven’t listened yet, go back and check part 1 as well!
M is a street medic in the Northeast region of the US. They recommend this video for learning how to do an eye flush.
- Check out part 1 of this series on preparing for street action.
- Listen to our Spotify playlist for more content on street action.
- Whatever you do, don’t talk to the cops! For more on that, check out Rev Left Radio’s episode “Red Hot Take: DON'T TALK TO COPS!”
Further Medical Resources:
- TikTok on how to do an eye flush from the.baltic.moon
- Protest Safety Info from Your Friendly Neighbor Street Medic via Tumblr.
- Eye Safety During Protests from the American Academy of Ophthalmology
- COVID-19 Guide for NYC Actions
- Muff the Police!: Sonic Care At Demonstrations – Daphne Carr covering LRADs and how to protect against them.
Further Reading & Resources:
- “Tools and Tactics in the Portland Protests: From Leaf Blowers and Umbrellas to Lasers, Balloons, and Power Tools” from Crimthinc
- “Lasers In The Tear Gas: A Guide To Tactics In Hong Kong” via It’s Going Down.
- “War In The Streets: Tactical Lessons From The Global Civil War (2009-16)” a book from Ill Will Editions, via It’s Going Down.
- 10 Ways to De-Arrest Your Friends from Mask Magazine.
- “You Have the Right to Remain Silent: A Know You Right Guide to Law Enforcement Encounters” by the National Lawyers Guild is an overview of dealing with different law enforcement agencies.
- Thread of de-arrest examples
News from this episode:
- “Tear gas is being used on U.S. protesters: Where did it come from?” CBS This Morning
- “How Tear Gas Went From A Weapon Of War To A $3 Billion Industry” Business Insider
- “Plastic Handcuff Use by NYPD During Anti-Brutality Protests Strikes a Nerve” by Peter Senzamici from The City
Welcome to Rebel Steps. I’m your host, Liz.
This is the second episode in a two part series on street action. In the first episode, I explored how to prepare for an action. The episode covered things like forming an affinity group, digital security, and what gear to bring. If you haven’t listened yet, go back and check it out. In this episode, I’ll be looking at what happens once you hit the streets, including how to do a basic eye flush and some ways to deal with an arrest.
First, I want to talk about just plain marching. There are plenty of things to do as a participant that make a march a little more effective, and maybe a little more fun.
If you’re part of a permitted march, you’ll likely stay on a designated route and, hopefully, won’t have much interference from police, though that is increasingly less true. If you’re in a non-permitted march, you might have more to worry about and this will be more applicable.
One of the easiest ways to participate in a march is just by joining and leading the chants. If there aren’t many organizers or megaphones, you may find yourself in a quieter part of the march. Chants will fire up the march and also communicate to bystanders what’s going on. Chants also bring the march together, creating a unifying and emotional atmosphere.
Chants can also have a tactical use. I’ve heard people chanting things like “Slow down” if part of the march is getting left behind by the front. If the crowd starts stampeding, you might chant “Walk don’t run” to make sure everyone is able to move safely. You might also use the chant “Stay together, stay tight” when there’s fear of the police picking off those on the edges of the march or fear that the police will try to split a march in two.
Protesters chanting: Stay together stay tight, we do this every night
Tactical chants are a way for one part of the crowd to talk to another part of the crowd.
Speaking of tactics, staying together and keeping the march unified should be the goal. I’ve seen protesters at the tail end of a march snagged by police. I’ve seen marches splintered into many small groups that are easier for the cops to handle. Some ways to stay safe are locking hands with the people you are with and encouraging everyone around you to fill in the gaps in a march.
Lastly, as your march meanders, you’ll likely find the police will try and blockade various streets and bridges to keep you from continuing. To avoid this, you’ll likely find yourself in a “snake march.” A snake march meanders on streets, makes lots of turns, and sometimes goes against traffic to try and prevent police from interfering. Get creative! Be unpredictable. Jump over fences. Go through parks.
Protesters chanting: Hands up, don’t shoot
Will: Hey I’m Will. I’ve been involved in anarchist organizing for about three years in New York and I love riding my bicycle.
Last episode I talked about scouting before an action. You can also scout during an action and doing so can provide some essential support.
Will: Scouting can be really crucial, but it also involves a lot of moving parts. Any march, you already have a problem of coordination, which is there are hundreds, thousands of people trying to walk together. You have to think about scouting as like trying to bring relevant things like where are the police, what kinds of barricades and obstacles might be around us, is there imminent danger. The simplest form of this is scouting in front of the march a few blocks or something and see riot cops arriving. And so you rush back to the march and yell at the top of your lungs, “There’s a bunch of riot cops in front of us.” That’s like one form of scouting. If you want to get more advanced, then you might have scouts in front of a march, behind a march, on either side of the march, and communicating with people remotely. It’s good to know what you’re coming into. And scouting can help with that.
