The COVID-19 pandemic may or may not be winding down in the U.S., depending on how many people continue to resist vaccination and the evolutions of the virus. But other recent challenges, such as the need to end police violence and brutality, the defense of voting rights, and protection of transgender children, are still going strong. If you are joining in public protests around these or other issues – or considering doing so – a new resource is well worth your review.
Get in Formation: A Community Safety Toolkit is a 39-page, densely packed guide to safety planning for community actions and organizations. Although it repeatedly advises that in-person training by experienced people is best, its exceedingly practical and explicit advice is invaluable.
One of the hallmarks of Get in Formation is its careful division of responsibilities. This is not a call to “let’s get a big group of people together and walk to City Hall.” No, this guide discusses roles such as medics, jail and emergency support, police negotiators, and care teams. A long section explores various ways of moving people through space, with pros and cons of each formation. All the formations explain the various roles of captain, camera person, scout, tail, medic, marshals, and runners. There are pages and pages of what to think about when it comes to security, including how and why new security volunteers should be carefully vetted and monitored, or even assigned at first to less critical roles.
Extremely useful to those organizing in places where law enforcement is clamping down is the guide’s description of various Rebellion Containment Agents (law enforcement call them Riot Control Agents or RCAs). The guide notes these chemical weapons are outlawed for use during wartime, and gives detailed advice on how to respond to their use and treat their effects afterwards.
Another long section discusses verbal de-escalation tactics and even recommended body language (noting always that every situation needs to be individually assessed to choose the response/s most likely to be effective). There are multiple worksheets designed to help with planning each event, even covering topics such as the history of the place and environmental risks.
Although most of the guide is devoted to public protests, one section covers organizational (office) safety, explaining the various ways in which organizations that may be targeted by even a single individual can try to keep themselves safe without involving law enforcement. As in some of the other sections, this section briefly discusses factors to consider when assigning roles that may increase a person’s risk of arrest, such as immigration status, probationary status, race, gender identity, etc.
This is a really, really sophisticated work. Definitely ideal, and likely far beyond the reach of most community organizers. Don’t let that stop you. Adopting even a few of the ideas will help keep you and your colleagues safer while you do the important work of changing the world.