How to Support Protesters When You Can’t Be There
Ever been watching when the Bat Signal goes up, but felt powerless to take action? Maybe you can’t join the march on the Capitol because of previous obligations, or you can’t participate in a peaceful occupation because you’ll lose your job, or possibly you live across the country and you can’t afford to travel. There are lots of reasons you might have trouble joining in a protest, but there’s a way to show up without showing up, because protesters need your support on the ground and you don’t have to be there to offer it. Here are some ways you can help out.
The number one tip is that you should always check with organizers to see what they’re requesting, because needs vary depending on the protest. Verify any reported information; if you see Tweets circulating about a given need, for example, track those down to a source like a website that’s being run by protest organizers. Be aware that multiple groups can be working at the same protest, and research any organization you send money or in-kind donations to in order to ensure they’ll be directed to the protesters.
Protesters spend long, hot, tiring days out on the streets, in government buildings, and elsewhere. Consider having food delivered to a central point, or coordinate with a local restaurant to feed protesters who walk in. Organizers often provide information about businesses working with protesters to make it easier for people who live outside the area to phone in donations. You can also work with grocery stores to get raw bulk ingredients delivered, providing an opportunity for people to cook for themselves. Think simple and nonperishable: peanut butter and bread, for instance, not cheese and meat.
Groups like Food Not Bombs often show up at protests to cook, and can always use your support.
A Place to Stay
If a protest will be extended, people may appreciate help paying for a block of rooms at a local motel or hotel, or assistance with camping fees and other options for staying overnight somewhere near the protest location. Rooms can also be useful for people who need to take breaks from the event to organize or recharge — and as a temporary command center for people who want to coordinate communications and transmit news about events to the outside world.
Protesters often work with legal observers, volunteers with legal training (including attorneys and paralegals) who act as neutral observers in interactions with police and other officials. That said, legal observers don’t provide counsel in many cases. If mass arrests start occurring or certain protesters are singled out for attention, consider determining if there’s a legal fund and finding out how to donate to provide assistance to people who may need help getting out of jail.
Clothes and Inclement Weather Gear
For those going the long haul, a fresh influx of clothes can be helpful, and so can donations of coats, blankets, rain jackets, umbrellas and other gear designed for rough weather. Protesting can be an extremely wet, cold, unpleasant activity and attrition rates tend to rise when protesters are dealing with bad weather, because many can’t or won’t stay out in such conditions. With better gear, it’s easier to endure freezing temperatures and torrential rain. Protest organizers can keep a library of items and donate unused or gently used goods to homeless shelters and food banks later.
Personal Care Items
Protesters who weren’t expecting a long stay might be caught unaware. They can use first aid kits, menstrual supplies and other personal care items to make their time on the front lines more comfortable. All unused goods can again be donated to homeless shelters and food banks to ensure they don’t go to waste.
While you may not be able to go, others might have the time and ability to do so, but trouble paying for it. A travel assistance fund can help people get to a protest on buses, trains and other public transit. A large enough fund could help charter a bus, while donations of air miles might be useful for those traveling for longer distances — or for getting honored guest speakers to attend rallies.
Sure, you can’t attend the protest, but maybe you have something else to offer: your skills. Have space on a server? Are you good at graphic design? Skilled at crowd control? Contact organizers to let them know you’re available and willing to provide services or act as a consultant for strategic planning.
Photo credit: Jason Scragz.