Know Your Rights: What You Need To Know Before Protesting

Legal—and practical—advice if you're going to #resist.

We’re not even a month into the presidency of Donald Trump and major demonstrations have been held across the country in defense of women’s rights, immigrants and LGBT equality. Doubtless there will be many more.

While we have the freedom to peacefully assemble (for now), you may still find yourself confronted by authorities. So it’s more important than ever to be aware of your rights—and your responsibilities.

Here’s everything you need to know before heading out to resist.

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 04: Crowds gather for an LGBT Solidarity Rally in protest of the Donald Trump Administration in front of Stonewall Inn on February 04, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
Yana Paskova/Getty Images

1. Know your rights

The first step in making sure no one takes your rights away is knowing what they are. Luckily, the ACLU has a handy, printout with instructions on what to do if you’re stopped by police, immigration agents, or the FBI. In our current political climate, everyone should have one of these on them at all times.

Now, the Constitution guarantees certain freedoms, but if the police give you any instructions during a protest, it’s in your best interest to follow them.

You also have the right to film or photograph anything in plain view in a public space, including federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police officers and other government officials carrying out their duties.

Unfortunately, though, it isn’t uncommon for police to order people to stop taking photos, or even to arrest people who fail to comply.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21: Protesters take a selfie with the police as a backdrop outside the U.S. Capital during the Women's March on Washington on January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. Following the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, the Women's March has spread to be a global march calling on all concerned citizens to stand up for equality, diversity and inclusion and for womens rights to be recognised around the world as human rights.  (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)
Getty Images

If an officer tells you to stop filming on public property, the ACLU recommends you calmly and respectfully respond that you are acting within your First Amendment rights. Don’t be rude, don’t be defiant, and never physically resist or interfere with legitimate policing activities.

If an officer still insists that you stop exercising your rights, remember that you risk being arrested if you don’t comply (even if you’re in the right). If they tell you they need your photos or videos for evidence, the ACLU suggests offering to email it to them. You’re not legally required to give them your phone or camera but, again, never physically resist a police officer.

“Police may not delete your photographs or video under any circumstances,” The ACLU explains. “Officers have faced felony charges of evidence tampering, as well as obstruction and theft, for taking a photographer’s memory card.”

Keep in mind that the rules for photographing on private property are different: Property owners have the right to set rules about photos and the right to tell you stop and/or leave their property. If you don’t comply, you can be arrested for trespassing.

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 04: Crowds gather for an LGBT Solidarity Rally in protest of the Donald Trump Administration in front of Stonewall Inn on February 04, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
Yana Paskova/Getty Images

Police have been known to detain or arrest everyone at a protest, or just in a certain area, especially if violence or property damage has occurred.

You are not required to answer any questions unless you are being detained/arrested. If police as you a question, ask if you’re being detained. If they say no, ask if you are free to leave.

If the officer says yes, you may calmly, silently walk away. If you are being detained, you have the right to know why. Never resist arrest, even if you believe your rights are being violated.

If you are being detained, police will ask for basic information like your name, birthdate, and address. You are entitled to have an attorney present for anything beyond that.

The ACLU recommends requesting an attorney immediately (and repeatedly, if necessary), before answering any further questions, and urges, “Don’t say anything, sign anything, or make any decisions without a lawyer.” You may need to say, out loud, that you are exercising your right to remain silent. If you’re an immigrant, don’t discuss your immigration status with anyone but your lawyer.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21: Mounted police let protesters attending the Women's March on Washington pet their horses on January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. Following the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, the Womens March has spread to be a global march calling on all concerned citizens to stand up for equality, diversity and inclusion and for womens rights to be recognised around the world as human rights.  (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)
Getty Images

If you are stopped by the police, you are not obligated to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings, but police may legally give you a “pat down” if they suspect you may have a weapon. If you do consent to a search, the ACLU notes, it can affect you later in court.

Despite what we see on during Law & Order marathons, police are not required to read you your Miranda rights if you are arrested. They only need to do that prior to any interrogation, at which point, again, the ACLU recommends requesting a lawyer and asserting your right to remain silent until they arrive.

You have the right to make a local phone call if you’re arrested. If you call a lawyer, police can’t listen to the call.

TOPSHOT - US Senator Charles Schumer speaks at a rally in front of the Stonewall Inn in solidarity with immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and the LGBT community on February 4, 2017 in New York.  The demonstrators protested the policies of US President Donald Trump. / AFP / 20202243A / Bryan R. Smith        (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images

The National Center for Transgender Equality notes that if you’re taking prescription hormones or HIV/AIDS medication, you have the right to keep taking them if arrested. If you don’t have them with you, tell police what medications you need and when you need to take it. You may be taken to a hospital to get them.

NCTE also notes that police are not allowed to strip search you in order to see your chest or genitals, or to assign you a gender. At the same time, that most jails don’t have a policy on housing transgender people, so they’re often detained based on their gender assigned at birth or in isolation.

