Sometimes, it is necessary to go against what the mainstream considers “acceptable”, to break the law in order to do the right thing. Those who mask up and smash corporate property or riot in the streets have decided that the system needs to be abolished, that the laws are oppressive, or that those who make the laws are responsible for a serious and urgent problem, whether that’s the destruction of our planet, the hundreds of thousands of home foreclosures, murders carried out every day by police with impunity, etc.
Those who do decide that we need to fight back should know how to protect themselves in a protest.
First off, discourage people from filming or taking pictures during a protest. Often, people take pictures without thinking, and later get themselves or their friends in trouble. Other people who are filming are journalists or “good citizens” who later hand over the information to the cops. Furthermore, protests need to be participatory. If everyone has a camera in their hands, they become another alienated spectacle. People go out into the streets to change the world precisely because they’re sick of watching it on TV, and watching how the powerful are constantly changing it for the worse. Street protests need to be spaces of participation, creation, and destruction, not stages for the media and traps for police surveillance.
Secondly, it can be an important act of solidarity to wear a mask to a protest, even if you’re not planning on doing anything the cops or the bankers wouldn’t like. The more people are masked, the harder it is for the authorities to isolate or identify a part of the crowd. You can wear a mask to protect your identity, or simply to protest against constant surveillance. Because it is illegal to wear a mask in many places, it is best to go with friends who can watch your back, to be aware of where the police are, and to be mindful of your surroundings so you can pick the best moment to mask up and unmask.
Police can also use video surveillance to catch people who are wearing masks. If you are participating in a dangerous situation, it is a good idea to change several pieces of your outer clothing or even your shoes (e.g. bring a light jumper, track pants, or a rain poncho you can throw away). Wear clothes that are as generic and nondescript as possible, exchange items of clothing with friends, and don’t forget to cover, disguise, switch, or ditch whatever backpack or bag you may bring. And most importantly, be sure that when you are masking or unmasking, you are not being filmed!
Don’t be casual about taking off your mask or partially opening up your disguise. Decide wisely when to go into anonymous mode and when (and where) to come out of it. Don’t go halfway. If the cops can find a picture of you with the exact same clothes and shoes, with a mask and without, all your careful disguising will be wasted.
To read more about safety in a confrontational protest, see the links under “Practical Guide“