Trump Resistance Playbook
SO YOU'RE GOING to protest. Maybe the risk of a collapse of the Republic and nuclear weapons in the hands of a narcissistic, rapey reality TV host have you itching to make your voice heard. Marching down the street, you’re waving a sign, chanting with the crowd, and taking selfies—and then you see a wall of cops.
In our Panopticon security state, there are always going to be police around any large political gathering. There will be good cops and bad cops, happy cops and grumpy cops. There will be events that are chill, where the police let people move along rather than confronting them. There will also be events that are not chill.
When you protest, you need to decide what level of risk you’re willing to accept. Are you willing to get arrested? Detained? Are you willing to get a ticket? A criminal charge? What about getting tear-gassed, or hit with batons and shields? Think about these things ahead of time—before you storm the local bastille.
Permitted Versus Unpermitted
A march can be permitted. A group can work with the city and march along a planned route with the assistance of police, who will block traffic and help public transit get through. As long as they stick to the path, marchers get to walk in the street and are left alone by the authorities. This is the kind of protest where people have their kids on their shoulders.
Unpermitted marches can stand alone (like high school students walking out) or spin-off from a permitted march (like people with bandanas stomping away from the family-friendly march muttering, “The only permit we need is the First Amendment!”). Historically, the police’s reaction to unpermitted events has been to attempt to corral people onto the sidewalk and keep roads open. These are the situations where the risk of conflict is higher: If one person steps off the curb, they might be arrested for “disorderly conduct” or “interfering with a peace officer.”
Following Orders Versus Defying Commands
If you step off the curb when police are barking orders to stay out of the street, you risk arrest, criminal charges, and the use of force against you. Of course, if 100 people also step off that curb with you, it becomes more difficult for the police, and they’ll often fall back—they can’t arrest everyone. Balance your level of risk with your read of whether you’re going to be targeted.
Speech Versus Action
Chanting and waving signs is probably never going to be the problem in and of itself. Shout “Fuck Trump!” and it won’t be a problem (though maybe don’t shout it in the face of the police officer). Write it on the wall of a crooked bank, however, and you increase the risk of problems. It’s like any other time: Break a window of a shop, and it’s like you did it on a regular boring afternoon during the idyllic Obama administration. The main difference at a protest is that there will be dozens of officers around and hundreds of cameras. So while they may not immediately march up and grab you, don’t think they’ll hold back on the criminal laws. They might not get you in the crowd, but they’ll be looking for you later.
Solo Versus All of Us
One guy crossing onto the highway alone is going to have trouble. A thousand people shutting down a freeway dramatically decreases each individual’s risk of confrontation or legal trouble with the police. It’s just a numbers game. There simply aren’t enough police in the metropolitan area (though they will likely be bringing in police from surrounding cities) to process 1,000 people for marching onto the highway. But if you are in the vanguard, or up in the face of an officer, you risk getting plucked from the crowd.
Halfway Versus All-In
If you are arrested (by choice or by accident), think about how to mitigate the nature of the arrest and positively influence the later legal process. If you willfully sit in an intersection and the police round everyone up and are going to charge you with, say, “disorderly conduct,” your action during your arrest can make things better or worse for you. If you struggle or try to free yourself or another, they might add charges for “resisting arrest.” If you kick the cop in the shin, they might add the felony of “assaulting a public safety officer.” But if you calmly request a lawyer, verbally decline any searches, refuse to sign anything or give your name, you can avoid more legal troubles. (In Oregon, you don’t have to give your name—and if you go this route, it’ll increase the workload on officers, as they have to go through extra steps to identify you.) Much of this applies to court and jail processing as well: You don’t have to identify yourself or sign anything. Know that any info you give them will be used against you.
Some Final Advice
Keep your eyes open. Who’s near you? Do they match your level of involvement and risk taking?
Know your exit routes. Do you have a way out if you don’t want to be there anymore? (How about when the tear gas comes out?) Google “kettling” and “protest” together. Make sure you’re ready for that.
Don’t talk to cops. In Oregon, you have the right to remain silent—but if you refuse to give your name for what would otherwise be a ticket, you may be detained until your identity is confirmed. You might also want to consider what your level of speech might be if you see someone else breaking the law. Are you going to snitch on a tagger? What about the guy who throws a brick at a line of cops?
Stay safe. Bring earplugs. Pre-hydrate. Dress in layers. Charge up your phone. Leave the valuables, cash, debit cards, and jewelry at home. Arrange pet and child care should you end up in custody overnight.
Memorize and write down some phone numbers. Your phone will die given all those selfies and tweets, and you might not have access to your phone post-protest or post-arrest. Get a Sharpie and write on your arm the landline number of a person you trust and who you know will be available. Make sure that person has other relevant numbers (and your bail money). If the National Lawyers Guild or other groups are organizing a communication number, Sharpie that on your arm as well.
Chris O’Connor is a public defender working and living in Portland, Oregon. His views should not be considered those of his employer, his union, or any particular groups he is involved in. Seek independent counsel for individual and specific legal questions. Follow him on Twitter @christopoconnor.