The protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, as well as other recent high-profile killings of African-Americans, have strengthened a mood of political activism in the United States.
Right now, protests against racism and police brutality are taking place across the country. But you might want to act on climate change, gun violence or other issues that feel urgent and important to you. There are many ways to get involved politically, and taking to the streets is just one of them. Here’s an overview of your options.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen some of the biggest public demonstrations in United States history, including the Women’s March in 2017, marches against gun violence and now the George Floyd protests.
Given the current coronavirus pandemic, however, some health experts warn that protesting now could help spread the virus. Protesters who are arrested and detained in crowded conditions or those who are older or have health challenges could face a greater threat.
In a recent radio interview, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that decision making about protesting today was a “delicate balance” adding, “there certainly is a risk, I would say that with confidence.” His advice: If you choose to protest around others, wear a mask and keep it on at all times.
In general, to protest effectively, especially if you’re part of organizing a march, familiarize yourself with guidelines on what’s involved.
Some activists have moved their protesting online during the pandemic, flooding social media with coordinated messages and videos or gathering on virtual platforms like Zoom. But if you are going to join an in-person demonstration:
Know your rights. Your right to protest peacefully is guaranteed under the First Amendment. A large majority of demonstrations take place without law enforcement intervention. But be clear about the degree of risk you’re willing to assume in a worst-case scenario.
“What is your tolerance if things get a little hairy?” asked Emerson Sykes, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Are you willing to defy a curfew? Go toe to toe with the police? Be beaten with a baton? If you’re African-American or undocumented, that might also affect what risks you want to take.”
There’s always the possibility that smartphone technology could be used to track your movements, so put your phone in airplane mode and consider making other adjustments to your settings. If you get arrested, Mr. Sykes said, the two key things to remember are to keep silent and to call a lawyer — not a family member — immediately. If you don’t have a lawyer, write the name of local legal aid on your arm, in permanent marker, before you go to the protest.