Will walked me through what this might look like based on their experience.
Will: Often there will be a team of people maybe who get together and say, “Okay, I’m going to be one avenue to the west,” and the other person is going to be one avenue to the east or something. Maybe we know which way the organizers are trying to lead the demonstration. And we try and keep eyes on, you know, these parallel streets. Riot cops in New York will often trail people on parallel streets and things like that. Knowing where the police are can be very good. So sometimes I will also just camp out across from a big staging area, you know, where they’re like 10 or 20 police vans and things like that. And if I see them leave, I can follow them. And I can write people and say “Looks like they’re deploying. Expect police reinforcements to arrive.”
While some scouts will be around the action, having an offsite support person as well can add context to what scouts are seeing.
Will: If you’ve ever tried to follow social media, in the middle of an action you will find it’s quite difficult. That’s a bit of an understatement. So if you have somebody off site, they can be sitting there and looking at cop radios. At least in New York, there are all sorts of people who are listening to cop radios, and reporting who’s going where, the strategic response group, which is like the worst New York riot cops, where they’re being deployed to. That can be really good to have. You can also have somebody with a map. Some people have good spatial awareness, other people don’t. And just to be able to know like, okay, there are cops five blocks in front of you, and two blocks west or something like that may not mean much to somebody on the streets. But if you have a good idea for where the march is and how things are moving, then you can report that and that can be really valuable. If you’re at an anti-fascist mobilization, there are actually a lot of MAGA types who really love live streaming. And they also love coming over and provoking counter-demonstrators. So an offsite person can actually sit and say, okay, the MAGA demonstrators are at this location, or maybe they just announced they’re heading your way, something’s going to happen. So watch out. One other consideration is that if you have this kind of comms structure, with scouts and off site people, obviously, this is a lot of infrastructure. And it depends on like how much preparation time you have, and what kind of formation you’re working with. One thing that is often done is you strictly separate scouts and people who are in the march because you don’t want to necessarily have your scouts get picked up by the police, for example. And having people on foot around march and having people on bikes who are not easily identifiable can add an extra level of safety.
Scouting is one way Will has participated in actions on a bike, but they also wanted to share some other ways bikes can assist in street actions.
Will: One of the really fascinating things that’s happened in New York is you’ll go to demonstrations. And there will be, you know, 20, 50, 100 people on bikes who show up and they will be out in front of the march basically. Before May, you didn’t really see this. And one thing that people often do is the bikes will anticipate where the march is going, or maybe speak with the people who are leading the march or what have you. They will go to the next intersection and indicate to drivers that they should get through so that they aren’t caught in traffic. This is a very nice thing for drivers. Certainly one purpose of clearing streets like that is to like keep people from endangering the march as well, because you’ve seen a string of automobile attacks, especially since May, but going back years already, where people will just drive their cars into these marches in very gruesome way. People with bikes they’ll be in front of the march trying to prevent that. I’ve also seen people doing back lines with the idea that like a line of bikes will defend the rear end of the march basically better. Another thing that somebody can do on a bike is stop a street from moving basically. Several cyclists could block a street. And if you block the street, you could block, maybe not block police vans. That might be quite dangerous, but maybe you’re you know up half a block or something blocking the cars in front of the police vans. You can actually keep the police from arriving at the scene if you wanted it to.
So if you’re in a city, hop on your bike or recruit some bike friends to assist you!
Dealing with Tear Gas Tactically
News report 1: From Portland, and Minneapolis, to just outside the White House. Tear gas is sending protesters fleeing, with their eyes watering and skin burning.
News report 2: Shrouded in a thick cloud of tear gas, police on the roof are firing volley after volley of tear gas. Nobody was doing anything. Get back, get back.
News report 3: There was so much gas that has been launched again, that you can barely even see that line of officers.
Dealing with tear gas has unfortunately become commonplace around the US this year. In New York it’s actually banned for real, so I haven’t experienced it first hand recently. But many cities, such as Portland, aren’t so lucky. Activists have developed a slew of ways to deal with this. There’s throwing tear gas canisters back at the cops using oven mitts or hockey sticks. I’ve seen videos of people kicking them back like soccer balls. In Hong Kong, protesters disabled the tear gas canisters using traffic cones and water. In Chile, protesters collected the canisters in water jugs, effectively extinguishing them. And then there’s leaf blowers….
