What to Bring to Your First Protest
Remember to bring placards, plenty of water and a medieval siege weapon.
(Photo by Chris Bethell)
So, you’re going to your first protest today and like any butterfly-ridden debutante, you’re wondering what to wear. There are a number of essential accessories you’ll need to carry with you on your voyage into the exciting world of public rage, things that will serve you well whether the occasion in question is this week's UK-wide school walkout to protest the imminent environmental apocalypse, a punk-as-fuck chaostage hell-bent on tearing an entire city apart, or just your bog standard mobilisation against a gang of dickhead street fascists.
Chaotic mob anger is my kink. So I thought I'd write you a listicle of things to bring to a protest. Some of these suggestions are serious, others are not, I’ll let you figure that out for yourself (though you might want to get a head start on finding that trebuchet).
This might seem like a boring one to start off with but remaining hydrated and thus alive is important at any kind of protest. You might not get the chance to nip into a Tesco when things are in full swing and if you’re protesting right, you’ll soon be thirsty from all the running and screaming. Later, if you get trapped in a police kettle, you’ll also have something to piss in – and bottles of piss make good missiles when your adversaries are making wanker signs at you across the barricades.
At some protests, especially those held in London, you might find yourself wondering who all the people in the snazzy fluorescent vests are. They’re not always these guys or these guys; many are legal aid advisors who’re there to monitor events and offer up pro tips to anyone who gets themselves arrested. Often, they will be handing out little cards carrying the phone numbers of friendly solicitors. Don’t use these for roach; they’ll come in handy when you’re chucked in the back of a riot van with a middle-aged guy who looks a bit like your dad might if he bathed often in piss and had spent too much of his life getting smashed over the head with a massive pole.
What’s better than a dog? A dog that loves tear gas and hates police! Meet Loukanikos, the infamous Greek “riot dog” who would accompany Athenian anarchists when they descended from their stronghold in Exarcheia for city centre clashes with the law, communists and whoever the fuck else fancied a ruck. Unfortunately, our canine comrade passed away years ago, but allow his excellent memory to live on by kidnapping your nan’s beloved Bichon Frise and introducing it to the intoxicating world of violent vigilante street justice.
Fortunately, the UK police aren’t huge fans of using tear gas to blind and debilitate people before beating them senseless with their coshes. Unfortunately, for those of you who might be planning some kind of globe-trotting riot gap year, police pretty much everywhere else are. Tear gas makes you cry loads, your nose stream with gunge and chokes you till you can’t breathe. It’s absolutely no fun, especially when combined with alcohol (my apologies to the Airbnb barons of Athens, Greece), so make sure you get yourself a gas mask. You could go all in for the full-face mask with filters, or take a cheaper DIY approach with some swimming goggles and a dust protector. Or or: you could take inspo from the lads of Tahrir Square, who spent 2011 elevating DIY ragewear to a whole new level.
Though protests are invariably full of very passionate people, it can sometimes be hard to figure out exactly what it is they’re all so angry about. Huh? What?! Sorry mate, I can’t hear you over the wail of the sirens and the sound of my ankle joint being crushed beyond repair by a stampede. Handily, protests – especially the violent ones that I like – are big news these days, so why not put your grievance in capital letters on a placard so your mum can see it in the background of the evening news? Placards should never be twee or boring and please ensure that your placard is funny or at least concise; it’s a pro-Maduro rally, not the end of Love Actually. Maybe add some illustrations if you like and beware the pre-made placards given out by the SWP: In 2013 their leaders were accused of setting up a kangaroo court to hear allegations of rape against a senior member, so God knows whey anyone still hangs around with them. Special mention goes to the book bloc from the London student protests in 2012, who managed to turn their message into useful genital protectors.
I dunno. Maybe your life takes an unexpected twist and you end up working in a Spanish mine and the mining community that’s taken you to its heart votes to go on strike and suddenly you need something to shoot at the police. It happens: just look at the Spanish principality of Asturias, where in 2012 miners dramatically one-upped local cops by crafting home-made bazookas out of steel pipes and showering the authorities with a righteous hail of golf balls and fireworks. Maybe not one for central London, this, unless everything turns out the way it looks like it probably will.
Portable Phone Charger
Correct may be the grumps who insist phones are evil instruments of surveillance capitalism that are secretly gathering up scrapings of your ear DNA in order to populate a future clone colony on the nearest exoplanet. Correct those grumps may be. But in any protest situation, a healthy phone battery is absolutely vital: for calling your mates, your mum, a friendly solicitor, post updates on Twitter or whatever the fuck else you wanna do with it. You all know what phones are for by now.
No: police don’t usually try to contain protests by chucking in two-footed, studs-up slide tackles on everyone in attendance. But they will try hitting you with their batons, a lot. Trust me, this hurts, so give your calcium-starved bones a fighting chance by strapping shin pads to your legs and forearms. If you spend more time reading books than playing sports, use magazines instead – it will give you some reading material/bonfire fuel if you end up getting kettled in the cold.
Medieval Trebuchet / Siege Engine
Look, if you’re going to try and topple a government without guns then you’re going to have to get creative. I don’t know how you build a trebuchet. I think at a stretch I could probably figure out how to use one to hurl a dead cow a few metres. But everyone seems to love Game of Thrones these days and frankly, it’s high time the elf-loving nerds among us found a way to contribute more to society than University Challenge memes and the names for Wetherspoons guest ales. The photo above was taken during the Euromaidan Revolution in Ukraine five years ago, when protesters had to find ways to protect and arm themselves against President Yanukovych’s murderous Berkut riot police. They made full suits of armour out of steel sheets and camping rolls. They created their own riot shields and thousands of Molotov cocktails, but my favourite invention was this impressive medieval trebuchet / siege cannon. It was never actually used, as by the time it was hauled up to the barricades Yanukovych had fled the country and the Berkut made themselves scarce after killing over a hundred protesters in a single day. But for me, it’s an enduring symbol of the protesters’ ingenuity in the face of awful odds, an ingenuity that ultimately saw them prevail.
Protests are long and it’s likely you’ll be standing up a lot of the time, so you’re going to want something comfortable to wear on your feet that don’t fall apart and give you trench foot in the rain. If things go south, you’ll want a pair of boots to protect your feet from flying bits of brick, and trust me, boots are better for kicking tear gas canisters away from you than desert boots or Sambas.