OPSEC for Activists Part 3: Always Carry A Bandana

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Masked protesters in Montreal troll police with donuts on sticks.

Mention of the potential importance of carrying a mask has been made in both OPSEC for Activists Part 1 and OPSEC for Activists Part 2. There’s been brief mention of some of the reasons why it might be important to carry a mask, and this post will delve a little deeper into the subject.

There are a myriad good reasons to wear a mask to a protest, even if you feel no guilt or shame being there. Those reasons may include:

Dragnet Surveillance: It is not uncommon for police officers to record crowds of protesters at demonstrations. While having your face appear in this footage isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world, for the sake of your privacy, it may be worth masking up anyway. Additionally, people whose faces appear in these videos are often either approached to testify against comrades in court cases, targeted for harassment by police, or accused of committing crimes due to proximity and convenience.

Child Custody Concerns: If you are a parent, it is entirely possible that your presence at protests could conceivably endanger your custody rights. If you have a vindictive ex, or other relative trying to gain custody of your children, they may cite your presence at protests as either neglect or child endangerment, depending on whether or not your children are at the demonstration with you. In light of this, it is best to wear a mask, and if you plan on bringing your children with you, you may wish to recommend that they wear masks as well.

Precarious Employment: If you are working for an employer who is either unsupportive of your political leanings, or doesn’t know you’re taking time off work to attend a demonstration (or deal with an arrest/court case), it may be wise to cover your face while you attend political actions. While it’s true that in most states and for most jobs, you can’t be fired for what you do in your time off, many employers are willing to either find ways to work around this, or flout these rules entirely. It’s not worth risking your livelihood by showing up on the evening news, when a simple bandana could save you from trouble in the first place.

Social Consequences: Perhaps you have a parent who worries too much, or a church community with varying values, or peers at work or school who might ostracize you. Perhaps you’re worried about future employment opportunities, or judgement from your in-laws, or weird looks from your neighbors. In any case, even if the social consequences aren’t terribly serious, it’s better to wear a mask than it is to allow potential social consequences to dissuade you from going to a demonstration at all.

Fascist Creeps: It is, perhaps, no surprise that white supremacists on the internet frequently go through photos from protests in order to identify and track down people whose politics don’t line up with their own. It is fairly common practice for them to circulate false rumors, attempt to get Child Protective Services involved in family situations, get people fired from their jobs, or attempt to fabricate incriminating evidence to turn over to law enforcement. Fascist creeps, as a matter of fact, represent all the threats laid out prior to their mention, as well as carrying with them the implicit threat of violence after the action is over. For the sake of protecting yourself from angry neo-nazis, it’s wise to not only mask up, but also to cover up any distinguishing marks such as tattoos, piercings, or scars as best as possible, in order to avoid being identified by the white supremacist fascists known as the “alt-right.”

Stock Photos: A much less serious threat than Actual Fucking Nazis, you do not want to be identifiable as part of a protest stock photo. The likelihood of accidentally being the poster child for a super awkward headline written by hyperconservatives isn’t high, per se, but as it’s easily avoidable by simply wearing a mask, the mask is probably the way to go.

Expanding the Anonymity Set: Even if you’ve gotten all the way through this post and don’t feel the need to wear a mask, I’d like to ask you to please consider whether or not any of the threats laid out affect anyone you care about. While there are certainly a myriad of ways to identify even masked activists, if someone is willing to put in the effort, the more of us who wear masks, the less likely someone is to be spotted and have their kids taken away, or fired from their job. The more masked demonstrators there are in the streets, the less likely any one of us will be tracked down and threatened (or attacked) by right wing extremists. Even if you are not personally at risk, wearing a mask is both an important act of solidarity with our comrades, and also an effective means of helping them disappear into the masked crowd.

So have fun storming the castle, stay safe, and Always Carry A Bandana.

POPSEC: Operational Security Lessons Learned from Archer

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Sterling Archer is a well-known, widely loved secret agent whose methods are… unconventional. Despite having a background in covert and clandestine operations, he manages to fuck up on a pretty consistent basis, often with hilarious and disastrous results. Fortunately, the multitude of mistakes made by him and his cohort provide a wealth of learning opportunities for those of us who watch.

Lesson 1: Op First, Drinks After

Archer is notorious for his love of Glengoolie Blue Label… or literally anything else with an alcohol content greater than or equal to that found in NyQuil. While Sterling’s reputation for being a boozehound certainly sets the stage for some entertaining and hilariously catastrophic scenarios, the truth is that if you’re actually trying to keep secrets, and accomplish anything either covert or clandestine, you may actually want to skip the Scotch until it’s time to celebrate your success. Drinking can slow your reflexes, dull your situational awareness, and strip away your inhibitions in ways which may endanger both you, your colleagues, and your operation. Additionally, even after your operation is complete, it is wise to remember that alcohol lowers inhibitions, and it is best to drink in moderation so as to keep your wits about you when in mixed company.

Lesson 2: Cocaine is Probably a No?