[leaf blower sound]
In Portland, activists used leaf blowers to push the gas back toward the cops and diffuse it so it was not as concentrated.
Whatever method you choose to use, it always helps to think through what it will be like.
Gary: Hi, I’m Gary and I’ve been working in the climate movement and the anti-war anti-global domination movement for about 12 years now, and I reside out in the Cascadian region of the Pacific Northwest.
Gary, from the last episode, shared his experience
Gary: Yeah, leaf blowers are amazing. First, it’s important to understand that there’s multiple types of what we call tear gas. Tear gas is a term that we use to kind of because causes tears. This is a broad base term, a military as a type that’s known as CS gas. These gases are chemical weapons. Their usage is banned by the Geneva Convention. They’re not to be used in warfare, but they are used in Israel, they are used in the United States. And they’re used in a number of other places that qualify as dictatorships. You know, we’re pretty used to it at this point. But it’s quite shocking that a supposedly democratic government allows a police force in its country to utilize chemical weapons against its citizens, it’s really quite shocking. And there needs to be work done by human rights activists to move us to a place where this is not allowed around the country. And we’ve seen, we’ve seen this deploy, we’ve seen tear gas deployed all over the United States over the last couple of months, and many communities have been dealing with this for a long time. But now it’s becoming much more mainstream that we’re seeing it.
In addition to understanding what tear gas is and the tactics used for protecting yourself from it, you’ll want to be prepared for what happens when you’re exposed. And warning, it’s not a pleasant description.
Gary: Different parts of your body are going to experience different effects. So the number one that people think about is generally their eyes. It’s going to cause you to cry. It’s going to cause redness, burning, maybe even blurred vision. The next thing is your skin, it can burn your skin. It can cause rashes on your skin, depending on the amount of exposure. If you get it in your mouth, it’s going to cause a lot of irritation. You can have burning in your mouth, it can make you drool. In your throat, it can make it difficult to swallow, your nose is going to probably run. It’s also going to burn. You may have some swelling anywhere where you’re ingesting things. Your lungs, and especially with Corona [covid-19], this is a really important thing to consider in terms of threat, like it’s going to cause shortness of breath, maybe tightening in your chest wheezing, coughing, choking. It’s important to think about this in terms of your age as well. So if you’re like most Americans, over 60, you have pre-existing conditions that can include lung issues that you already have. And so it’s important to consider your age. If you are in a situation where you’re experiencing tear gas that can add an elevated threat to you. People have died from from overexposure to tear gas. And also like you can be nauseous for a number of days, you can vomit. If you have a large amount of exposure to it. From a political level, you know, nothing really makes you angrier, it’s like getting punched in the face. It just like immediately creates a lot of anger. You don’t forget it the rest of your life. It can be a politicizing process for people who just… “I just wanted to go out to a rally. I want to hear some people speak and support the good fight.” And then you get tear gas and you’re like “I just was assaulted, I assaulted by the police.” Now you’re in it. You know you’re in it for a long haul. You’re not just like a tourist coming in and going and stuff. You’re pissed and you rightly should be upset.
If you live in an area where police use tear gas, be sure to account for that in your preparation.
Gary: This is where like things like wearing a mask, wearing eye protection, long sleeve, long socks, you know can really, really help. If you’re a person that wears makeup, don’t wear makeup. It can help tear gas stick to you. It can even like run off and stick to your lips or stick to your nose. You don’t want to screw with that. Having your own water is really good. If you wear glasses, do not wear contacts. Do not wear contacts to actions.
Dealing with Chemical Attacks Medically
M: You can call me M. I use they/them pronouns. I’m part of a street medic collective. I’ve been running as an action medic in various capacities for the last three or four years. In addition to that myself and other folks in my collective do a variety of other medical work in the streets. We provide medical care jail support, distribute harm reduction supplies, and work with houseless folks to get their needs met. As street medics, we also do a lot of skill sharing and training. A lot of my own medical knowledge comes from older, more experienced medics in my collective and older, more experienced folks in the broader street medic community. There are a lot of us across the country that share a lot of knowledge in various different ways. And we try to spread that knowledge where we can. As medics we sort of believe that in democratizing and decentralizing medical care is part of a larger project of collective liberation and abolition. Basically we try to arm folks where we can with as much knowledge to care for themselves and their communities as possible,
While knowing tactics for disarming tear gas canisters is one way to prepare for chemical agents, it’s also a good idea to have some knowledge of the medical way to handle them. M walked me through doing an eye rinse. But before they get into the details, they started by explaining how an eye rinse works.
