PROTESTING IN A PANDEMIC
Jun 25, 2020
By Christopher Vergara, chair of the MNYS Advocacy Taskforce
We have said it many times during this pandemic. The Church is essential. Our buildings are closed, but we are not! We have been deployed into the world to share the good news of God’s love for all. One of the many ways I see our parish communities and individuals engaging in this work is participating in recent protests around metro NY during this pandemic. Avoiding large gatherings is an important way to minimize exposure to COVID-19, but if you participate in a protest, here are some strategies to help you and your fellow protestors stay safe. These recommendations come from a number of sources, including the NYC Department of Health, Callen-Lorde Community Health, and my personal, recent experience attending protests. The hope is that we can keep ourselves safe, keep our neighbors safe, keep our BIPOC siblings safe, our queer siblings safe, our immigrant siblings safe, our environment safe, and the most vulnerable among us safe, as we answer the gospel’s call for justice.
Stay home if you do not feel well. You can find other ways to take action from home, like supporting local community organizers and contacting your legislators.
Wear a mask/face covering correctly. Make sure you fully cover your nose, mouth and chin. Remember that you can spread COVID-19, even if you do not have any symptoms.
Carry only what you need to keep you safe. These include hand sanitizer, a face covering, a water bottle, an ID, comfortable shoes, sunscreen, and a snack.
Carry soapy and tap water in squirt bottles. If you are exposed to pepper spray, wash the area with soap to break up the oil, then rinse with water. Avoid rubbing your eyes or face as it can cause further burning and spread COVID-19.
Go with a small group. For tracing purposes, should you test positive for COVID-19, it is best to march surrounded by people you know.
Have a plan. Prepare yourself mentally – map out the route; establish exit routes. Write down your emergency contact’s (family member, friend, pro bono lawyer bail fund) number and keep it on you, in case your phone is confiscated.
KEEP SAFE WHILE PROTESTING
Find creative ways to express yourself. Use drums, noisemakers, or written signs to reduce chanting and yelling to reduce possible exposure to others.
Physical distancing is still important. Keep as much physical distance as possible between yourself and others, and between groups. Usually there are “socially distancing” sections at marches, for those observing.
Keep washing your hands. Use hand sanitizer regularly throughout the protest, and avoid touching your face and others.
BYO supplies and try not to share. Avoid sharing water bottles, microphones or megaphones.
Your phone is a double-edged sword. What you document can be used against other activists should your phone be seized. Disable face/touch ID functions on your phone. Only share photos and videos of people you know on social media.
Take care of your individual physical and mental health. Consider when you may have to leave due to heat, dehydration, exhaustion, or to avoid an unsafe situation.
SPECIAL CONSIDERATION FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT U.S. CITIZENS
Avoid arrest. Arrest, no matter your immigration status (DACA, green card holder, visa), can prevent you from accessing immigration status or accessing U.S. citizenship in the future. This is particularly true if you are undocumented, and an arrest could lead to deportation proceedings.
If arrested, remember that you have the same rights as a U.S. citizen, including your right to remain silent and your right to a free attorney. Avoid mentioning your place of birth, no matter how many times you are questioned.
For these reasons, it is recommended that people who are not U.S. citizens do not engage in any actions that could lead to arrest, and make every effort to have your voice heard in other ways.
SPECIAL CONSIDERATION FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
Reduce single-use plastics. Carry a reusable water bottle when protesting, to reduce use of single-use plastic water bottles.
Reuse signs. Make sturdy signs, which you can reuse at various protests, out of recyclable or already discarded materials to minimize paper waste.
Recycle and encourage your fellow protesters to do the same with their waste, at the end of the protest.
Assume you’ve been exposed to COVID-19. Get tested five (5) days after exposure. Testing is free at sites sponsored by NYC hospitals.
Avoid contact with others. Try to avoid contact with those who may be at greater risk of COVID-19 illness.
WASH YOUR HANDS! As soon as you get home, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.