Reactionaries of all backgrounds have declared war on queer and trans communities. Counter-protests have grown in size, frequency, and tension. We found it necessary to update our guidelines for militant activists who might find themselves in a counter-protest for the first time, since the security of our communities is our highest priority. Here are a few suggestions to protect and prepare yourselves, individually and collectively!
1. Getting ready before the protest
We strongly recommend that you get organized with friends so that you don’t show up alone. General best practice is to pair up among your friends who are coming to a counter-protest: you and your buddy arrive together, stick together and keep an eye on eachother throughout the day, and ideally leave together.
If you can arrive in a group, that is even better! With 4, 6, 8 or more people, we are all the more capable of protecting each other, and if there are tasks to be taken on the day of, they are often easier to achieve as a group. See section 6 for more info on tasks.
2. Protect your identity
Far-right actors often live-stream their events. This means that our faces will often circulate in their networks, leading to doxxing (the publishing of personal info, intended to intimidate) and potentially state and police repression. In addition, many far right militants pose as journalists in an attempt to film people’s faces. There are multiple ways to protect ourselves from them:
Many of our comrades choose to form a black bloc. This is the highest level of anonymity protection available to us in a protest context. It entails a relatively large group of people wearing all black, covering all recognizable traits, and masking their faces completely. This makes it difficult to recognize or track a particular actor, and protects our collective identity, since everyone blends in to the black bloc. In order to not draw attention to oneself before entering a counter-protest, it is highly recommended that anyone participating in a black bloc wear a more colourful and inconspicuous layer to arrive and leave in. It is recommended that you change into and out of black bloc once you are in the crowd, hiding behind banners and umbrellas to avoid being spotted by cameras.
That being said, being in full black bloc in the context of a counter-protest can put a target on our backs, in the eyes of both far-right actors and the police. There are ways to conceal our identities while remaining relatively subtle. For example, a surgical mask, baseball cap, and sunglasses can make a big difference. It is also possible to protect your identity from the far-right while maintaining a more festive appearance. Colourful masks and scarves can still hide our identifiable features very well. However, it is important to keep in mind that this doesn not collectively anonymize us as effectively as the black bloc technique.
For the black bloc tecnique to be effective, there need to be at least a couple dozen comrades dressed in black bloc, which requires a certain level of coordination. Otherwise, it may be better to dress in ‘light’ block. That is to say hiding your identifying features as much as you would in black bloc, but with neutral coloured clothing and less conspicuous facial coverings. Don’t forget your sunglasses!
By masking your identifying features, you are protecting yourself, but you are also allowing other masked comrades to more effectively blend in with the crowd. Masking at a protest is therefore also an act of solidarity, most notably with our comrades without citizenship or permanent residence, as they often face the most severe consequences if they are criminalized or doxxed.
3. Blocking cameras
In the information age, cameras are a political weapon. By filming their adversaries, the far-right seeks imagery to use to combat their opponents through social media. It is never beneficial for us to debate with these far-right actors in this context. They will cherry-pick any footage they manage to get, and twist our own words against us for their hateful propoganda. As previously mentioned, the far-right also has a long history of doxxing their opponents with the express goal of messing with our personal lives. An immigrant comrade suffered the consequences of such practices very recently.
All cell phones and cameras in the hands of anti-trans protestors should be seen as threats to our communities. It is necessary to block them, to push them back, and to prevent them from infiltrating our ranks. If you spot people on our side filming, it is crucial to approach them and explain to them why we never film the faces of our allies. They may instead film our signs and banners, or our opponents.
It can also be very useful to use flags, signs, banners, and umbrellas to block the view of cell phones and cameras. These tools can also be used to enforce a physical distance between us and far-right actors, which can help lower the risks of physical confrontation. If you are able to bring these types of materials, we strongly encourage it! See section 6 for more info on supplies.
4. Place your trust in our community, not in the cops
Police forces have historically been enemies of queer communities, and are very often objective allies of fascists and other far-right actors. They are currently proving this around the world with their treatment of anti-drag and anti-trans demonstrators.
Not buying into the rhetoric and directives put forward by the police is thus a collective security challenge. When cops give instructions to counter-protestors, they never have our well being or best interests at heart. We must therefore never let them dictate our community defense efforts. Do not allow police to pass through our lines or tell you what to do, and above all, trust our collective coordination efforts.
It is NEVER a good idea to ask police to interfere in the protest. You must never denounce or turn in any of your comrades, and you must never seek dialogue with police at a protest. Police forces frequently attack our protests and counter-protests, perpetuate violence against our trans siblings, and criminalize our resistance. They are positioned without fail on the side of our opponents, by their very political and historical nature.
5. Form tight lines
When lines are blurry, the situation on the ground often unravels. This happens when people in our ranks disperse, try to debate or confront our opponents individually, or let bad actors through our lines. To avoid this type of situation, we must remain tightly grouped. It is our numbers and our solidarity that protect us. Forming tight lines on the front line is crucial, and it is also important to have comrades nearby ready to react at a moment’s notice. This ensures our collective safety far more than having a loose and divided crowd.
6. Prepare for action
Ideally most people at a counter-protest should arrive ready to act. The passive roles we may be used to from other types of marches, protests, and demonstrations don’t have as much of a place in a counter-protest context. The more groups arrive on our side organized and ready for action, the stronger we will be as a whole. By organizing with 4-6-8 people in advance, your group may take on a much more significant role at the heart of the protest.
Some tasks that you can prepare for in advance as a group include:
Umbrella team: Small groups equipped with umbrellas to block cameras or create distance between our lines and the far-right militants are always extremely useful in counter-protests. By blocking cameras we protect the identity of our comrades, and by creating physical obstacles between the camps we limit the risk of physical violence.
Banner team: In counter-protests, banners serve to form lines to keep our adversaries in specific areas, to place an obstacle between us and them, and to defend our comrades. Mobile teams with banners blocking the way for far-right actors and defending strategic positions play a crucial role in these events.
Medic team: Small teams of people trained in first aid who want to make themselves available to intervene in case of injury should make themselves easily identifiable by wearing visible first aid materials on their person.
Other tasks may crop up at any point during a counter-protest. If you don’t plan to prepare for a specific task but are willing to take action, it’s a good idea to stay attentive of the situation around you and pay attention to directives proposed by people tasked with counter-protest coordination.
7. Be mindful of your emotional state and that of others
Counter-protests are tense and can cause significant emotional distress and shock. It’s very easy to lose your composure without realizing it in such a high-stress situation. When our emotions get the better of us, we are at risk of making bad decisions and acting in unsafe ways.
It is therefore important to to be mindful of your emotional state and that of those around you. If you feel too angry or panicked, it can be a good idea to retreat from your position, find a more quiet area, or to seek support from available people further away from the confrontational front lines. It can also be helpful to practice breathing exercises, or simply to chat with your comrades to diffuse tension and support eachother.
It’s perfectly normal to go through difficult emotions, so it is important to take care of yourself and others so that we may maintain our calm and discipline as much as possible during these tense moments of struggle and collective action.