M: The eye flushes that we use to treat chemical weapons are mechanical flushes, like the eye flushes that are in chemistry labs. So those like eye flush stations that like bright yellow like bowls that shoot water, you know, water. Basically, we use pressurized water to force the particles of pepper spray or other chemical weapons or whatever is irritating people’s eyes out of the eyes. That’s it. Pepper Spray is just an irritating chemical and water, which isn’t irritating, pushes it out of people’s eyes. A lot of people seem to think eye flushes are sort of magic, somehow. People think that this substance or that substance will deactivate pepper spray or like counteract that or like do some like secret mystical magic. But that’s just not how it works. Eye flushes are literally just physics. Like they’re not magic. They’re not even chemistry. They’re just physics. Like you have particles in people’s eyes, the water pushes the particles out of people’s eyes. That’s the reason that when we do eyes flushes we use water in sports tip bottles. So the stream has a little bit of a little bit higher pressure rather than just like pouring it out water out onto people’s faces just because that’s the most efficient way to to achieve the kind of mechanical flush we’re looking for.
I think a lot of misconceptions come from the idea that you’re doing a chemical reaction on someone’s eyes. And this just isn’t the case! You are merely washing something out. With that explanation out of the way, let’s talk about the details of how to do an eye rinse:
M: For an eye flush, you need two things: you need a sports water bottle and you need nitrile gloves. I say nitrile rather than latex because some people are allergic to latex. You don’t want to have somebody who has just been pepper sprayed have an allergic reaction to your gloves. That makes nobody’s day better. It’s also a really good idea to practice this kind of thing with a comrade before doing it at a protest. In high pressure situations, when your adrenaline’s pumping, it’s much easier to remember things that you’ve already done with your body than trying to learn new skills that you’ve just read about or like seen videos of on the fly.
M: So if you see somebody getting pepper sprayed, the first thing you do is approach them offer your help and gain their consent. I would do that by saying something along the lines of “Hey, I’m a street medic, I have water to flush your eyes. Can I help you.” Make sure you don’t touch people don’t start treatment until the person consents to it. Also, remember consent is an ongoing process. So make sure to keep checking in with folks. While you’re doing what you’re doing, I often narrate what I’m doing. Remember that folks who have been pepper sprayed often can’t see. And so using your voice to tell them what you’re doing so they’re not like suddenly touched and like don’t expect it or like suddenly have water in their face and don’t expect it is a really good way to keep that like active consent practice. I’ll often ask like, “Okay, ready?” before I do an eye flush.
M: So if the person says yes, if you like walk up to them, say can I help you, they say yes, then you put on your gloves. It’s really important to keep whatever’s on your hands off their face, and whatever is on their face, like pepper spray off your hands. While you’re putting on your gloves, make sure to ask the person if they’re wearing contacts. It’s really easy to forget this, but it’s hugely important. An eye flush because it’s a mechanical flush, like we talked about, can push someone’s contacts back into their eyes. And those are contacts covered in pepper spray. So that can cause some pretty serious injuries. So it’s always important to ask people if they’re wearing contacts before flushing their eyes. If the person is wearing contacts, give them a spare glove. So you should have more than two gloves when you’re doing this. Give them a spare glove. Tell them to take the contacts out with their glove. If the person is wearing glasses, take your glasses off and hand the glasses to the person. Protests can get really chaotic. So it’s important people always have their glasses with them. Because sometimes you’ll get separated from people and you really don’t want to end up with somebody’s glasses and not know where the person is. They can’t see. It’s a whole mess. So take their glasses off, hand the glasses to the person.
