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A Practical Guide to Protesting

A how-to to help you survive the next few years of political turmoil.

by Vice Beta
15 July 2016, 12:00am

(Photo by Chris Bethell)

Britain is looking pretty screwed right now and naturally you're concerned. But what can you do, eh? You're an average pleb. Just hunker down and hope it's not your friends who get deported or destitute? Chances are that over the next however long of our society flailing about, you'll get pissed off enough about something to want to make your feelings known. But the idea of spending your Saturday wandering around howling slogans at nobody in particular can seem a bit weird. Well fortunately we've put together this handy guide so you know what to expect next time you want to tell your least favourite politician to fuck off.

This guide is the combined insight of numerous VICE contributors and some seasoned protesters whose brains we picked. Get involved!

DON'T COME EMPTY-HANDED #1
Protests are long. Bring water. Cram some supermarket sandwiches into your bag. Don't be that guy poncing someone's last fag in the first 15 minutes of a six-hour-long kettle.

A home-made placard (Photo by Henry Langston)

DON'T COME EMPTY-HANDED #2
You always regret not having a placard, so make one. Spare 15 minutes to think about what you want to say, find a witty way to phrase it and look back to your arts and crafts school days for inspo. Pros: it will make you feel a sense of DIY cool for a minute. Cons: you will later realise you have no talent for it.

You'll see a load of free placards being handed out. Avoid them. Often these are handed out by the Socialist Workers Party and it's a total protest faux pas to be seen with one of their signs. The Trotskyite group's name is mud after they spectacularly failed to deal with a rape scandal within the party, but weirdly they still seem to command some sort of placard hegemony.

What you can do, though, is bring paper and duct-tape to re-purpose the SWP's sturdy, ready-made placards.

People in black-bloc gear (Photo by Henry Langston)

WHAT TO WEAR
Wear layers that will help you stay in a rebellious whatever the weather, rather than cold and sad. Sensible shoes are a must because you'll be walking around for a long time on any protest.

Once you've got those basics down, consider what you're going to be doing – are you basically going London's answer to the Leftfield tent, or London's answer to a Greek riot? Dress appropriately.

If you're planning on taking part in any direct action – occupying buildings, that sort of thing – you should probably considered wearing gear to hide your identity from police surveillance. It's worth bearing in mind that this will draw the police to you like a Muslim going through airport security. Also know that the police might enact a "section 60" which gives them the power to make you remove a face covering.

If you're not going full ninja, consider having a scarf on you to hide your face, just in case things get rowdy. And if you have fragile arms you can wear shin-pads for when the cops start flailing their batons indiscriminately.

Po-faced practicalities aside, the Stonewall riots were started by high-heel-throwing drag queens, so it really depends on the context.

CULTS
If you're new to this, you might be surprised at the sheer number of different organisations ask you to sign their "petitions" which are a ruse to get you talking long enough to consider buying their newspaper and signing up to their organisation. Do your research and be sceptical. Joining an organisation should be your decision, not something you get pressured into.

As one seasoned protester said: "Avoid all the cults. Anything with 'revolution' in the name. Even though I'm in favour of revolutionising everything that exists, I'm sceptical of people who make that their brand."

CHANTING
"Realising you don't know the words to a chant and having someone who's done this before teaching them to you is part of protest culture, but it can also make you look slightly inexperienced. Which is OK I guess. At a recent protest I heard some people chuckle – I realised I misunderstood the words and had been saying them wrong the whole time. I blamed it on being French."

BE FUNNY
Some protest chants and slogans are about as funny as a Jonathan Pie video. We can do better.

THE MEDIA
Slow clap for the first person to tweet #mediablackout when they realise that the BBC hasn't reported on a medium-sized protest before it even gets going. Don't worry pal, RT and the Canary have got your back.

Let's not get into a media studies dissertation on whether or journalists are really all out to get you – let's keep it practical. If you're on the kind of protest designed for publicity, which is most of them, then there's really no point in making "the mainstream media" your enemy on that day.

Don't take my word for it though. I am, after all, a journalist.

(Photo by Chris Bethell)

BRING YOUR MATES
Pretty self-explanatory, this one. If you're having a hard time convincing anyone to join you, tell them it's a very, very long walk to the pub.

SOUNDSYSTEMS
There are always some shirtless people funnelling jungle through a bike-mounted soundsystem. These are potentially fun until they start mixing the jungle with protest poetry about the system. They're especially annoying when they utilise their volume to drag the protest in whatever direction they feel like without a particular plan, leaving you at the mercy of someone who hasn't stopped pogoing since 1997.

SAMBA BANDS
Just annoying. Avoid like the plague unless you want a headache and a perforated eardrum.

SPEAK OUT, BUT ALSO LISTEN UP
WHITE MEDIA PUNDIT: See, what these #BlackLivesMatter people are getting wrong is... [bundled off the stage]

(Photo by Oscar Webb)

KNOW YOUR ENEMY
Look out for affable police officers in calming baby-blue bibs. These guys are called Police Liaison Officers. They hang around protesters chatting chummily about the weather, but they've been accused of gathering intelligence.