I mean, do whatever you want, but if we’re being honest, cocaine basically never leads to good life choices, and that goes double when you actually have good reason to keep your mouth shut about literally anything. Additionally, if you’re trying to fly under any sort of radar, it’s generally a good call to avoid carrying anything super illegal which isn’t directly related to completing your task at hand. In fact, you may actually want to expand this general rule to also include illicit substances which are not cocaine, including but not limited to: opiates, amphetamines, and probably even weed, even if possession is legal in your state. While there are doubtless exceptions to this rule, in general it is probably best to stick to No-Doze and Jolt for your upper fix.

Rule 3: Maybe Don’t Sleep with Fellow Operatives

Relationships are messy. Workplace relationships are about eleventy times messier than your normal level of messy, especially if at least one person in the relationship has had multiple workplace relationships. Ongoing relationships impact the judgement of those engaging in them, and catastrophic relationship-ending events can damage, if not outright destroy, the trust necessary for running a successful operation. It’s true that we spend a lot of time in close quarters with those with whom we collaborate, but there are enough fish in the sea that it’s probably worthwhile to turn our gaze outside of the goldfish bowl of our affinity groups or other organizational collectives.

Rule 4: Brag Less

Yeah, okay, Burt Reynolds IS pretty cool, but that doesn’t mean you should brag to him about being recognizable because you’re “the world’s most dangerous spy.” In fact, you probably shouldn’t actually tell people you’re a secret agent. Or admit to it when asked. Or cop to it when accused. There are varying schools of thought on how best to go about denying your involvement in anything secretive, but general consensus is don’t discuss things outside of the very limited context needed in order to complete operations, and don’t give any indication that you’re up to anything remarkable or interesting. It’s important to note that lying is not most people’s strong suit, so employing tactics like misdirection instead of relying on outright falsehoods may be a more viable option, especially in the long term. When in doubt, speak at great length on a dull subject, then politely excuse yourself once your conversation partner’s eyes have safely glazed over from boredom.

Rule 5: Leave Your Personal Shit at Home

While your personal issues may not be “parachuting into Russia under pretext of committing a political assassination to find out whether a high-ranking KGB operative is your father”-level bad, Archer’s profoundly poor decisions in this realm serve as an excellent reminder of how our personal issues can negatively impact both our safety and our odds of completing our objectives if we are unable to set them aside to focus on our work. We all have problems in our personal lives, but if you are unable to set them aside and focus on your projects, the responsible choice is to recuse yourself from your work until you are able to focus on it without allowing your distraction to put yourself, your peers, and your operation at risk.

Rule 6: Take Briefings Seriously

While it may be tempting to zone out during briefings, or only skim over relevant documents and/or communiques, it’s important to remember that minutiae can be the deciding factors in whether or not a mission is successful. Pirate King Archer has a wonderful resource in Noah, but Sterling’s unwillingness to listen or learn proves his undoing. In fact, this is a recurrent theme throughout Archer’s misadventures: time after time, Sterling’s missions and his personal safety are compromised by his cavalier attitude towards obtaining and retaining relevant information. Never underestimate the value of preemptive research when undertaking something risky. It’s generally better to have unnecessary information than it is to suffer from a lack thereof: the more information you have, the better prepared you are if things don’t go according to plan.

Rule 7: Don’t Be Distracted by a Pretty Face

While it may be tempting to allow yourself to be distracted by an attractive person, it is important to remember that at best, a pretty face is just that: a distraction. At worst, an attractive person may be an actual adversary using your sexuality to neutralize you, and lure you into divulging sensitive information. Mercedes Moreno falls in the middle when she uses her sex appeal to divert and neutralize Archer so her mother can continue sneaking people across the border into the US. There are cases where it is both possible and pragmatic to use these tactics to your advantage. Playing along may allow you extract information from an adversary or to seed disinformation, but this tactic should never be undertaken lightly. Instead, this should be done deliberately and with every possible precaution in place, including an extraction plan for when the job is done and the faux relationship ceases to be useful to your aims.

Rule 8: Don’t Reuse Aliases

Archer habitually reuses the same pseudonym, despite using different cover stories each time. We never actually see this bite Sterling in the ass (except for when he’s called on it in meetings, and subsequently uses the name “Rando” instead of his usual “Randy,”) it’s important to keep in mind that reusing a pseudonym can compromise your identity and your operation. If you’re going to use pseudonyms, it is best practice to use names which are both plausible and disposable, rather than reusing names, or using ostentatious handles. It’s unlikely that anyone will remember Emily Jones based solely on her name, but highly likely that people will take note of (and remember) Mariah Carey or Catherine Catastrophe. Retiring pseudonyms after use is still crucial. There is still always a chance that people will remember even an unremarkable name, and it is wise to compartmentalize both actions pertaining to an operation, and operations themselves, whenever possible.