M: So after you’ve dealt with that whole like eyewear situation, ask the person to kneel. Ideally, you want to have them put their hands under their legs or at least keep their hands on their knees. This prevents them from rubbing their eyes and getting pepper spray everywhere. After the person is sitting is a great time to affirm consent. Make sure you’re narrating what you’re doing. So at this point, you’re going to open the person’s eyes. So you’re going to tilt their head back and slightly to the side, to the side of the first eye that you’re ready to flush. Hold the eye open with your gloved fingers. Basically, you sort of pinch their eyebrow up or like pull their lower eyelid and their upper eyelid in opposite directions. You just want to pull their eye open, their eyes are going to be really tightly closed, it’s really hard to get people’s eyes open after they’ve been pepper sprayed. You want to pull the person’s eyes open. Aim your bottle of water at the bridge of their nose, and then spray a stream of water with as much pressure as possible from the inner point of their eye where the tear duct is to the outer edge. The goal is to get the pepper spray out of the person’s eyes. So you want to spray it so their head is angled slightly down and you want to spray the water in that downward angle away from their other eye. So then you’re going to do the same thing on the other side. So re-tilt, the person’s head, open their other eye, spray the water in the other eye. And then tell the person to blink. If they still can’t see, repeat the process, tilt head, hold the eye open, spray, on both sides, blink, until they can see. Usually especially if somebody got hit really directly it’s going to take at least two or three flushes. I’ve definitely like had situations where I flushed somebody eyes like four or five times and they’re still like, “Oh my god, it hurts so much,” which is going to happen. Again eye flushes aren’t magic. You can keep flushing a person’s eyes, keep telling them to blink. Their tears and the eye flush will drive the pepper spray out. Slowly their sight will come back. Folks who maybe got a hit less directly might only take one or two flushes but don’t get freaked out if somebody still can’t see after the first flush.
Check out the show notes for a video of this process as well. You may have noticed M announced themself as a street medic. But Even if you’re not a street medic, you can be helpful to those around you with this skill.
M: Knowing how to do an eye flush doesn’t make you a street medic. I totally have comrades who aren’t street medics but have done eye flushes in the street when there were not street medics around. That’s part of the reason why we teach this skill to literally everyone we can get our hands on is because, it’s a really easy skill to do. It’s easy to do right and it doesn’t make you a street medic. And carrying a water bottle for flushes is something that honestly everybody should do because it takes the strain off medics in those sort of high pressure situations when there might be other problems that we need to be solving. Somebody who’s not a street medic shouldn’t be dealing with the head wound. But if I’m treating a head wound, and somebody else gets pepper sprayed, I would love for there to be somebody else who knows how to do an eye flush. You know? But as far as language, saying things like “Hi, I have water I can help you.” Or “I know how to do an eye flush. Can I help you?” Or “I know how to treat pepper spray. Can I help you?” Really any of those things. Honestly, if you just walk up to somebody and be like, “hey, it seems like you got pepper sprayed. Can I help you?” that is totally enough.
Before you move on, make sure the person you’re helping can see without a problem and offer them some aftercare tips.
M: Before leaving your comrade that got pepper sprayed, make sure to give them some aftercare instruction. When you leave somebody who’s been pepper sprayed, you want to make sure that they can all the way see again. If they are still having trouble seeing, help them get out of the situation that they’re in and make sure they have a safe way home before leaving them. And then also before leaving them, aftercare instructions: So you want to remind them to bag their contaminated clothes as soon as they get home so they don’t get pepper spray everywhere. Remind them to rinse off with cool water first to wash the pepper spray off before showering in hot water. Hot water opens your pores. You really don’t want pepper spray in open pores. Trust me. And then also remind them when they shower to start by washing their hair in such a way that the water doesn’t get in their face, so they don’t accidentally wash pepper spray back into their eyes in the shower because that also sucks.
Lastly, M underscored that clean water, not milk or anything else, is what you should be using.
M: Some people they’ll say like “oh well somebody flush my eyes once with milk and it helps so much” and the reason that that is true is because other substances do the same thing. Other liquids can also perform a mechanical flush, but there are risks with those liquids. Some people are allergic to milk. Cops have been known to target people for visible milk stains on their clothes because it indicates that they’ve been at protests. Milk sours in the sun, and then smells. And no one’s allergic to water. It doesn’t go bad. It doesn’t leave any residue and you can use water for lots of other things. You don’t just have to use it for eye washes. It so this like beautiful Multi-Purpose tool that everybody keeps overthinking. So you should definitely just use water because it’s just a mechanical flush. Just use water y’all.
M: Generally I have a water bottle that is my drinking water. And I have a separate water bottle that is a sports tip bottle that has the word “contacts” in Sharpie written on the bottom because in a high pressure situation you are not going to remember to ask about people’s contacts before you have the water bottle in your hand and you see contacts written on the bottom of it. And that’s also a really good way to like demarcate - This is my eye flush bottle and this is my drinking water bottle because you don’t drink out of the bottle it says “contacts” on the bottom. Also some people will mark their bottles with just like “Eye Flush Only” or something I thought on the side.
While M mostly referenced pepper spray in this example, this is also the method to use for tear gas.
