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Protest Well-Being Tips: How To Make Sure Your Health & Safety Aren't Compromised

Abby Moore
Editorial Operations Manager By Abby Moore
Editorial Operations Manager
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
Black Lives Matter Protest
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Protests against police brutality and systemic racism are being held around the nation in response to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many other Black lives. If you're planning to attend one or many of these protests, there are some critical health and safety tips to keep in mind. 

What to wear and bring.

  • Comfortable shoes: Most protests are outside and require plenty of walking and standing. Wear comfortable, close-toed shoes to support and protect your feet, according to recommendations from Ishia Lynette, the social media manager and community service director at Austin Justice Coalition.
  • Face mask or covering: The COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing. Since it's difficult to stay 6 feet apart during a protest, it's important for protesters to continue wearing masks to protect themselves and others from contracting the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Here's how to make one at home, and other tips for protesting safely during the pandemic
  • Goggles or eye protection: Amnesty International recommends wearing shatter-resistant eye protection, like sunglasses, swim goggles, or a gas mask to protect your eyes from chemical agents, like tear gas or pepper spray.
  • Hat: Lynette recommends wearing a hat. This can protect against sun damage on your face and scalp. 
  • Long-sleeved shirts and pants: Clothing that covers the skin can protect against sun damage and skin irritation caused by chemical agents, says Amnesty International.
  • Water: Being outside, chanting, and marching for several hours in the heat can lead to dehydration. To prevent that, bring plenty of water. This will also come in handy if the eyes are exposed to tear gas (more on that below).
  • Snacks: Nutritious on-the-go snacks, like fruit, peanut butter sandwiches, or granola bars can help keep people satiated throughout the day. Lots of water and snacks are important to keep your energy levels up, Lynette says.
  • Hand sanitizer: Again, the pandemic is still ongoing. and since soap and water likely won't be available, it's important to bring hand sanitizer. The CDC recommends using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to replace hand-washing. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose when your hands aren't clean, the CDC says. 
  • Any necessary medical supplies: Lynette says to bring a medical supply kit for safety measures. This kit should include bandages, wraps and gauze, ointment, wet wipes, alcohol swabs, an ice pack, hair ties, and a towel. Make and bring a solution with 1.5 oz. baking soda and 4 oz. water, Lynette says, in case someone is hit with tear gas and pepper spray. "Pack it in your backpack in a large zip-lock bag," she says. Amnesty International also recommends bringing menstrual pads instead of tampons. "If you're arrested you may not have a chance to change," they say. 
  • Change of clothes: Clothes may become soiled with chemicals, sweat, or other outside elements, so having a change of clothes readily available is important.
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What to avoid.

  • Contact lenses: If possible, avoid wearing contact lenses since they can trap irritating chemicals underneath. If eyeglasses are sprayed with tear gas, you can wash them with soap and water, according to the CDC. However, if you wear contacts, "do not put the contacts back in your eyes (even if they are not disposable contacts)," they write.
  • Oil-based sunscreens: Oil-based sunscreens or products, like Vaseline, tend to dissolve products like pepper spray, which may cause chemical agents to linger and become trapped under your skin. Wearing sunscreen is vital to protect your skin from harmful UV rays, but opt for water-based sunscreens instead.

Additional health tips.

According to the CDC, if you're exposed to riot control agents (tear gas):

  • Immediately move away from the exposed area.
  • Avoid touching contaminated areas.
  • Remove and dispose of clothing into a plastic bag and seal it. Then place the sealed bag into another sealed bag. "Disposing of your clothing in this way will help protect you and other people from any chemicals that might be on your clothes," the CDC writes.
  • With clean hands, remove contacts and dispose of them into the same bag as the clothes. Rinse your eyes with plain water for 10 to 15 minutes, or until there is no more evidence of tear gas.
  • Wash any riot control off of your body with soap and water.
  • Treat any burns with medicated bandages or other standard burn treatments. Contact a doctor or trusted health professional for any serious injuries.

Anyone who is sick or immunocompromised should avoid in-person protests, as they may be at higher risk of illness from COVID-19. There are ways to get involved at home, though, like donating to a local or national bail fund (The National Bail Fund Network, The Bail Project, or the NAACP Legal Defense Fund). 

Know your rights.

The First Amendment grants all Americans the right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate in public. To learn more about those rights, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) details how to legally organize and attend a protest

If you get stopped by the police during a protest, they write: "Stay calm. Make sure to keep your hands visible. Don't argue, resist, or obstruct the police, even if you believe they are violating your rights. Point out that you are not disrupting anyone else’s activity and that the First Amendment protects your actions." 

It is also within a protester's right to ask why they're being arrested and to choose not to speak without a lawyer present. 

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