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How can you participate in a peaceful demonstration or counter-demonstration while guarding your safety and health? A little planning can go a long way, below are some tips to guide you through your planning. 

Know Your Rights

It is important to know your rights and responsibilites at a public demonstration. The ACLU provides guidance on legal rights you have at a demonstrations and protests. Check them out here.

PPE & Social Distancing

Remember to bring and wear your Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at a demonstration. If you have extra PPE that is unused and clean, it can be good to bring some for others. Do your best to maintain at least 6 feet of separation from others and wear a mask/face shield. Also be sure to sanitize/wash hands often. Be sure to follow the Drake Together Compact. If you have had a temperature or have been feeling ill, do not attend and instead seek medical care.

The Buddy System

You should always bring a partner to a demonstration as your first step for safety. Have a plan for where to meet if you are separated, as can easily happen in a crowd, and a contingency if you aren’t able to use your cell phones. If you are part of a larger group, set up a group text to help you stay connected in case you are separated. You should also make sure someone else, not attending the march, knows where you are going. Consider sharing your GPS location with your friends that are attending with the use of the iPhone feature (located on the information icon) or use of an downloadable Application (example: Life360). By doing this, your friends will be able to locate you in the event you are separated.

What to Bring With You

Carry your identification, credit card, transit passes, medical alert bracelet, and cash. Bring paper and a pen, and a list of contact numbers in case you don’t have access to your cell phone or the network is overloaded. Fully charge your cell phone and bring along a spare battery and/or charger cable.

Bring energy snacks and a full water bottle, enough for being out for four to eight hours. Bring any personal hygiene articles you will need for the day. While it’s good to patronize local businesses, they may be closed during a demonstration. Ensure you are dressed appropriately for the season with warm clothes or sunscreen/bug spray. Carry a small first-aid kit that includes bandages and disinfectant wipes.

When You Have a Medical Condition

If you have diabetes, asthma, or another medical condition, ensure that you have your medications, blood sugar monitor, inhaler, EpiPen, and other health supplies. Be sure you have medical alert identification on you in case you have an emergency in the crowd.

Mobility aids such as wheelchairs, canes, walkers, or baby strollers should be allowed, but check with the organizers and police to see if there are any restrictions, precautions, or alternate routes.

Planning Your Routes to and From the Demonstration

You will likely have to do more walking to and from the demonstration than you will walk during the march. Do your research on which streets may be closed for larger protests and where public transportation may be diverted. Scout stops in each direction in case your way is blocked.

Staying Safe During the Demonstration

Understand that demonstrations can be unpredictable. No matter what you’re protesting, there will be people who strongly disagree with your point of view. You may even encounter a separate group of protesters protesting the opposite side of the issue. Police will be present to control the crowd and make sure things don’t escalate. With all of these variables, be prepared for unpredictable things to happen.

  • Before you go, identify a location away from the area where you and your group will meet if you have to leave quickly.
  • When you arrive at the event, this is the time when you need to be constantly aware of what is happening around you. Are protesters and counter-protesters remaining peaceful? Are the police requesting you move or remain where you are? Is the crowd becoming alarmingly congested and it would be wise to move to the periphery?
  • Avoid activity that infringes on the rights of others, such as blocking and preventing the movement or access of others.
  • Follow the lawful instructions of a police officer or public official, such as staying behind barricades, dispersing from an area declared an unlawful assembly, and not resisting arrest. It is against the law to disobey a lawful order by a police officer.
  • Leave the area where others are engaging in illegal activities and acts of violence. Be calm and focused, get to a safe place. Avoid a circumstances where your presence may be interpreted as participating in a riot or illegal group action.
  • Refrain from unlawful action, such as pushing, kicking or spitting, that incites others to commit acts of violence.
  • Be respectful at all times. Showing courtesy and concern for all around you can help keep the demonstration safe. Lend assistance to those who may be vulnerable or are having a medical issue.

Crowd Safety

It can be very scary to be trapped in a tight crowd. Keep your arms free rather than pinned at your side and use wide-spread footing for balance to prevent falls.

When the crowd is moving, go with them rather than attempting to remain still, but look for openings to make your way incrementally towards the periphery and out of the congestion.

Warn others about obstacles in your path, holes in the pavement, and other tripping hazards. You should immediately seek assistance for anyone who has fallen.

Organizing a Safe Demonstration or Counter Demonstration

There are many resources on-line that can help you with planning the logistics of your demonstration. Guidance includes setting dates, picking a location, recruiting volunteers, establishing a short and clear message, inviting guests and establishing your event schedule, what supplies you need and what items you should not use (i.e. no sticks or poles for signs).

If you are anticipating the possibility of counter demonstrations or are organizing a counter demonstration, seek training for the coordination team and participants on principles of nonviolence. This information will help you set the tone for your demonstration and mitigate the risk of escalating tensions that could lead to violence. It will help you strategize and establish the goals that your demonstration is intended to accomplish.

Start your planning with gathering some information. Understanding the intentions of participants engaged in opposing demonstrations can increase the capacity to develop an effective strategies and solutions. Quality information can be a powerful resource. Set a goal and understand your audience and what you intend to accomplish.

If you are organizing a demonstration or counter demonstration, you need also to understand the university policies on utilizing university spaces. Work with Des Moines and Drake Pubylic Safet to ensure that you are planning a safe event.

If you are organizing a counter demonstration, consider the time and location of your events and the safety of those attending. You could plan the counter demonstration for a different time, or at a different location. If the planning team decides that it is necessary to counter demonstrate near the location of the original demonstration, do not engage in any action that may lead to violence such as pushing, hitting, spitting etc.  Do not engage in arguing back and forth with opposing demonstrators. One of the principles of nonviolent demonstrations is to address the policies and positions of the opposing demonstrators, rather than reacting to individuals or personalities.

Focus on the purpose and goals of your demonstration. Violence diminishes your voice and may amplify that of the opposing demonstrators. Consider training and assigning volunteers to help deescalate situations if necessary. 


Drake Legal Clinic

Six Principles for Nonviolence (link is external)

*Note* Much of this page has been adapted from Yale University's guidance: 

"How to Stay Safe and Healthy at a Public Demonstration"

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