M: So the thing with tear gas is tear gas is a little bit more diffuse. If you’re in a place that’s gotten tear gassed, everybody has gotten tear gas. It’s also a less intense experience. It still sucks to put it mildly, but it’s sort of different from pepper spray where somebody walks away from being pepper sprayed, and they literally can’t see. Sometimes that will happen with tear gas, but it’s not as often and yes, this totally also works with tear gas, because, again, tear gas just like pepper spray, just like anything, any other kind of chemical weapons the cops use is just a chemical irritant. And so the best way to deal with a chemical irritant is the way that chemists in their labs are dealing with it all the time, which is just get it the fuck off. And that’s the best way to deal with it.
Aside from being prepared to do an eye wash, M has some other tips for participating in street action.
M: So the first thing everybody should be doing at a protest, medics and non-medics alike, is making sure that you have what you need to keep yourself safe. So that means close toed shoes with good ankle support. I wear steel toed boots, but that’s just because I’m kind of a punk. The last thing you want in a riot is a sprained ankle because you like tripped over the curb. Appropriate clothes for the weather is super important. The more things that you can prevent, including weather-related illnesses, the fewer things that street medics have to deal with. Street medics love being bored. We have like running jokes in our like communities about how bored we are and we love it. Like if everybody’s fine, we just stand around and it’s kind of great. Right now, obviously a mask plus one or two spares for yourself to prevent COVID, keep your nose warm, stay off camera. And then also if there is risk of encountering chemical weapons, your mask will get fucked up. You don’t want to use that mask again. So bringing spares is a really great way to take care of yourself. So that also means anything adaptive for you to stay you’re sort of healthiest most supported self. So that means asthma inhalers medications that you need in your in their like marked prescription bottles so that they won’t cause problems if you’re searched or arrested, glasses, not contacts, please don’t wear contacts or eye makeup protests. You’re going to hate it if you encounter chemical weapons, I promise it’s going to be like eyeliner plus pepper spray is going to be the worst thing you’ve ever felt probably. So just don’t do that to yourself. And ideally also spare glasses if glasses or something you need to see because if something happens to your original glasses, you want to have those. Also, if you wear hearing aids or use assistive devices or like any braces you need to make sure that you’re staying your healthiest, most supported self like through a long day. That also definitely means drinking water for yourself. Lots of it. As well as a spare water bottle that you can like give away. I think that’s something like people don’t value enough is how much water they should bring. Bring more water than you think you need. Also a snack is great. Maybe also a snack to give away to a comrade. It’s starting to get cold out, so hand and foot warmers are also nice.
M: There’s a phrase that one of my medic comrades uses that’s just “copper is going to cop” and basically that phrase means that any kind of would-could-should fails to account for the fact that police are violent and erratic. So I put together sort of a like top five lists for the like “copper is going to cop” situations of things that like folks who aren’t medics can carry so the first two things on my “coppers is going to cop” list are Narcan
Narcan is a drug that quickly reverses an opioid overdose. With insurance, it usually costs between $10-$20.
M: So I say in Narcan because Narcan is absolutely life saving, cannot be improvised. And it’s easy to learn how to use. Narcan trainings take like 15 minutes, require no special skills. In my opinion, everyone should carry Narcan all the time, including to protests even if you’re not a drug user. Because there are so many deaths that can be prevented.
M: A professionally manufactured tourniquet is the second one.
A tourniquet is a device that can be used to stop blood flow if someone has a wound on a limb
M: Everybody should learn how to use these. When you get a professionally manufactured one. They’re super easy to use. They’re relatively hard to improvise and like Narcan they’re totally life saving. The sort of like standard tourniquet is North American rescues cat tourniquet, they’re sort of considered the best pretty widely. If you can spare like the 30 bucks and can get somebody in a local street medic collective or wherever to train you on how to use them. It’s a really wonderful thing to have. Because if you want a tourniquet, you really want a tourniquet. It’s not one of those things that there’s ever a middle ground on.
M: Then the other three things that I have here are non latex gloves, spare bandanas and gauze or bandages generally. The reason I say non latex gloves ideally nitrile gloves is because if you’re planning on doing eye flushes or using a tourniquet, non latex gloves are what you use to keep yourself safe. They prevent the spread of blood borne illnesses. One of the key tenants as a street medic to keeping yourself safe is making sure to have body substance isolation BSI, that’s what gloves are to make sure that you’re staying safe and healthy even while you’re treating your patients. I have been in situations where I have seen an injury that I knew how to treat and didn’t have any gloves on me. And it is the most helpless I’ve ever felt. Don’t be like me always carry gloves.