If you feel that any your rights have been violated, you should report the incident to your local ACLU chapter.

Most protests are peaceful: At the women’s marches across America, the largest single day of protest in U.S. history, not a single arrest was made.

Below, we’ve gathered some additional tips on demonstration etiquette.

2. What to do at a protest
Have fun. Seriously. You’re there for an important reason, but the sense of community you can find at a protest is amazing and should absolutely be taken advantage of.

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 04: (L-R) Two women who wanted to be identified only as Juliana and Maria laugh after kissing during an LGBT Solidarity Rally in protest of the Donald Trump Administration in front of Stonewall Inn on February 04, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
Yana Paskova/Getty Images

Make new friends. Ask people why they’re there and where they came from. Share your stories. Share your snacks. Offer hugs. Join in chants and sing-alongs. Sure, it’s cheesy, but it can feel very cathartic to yell or sing at the top of your lungs with thousands who feel the same.

Be considerate. Having lots of people crammed into a small space can be stressful and frustrating. Remember to be kind to each other and watch out for one another. You’re all on the same team.

3. What to absolutely NOT do at a protest

Do not engage in illegal activity—even if it’s harmless or unrelated to the protest. Don’t smoke pot or show up high, don’t obstruct traffic, don’t kick a sign, or even jaywalk. Don’t give anyone reason to discredit or delegitimatize you.

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 04: Crowds gather for an LGBT Solidarity Rally in protest of the Donald Trump Administration in front of Stonewall Inn on February 04, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
Yana Paskova/Getty Images

Never taunt or provoke police. If officers direct protestors to do something or move somewhere, follow instructions to avoid being arrested. Civil disobedience can be effective, but it also often requires sacrifice. If you disregard police orders, be prepared to be arrested. Never run from police or physically resist arrest.

If you encounter counter-protesters, resist the urge to engage in a confrontation. Having the moral high ground won’t keep you from being arrested if things escalate. And it could delegitimatize your cause.

4. What to bring to a protest

If you’re going to a large, well-organized demonstration like the Women’s Marches, check online for guidelines about what type of bags, signs and devices are allowed.

If you are able to bring a bag, pack like you’re going camping: enough water and snacks to sustain you through a physically demanding day, tissues and/or wet-naps, a change of socks, a poncho, an umbrella, a hat, any medications you’d need to take daily in their original prescription bottles (and possibly extras, just in case you’re arrested), Band-Aids, and anything else you need to feel comfortable in the event that you can’t get back for quite a long time.

If you’re trans, the National Center for Transgender Equality recommends bringing a copy of your proof of name change and a letter from your doctor or therapist regarding your transition if your correct name and gender aren’t on your I.D., just in case you’re arrested.

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 04: Crowds disperse following an LGBT Solidarity Rally in protest of the Donald Trump Administration in front of Stonewall Inn on February 04, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
Yana Paskova/Getty Images

If you’re bringing a sign, don’t bring anything with a sharp point or corners, as those can inadvertently hurt people (or be construed as a weapon). Wooden signs are not advised. You’ll also want to consider the weight of your sign, since you’ll have to hold it up for a long time.

Bring a valid government-issued photo ID with your name, address, and date of birth on it. This will make things go more smoothly if you have to interact with the police or get arrested.

Do NOT bring anything that could be construed as a weapon, anything valuable, or anything you’d be devastated about losing in the crowd or having confiscated.

4. What to wear to a protest
It comes down to planning for worst-case scenarios: You probably know how to dress for the weather, but how often are you standing outside for five, six, even seven hours in a row?

If it’s cold, dress in layers. (If it’s winter and you’re on the East Coast, consider long underwear.) If it might snow or rain, wear waterproof shoes and a jacket with a waterproof hood. If you’re somewhere sunny, wear a lot of high-SPF sunscreen. (And if you’re fair-skinned or burn easy, consider covering up with light layers and a hat.)

People protest in front of the Stonewall Inn in solidarity with immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and the LGBT community on February 4, 2017 in New York.  The demonstrators protested the policies of US President Donald Trump. / AFP / 20202243A / Bryan R. Smith        (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images

Regardless of the weather, it’s good idea to wear comfortable shoes and clothes you don’t mind being in for a long time.

If you get arrested (which, ideally, won’t happen if you follow the tips above), your shoelaces and/or belt might be confiscated. Consider sandals, slip-ons, sweatpants and the like.

In the event that your phone dies, gets lost or is confiscated, have essential numbers written down. That includes a friend or family member who can bail you out, your local ACLU legal assistance line and the National Lawyers Guild legal aid line. You may want to write those last ones down on your arm or leg with a Sharpie so you can’t lose them.

Now you’re fully prepared. Let’s go change the world.

I believe that true, well-told stories have the power to change the world for good. I also love a good listicle.
@KristinaSaurusR