In the UK the most common thing to worry about is kettling (see next section), which is trapping you in a boring wall of riot police for hours until your bladder is bursting and you want to go home.

We're not exactly in Russia, but if it gets rowdy, the police will start swinging their truncheons around and they're not averse to giving people blunt trauma injuries and then charging them with violent disorder. You've been warned. At this point people get really miffed and say things like, "you're supposed to serve the public, not the politicians! I'm a citizen, I know my rights!" as if they expected the police to allow a V for Vendetta style march on Parliament.

If it really kicks off, they might charge horses at you, and people will shout "get those animals off those horses" as they jump out of the way.

(Photo by Henry Langston)

THE KETTLE
Stay alert – you can see a kettle forming a mile off if you're on the ball. When they start to form a wall that looks like it could trap you, that's your cue to run past them – if everyone does this, they can't kettle. But don't run into them or they'll fuck you up. The main advice is don't get caught. The police will ruin your day and nobody wants that. Except them.

Once you're in there might be a way out if you get creative – is the wall they've hemmed you into climbable? Is there a side street? Could you link arms and break through?

If you really are stuck, you just have to kick your heels and hope that a load of commandeered red buses don't come to whisk you to a police station via a mass arrest. There's really nothing good about this except people in kettles tend to be pretty nice and chatty to each other in the way that people are when they're collectively screwed.

PS. Don't kiss someone in the kettle just because you are bored and/or attracted to them in the heat of the moment, because people will turn around and start shaming you, Game of Thrones style, by shouting: "GET US OUT OF HERE, THEY'RE GONNA SHAG."

BOOZE ETIQUETTE
Standard don't-be-a-dick rules apply. Don't be lairy. Don't hit on people. Do shout at the enemy. Make friends – bring one of those massive plastic bottles of cider and be generous.

The police may be able to impose a ban on boozing on the march which will make you feel like a teenager outside a shopping centre. Consider planning ahead and pre-mixing in a soft-drink bottle.

(Photo by Chris Bethell)

DRUGS
Rule number one if you're going to a protest that might kick off – do not bring drugs. Check all your pockets, your purse/wallet, every crevice just in case you've got an accidental leftover baggie.

If you really must break rule number one – say the protest is on a Friday night and you want to get the weekend started and keep the night going – make sure you know exactly where there are and have a Shawshank Redemption style plan to dispose of them. If you end up in a kettle, take the financial hit and get rid.

GET READY TO FANCY EVERYONE
It can be quite a shock if you're used to scrolling absent mindedly through Happn for someone who isn't an "analyst" to suddenly find yourself thrust into touching proximity with tens if not hundreds of shabby, dashing socialists. Prepare to fall in love every time someone new starts spitting in to the megaphone, prepare to melt as yet another PhD student in a ripped shirt squeezes past you. The best thing about it? You can simply nod towards any policeman and shout "these guys, eh!" You'll be swapping Momentum badges with a co-conspirator in no time.

(Photo by Henry Langston)

GETTING ARRESTED
Getting arrested on a protest fucking sucks. If it happens, try and find out where they're taking you and shout it out to your mates. Then look forward to a lot of boring waiting around and awkward chit-chat with your arresting officer as you are taken to a station and "processed", which involved stuff like giving your fingerprints. Odds on you're part of a mass-arrest, which means this will all take forever because there will literally be a queue into the station, which is fairly humiliating.

On most protests these days you'll see "legal observers". They're usually law students and they walk around in with hi-vis jackets handing out legal advice cards. Take one, you can use it as a book mark later anyway. There's some advice here, but basically keep schtum and demand to speak to a lawyer you trust, not the free duty solicitor at the police station.

If you want to complain about what the police have done, the IPCC is supposed to handle that. However, since they're the guys who said the killer of Mark Duggan didn't do anything wrong, don't get your hopes up. If they do something really fucked up – like kettling you for hours after any public order sitation is long over – you can sue the police, which takes ages, but makes you feel pretty badass when you go on holiday on the police's money. Or virtuous if you donate it back to the movement.

HELPING YOUR ARRESTED MATE
If your friend is getting arrested, head to the station they're being taken to with loads of snacks and beer – enough to tide you over and have plenty left over for your arrested comrade. When they get out give them a hug and a beer. They'll be really grateful.

CHILL OUT, DON'T BURN OUT
Don't start thinking of yourself as a saviour of the world. The quid pro quo that all your friends who didn't show up are stupid sheeple. Protest for the sake of protest isn't really a virtue and burning out from activism is a real thing. So, be selective in your outrage and work out the best campaigning tactics. Find out who called the protest and work out if you rate them – sometimes your £5 train fare would be better spent at the pub. But if it's something close to your heart, just fucking go.

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