M: So spare bandanas because they’re useful for everything. As a medic, I carry several because I can use them for everything from splinting to hand washing, even bleed control in a pinch. I would rather not use a bandana for bleed control, but it totally works. So before doing any of those things, folks should definitely get more training but carry more bandanas because if your a local street medic, needs more bandanas, being able to be the person who’s like I have three in my backpack, we’re gonna love you forever. And then also like whatever blow your nose wash your hands. Like wipe up your like little tiny scrapes or whatever. Um, great things to have. Same thing with gauze and bandages. If things go really badly, having more of them is always better than having less and it also means that you can take care of your sort of like minor cuts and bruises by yourself. They’re also great like hand and face wipes. I’ve totally used gauze to help folks clean up after they’ve been pepper sprayed because like their skin will be hurting and having something to wipe that down with can be really helpful.
Lastly, M just wants to remind you one more time about the importance of WATER
M: Please carry more water. Water washes out wounds. Water keeps people hydrated. Water flushes eyes. Being well hydrated even can help prevent like cold related illnesses like you can help prevent like frostbite and frostnip and hypothermia by staying well hydrated, so if you’re going to carry just one thing, please, please, please, please, please, please carry more water. carry more water than you think you need. Drink a lot of water. Tell your friends drink more water. Carry more water. Yes just water. water all the time.
Chanting: Let him go, let him go…
That’s the sound of protesters attempting a de-arrest, which means freeing someone from police custody after an arrest has started.
Protester: Oh, they’re opening the door… Oh Shit!
And that’s the sound of success. Protesters opened the door of the police car on the other side of the car from where the police were, releasing the arrestee.
You may have seen these types of videos coming out of Portland, Chicago, and elsewhere. It’s important to note that this is highly illegal. On de-arrests, Crimethinc writes, quote “De-arrests are risky and can result in much higher charges than the original arrest. It is not a tactic to employ lightly. However, if the balance of numbers and power are in the demonstrators’ favor, successful de-arrests can show state or federal mercenaries that it is not worth grappling with a group of protesters, convincing them to switch to dispersal tactics.” end quote
Gary also advises caution, and doing your research.
Gary: You know, I would never advise anybody to do anything illegal, it can be quite dangerous. You’re dealing essentially with armed individuals who are doing the arresting, they generally don’t arrest people by themselves. Like it’s not like one cop is doing this. It’s usually a group them. There’s a lot of videos online that you can watch, not just from the United States. But all over the world. There’s some really fantastic de-arrest videos. But I will say that there’s more of us than there are of them. What we are trying to do often is draw a moral distinction between their behavior and our behavior. And if we outnumber them, and people don’t back off, police are trained to retreat. Police do not like it when crowds of people or individuals get behind them. So if they fear any possibility of being surrounded, they’re going to abandon their police vehicles. They’re going to move back. They’re going to regroup. So there are moments in those spaces where you can potentially protect your people. All these things are a risk and police do try to target quote unquote leaders. In their theory, if they can remove the commanding officers of the movement, as if we had any, then the movement falls apart, right. In a lot of our social movements, we are grassroots organizing. We believe that a leader is someone who creates more leaders. So if we can disperse leadership, then they can’t arrest us all. They can’t stop the action from happening. The more dispersal leadership I think the less you’re going to see targeting of individuals who are perceived by the state as ringleaders.
Check out the show notes for more information and videos.
Arrests & Knowing Your Rights
Dearresting isn’t something that’s going to happen often. And even when staying together and attempting to keep each other safe, sometimes people will get arrested. If you see someone arrested, make sure a representative of the National Lawyers Guild (usually known by its acronym NLG) sees it and make sure someone has their name and birthday. Get the arresting officer’s information. If there’s not off-site jail support to reach out to, you may need to leave the action and start the jail support process. For more on jail support, check out episode 6 in our first season.
If you are the one being arrested, there are a couple things to remember.
First, if you’re not sure what’s going on, ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, calmly walk away. And maybe that will be the end of it! If you are under arrest, you have a right to ask why.
After asking why, no matter what’s going on, don’t talk to the cops. State that you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately. Do not say anything or sign anything without a lawyer. Cops can lie to you and trick you. You will not be doing yourself or anyone else any favors by speaking to them even if you think you did nothing wrong. I recommend reading the pamphlet “You Have the Right to Remain Silent: A Know You Rights Guide to Law Enforcement Encounters” by the National Lawyers Guild. It’s a quick overview of dealing with different law enforcement agencies. For more on why you should never speak to the cops, check out Rev Left Radio’s episode “Red Hot Take: DON’T TALK TO COPS!” You can find links to those in the show notes.
Secondly, if you’re arrested, the cops will likely use zip ties as handcuffs, which they can make painfully tight. This can cause your hands to lose circulation and can even cause nerve damage. If your zip tie handcuffs are too tight, you can ask the cops to undo them and redo them looser. You will probably have to be persistent, but if you’re losing circulation or in acute pain, you should make them aware. If you’re arrested as a group, you can help each other by advocating for your co-conspirators.
Conflicts within a March
One of the more challenging things for me is handling conflict with participants that are in the same march. For example, here in New York, I saw protesters scold other protesters for being too anti-police. This was confusing and disorienting because all of us were at an anti-police protest. I asked Gary for some advice. First, he recommended working with people you know as one way to avoid this.
Gary: Here’s an easy way to avoid this. Do actions with your affinity group where you’ve already had these conversations with them. And then of course, this is limited, right? You can’t do mass actions. You can’t have a direct relationship with 1000 people. If you’re trying to do like direct actions, blockades and shutdowns and things like you can you can control this by identifying good people, building relationships with them, and doing small actions with those people. It doesn’t help us when we’re talking about a mass rally in the streets.
As Gary said, while this advice works for smaller actions, we will have to work with people we don’t know as our movements grow. Conflicts will still sometimes come up in the middle of an action or march. Gary recommended trying to assign a group to handle de-escalating conflicts.
Gary: We often assign different roles at events that can be de-escalators. So we often have folks who are trained in both body language and verbal tools to help attempt to de-escalate folks in the street who are having issues. Now there’s a number of scenarios. The toughest one is how do we deal with liberals? They’re a really tough question. It’s an infuriating one that radicals have had to deal with throughout history. We know our own history. And we know as far back as we go, there are reformers and liberals. When it comes to folks coming to rallies and stuff, I don’t think it’s the time to sit down and like have an ideological debate. I don’t know if handing somebody a flyer is the best thing but try it. If I had unlimited resources at an action, I would probably ask some individuals at the rally to play a role in intervening with those people. Okay, so I’m a liberal person that, “hey, that’s not why we’re here like,” Okay, well, somebody come immediately and just like, get in front of them, start engaging with them, talk to them, take the energy away from what they were doing, stop that energy from happening. You’re not like touching the person or anything, you’re just like having a conversation. Hey, I hear you’re upset. Can you tell me what’s going on? Why do you feel frustrated? What What do you think we’re here like actually directly engaging with them? You know, and probably, they will focus on you as that person as opposed to focusing on the like, the wider group. And so it’s one of the things we may just have to ride it out. And we don’t have to fix that person or correct that person necessarily. But like, how do we remove them from doing damage to the action or, or slowing down the success of the thing that we’re doing at the moment?
I think that last point is really important. The goal in handling these conflicts is keeping everyone safe. So distracting a heckler from trying to involve the police or from photographing a comrade can be an important type of harm reduction.
And as much as we may want to try to explain ourselves to everyone, that’s not what a direct action about.
Gary: This isn’t about reasonableness, or rationality, it’s about power. And there are people who understand that their power is running out in this country. As time goes on, the more they don’t care at all about having a rational conversation, because they’ll lose. If they have a rational conversation about climate change, they lose. If they have a rational conversation about police violence, they lose. So they’re not going to play that game. So we need to meet power with power. Their power lies in their religion, their arms, and the entrenchment of their power, the fact that it’s been that way for a long time. Our power comes from the fact that we are diverse, that there are more of us, and that we are finally coming into our power for the first time and understanding that we want to disperse power differently. There was a poll, maybe like a month after Minneapolis erupted. It basically showed that like 60% of American people were like, “Oh, they burned a police station. Yeah. Yeah, that kind of deserved it.” That to me is shifting the debate, a thing happened. And it led to tangible political shifts in the population. We are in a totally different world because of media because of how brutal the police state and the federal government has shown themselves to be. People understand this much more now. The best way we can fight mediocrity and liberalism is to win and to show that our behavior is actually getting results.
This episode is not an exhaustive list of tactics. I recommend reading about the experiences of activists around the world. And I recommend getting creative. The state adapts to new tactics. So we’ll need to keep evolving. Also each community will need different tactics to handle their particular terrain, physically and politically. Unfortunately, there are no cookie-cutter answers to the challenges facing us, both in the streets and off. But, as always, we can keep learning, integrating new ideas, and taking that next step toward a better world.
You’ve been listening to Rebel Steps.
I’m your host Liz. Believe in yourself, trust one another, and get organized.
This episode was written, edited, and produced by Amy and myself. Special thanks to our interviewees Gary, M, and Will. For more resources, check out the show notes for this episode on rebelsteps.com.
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