Rule 9: Never Trust Someone Offering You “Unhackable” Security

The first thing you should know is that, given an adversary with sufficient skill and resources, there is no such thing as “unhackable.” Since “unhackable” is an impossible objective to achieve, it stands to reason that at best, anyone claiming an “unhackable” service or product is a charlatan. At worst, they may actually be malicious, as shown in Cyril’s encounter with George Spelvin, a security contractor out to gain access to data on ISIS field operatives, and sell it to the highest bidder. A couple related things to keep in mind are: don’t take security advice from people who don’t understand the threats you face, and don’t trust anyone offering easy security solutions. Proper security practices are going to offer defense in depth in order to prevent creating a single point of failure, and will necessarily be tailored to the assets you are trying to protect, and the adversaries you’re protecting against.

It’s true that Archer is full of countless operational security fails and just plain bad tradecraft, but Sterling does manage to correctly implement what may be the most important security measure of all: Archer’s affinity group is reliable. No matter how many times they fuck up, or fight among themselves, the coalition of secret agents formerly known as ISIS understands that solidarity means nobody gets left behind.

The Night I Became an Anarchist

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November 2, 2011 was one of the longest days of my life, the events of which shifted the course of my life irrevocably, and helped to shape the person I am today.

Photo by Damon Tighe, via occupyoakland.org
Photo by Damon Tighe, via occupyoakland.org

In the morning, crowds of people gathered in Downtown Oakland, to take part in the General Strike called in response to state repression against the Occupy Oakland encampment a week earlier. The October 25th raid on the camp had seen heavy use of tear gas, flashbang grenades, and rubber bullets, resulting in the traumatization of hundreds, if not thousands of people, and nearly resulting in the death of one young man, who had been hit in the head with a tear gas canister.

Photo via msnbcmedia.msn.com
Photo via msnbcmedia.msn.com

At several intervals throughout the day, thousands of people participating in the Strike marched to the Port of Oakland in an wildly successful effort to shut it down. Bodies crowded the Port’s many berths, ensuring that no business would be done that day, and truck drivers sat motionless on the streets as protesters climbed onto the cargo containers loaded onto their rigs, and scaled sign posts waving flags.

Photo via libcom.org
Photo via libcom.org

Around twilight, the majority of us began the long march back towards downtown, while others continued to blockade the port in a successful effort to ensure that the evening shift would not go to work.

Photo via shannonleeservice.com
Photo via shannonleeservice.com

After dark, I stood by the first aid tent in the Plaza in front of Oakland City Hall, part of a small knot of medics who had not yet gone home for the night. We were all exhausted after having been in the streets since that morning, and were discussing whether or not it was necessary for any of us to stick around. A black-clad person approached our group, handed us a slip of paper which read:

“520 16th Street

The Oakland branch of the Traveler’s Aid Society was a government-funded non-profit that provided aid to houseless people in our area. After the government cut funding to the program the Oakland branch faced foreclosure at the hands of their private lender.

Since then, the space sat vacant, as though it were disposable to those with the keys. To us this space is invaluable. We are reclaiming it for the people. It is now open for our use.

We welcome the Traveller’s Aid Society to resume providing services in this building. Otherwise, we will make it into a library and open workshop space for the people of Oakland.

This space is an example for the country. When the political and financial systems of this nation fail to provide needed services, we must do it ourselves.

We are the 99%. This is our future.”

When we looked up from the scrap of paper, the person who had handed it to us had disappeared into the crowd, presumably to continue passing out slips of paper and spread the word. Another medic and I agreed to check out what was going on, but decided to take a circuitous route around the block to see if we could spot police amassing anywhere. Our walk around the block didn’t turn up anything, but as we approached the Travelers’ Aid Society, we saw barricades being constructed from dumpsters and overturned trash cans. People moved around inside the brick building, and an “OCCUPY EVERYTHING” banner stretched across its upstairs windows.

Via takethesquare.net
Via takethesquare.net

Road flares blazed in the street in front of the building, and people nervously milled about in front. Helicopters flew low overhead, and many people were already masked and making preparations for the inevitable onslaught of  riot gear-clad police officers heavily armed with their “less-lethal” tools of repression. Music was playing, and several people danced in the streets, despite the palpable tension in the air. A tall person wearing a black hoodie, black jeans, black boots, black bandana, ski goggles, and black messenger bag slung over one shoulder took note of the red crosses on my arms and back, and leaned in to tell me they were carrying a first aid kit, and to find them if I needed help. The helicopters seemed to grow louder, and down the block, people were beginning to set their haphazard barricades on fire, claiming that the smoke would help carry away the tear gas which we all knew was inevitable.

Photo by Stephen Lam, via reuters.com
Photo by Stephen Lam, via reuters.com

As the barricades ignited, the medic next to me asked, “Are you sure you want to stay?” I didn’t at all want to stay. I was certain I knew what was about to happen, and I was terrified. I told them I was sure I wanted to stay, anyway. Shortly afterwards, lines of riot police materialized in the darkness beyond the smoke, and began to march towards us.

Photo by Stephen Lam, via reuters.com
Photo by Stephen Lam, via reuters.com

As the lines of paramilitary-clad police officers stomped towards us, someone delivered a dispersal notice, only a few words of which were actually intelligible over the murmur of the crowd surrounding me. I heard a crackling, robotic declaration of “unlawful assembly,” and could make out threats of chemical agents being deployed against us if we refused to leave. A few people lost their nerve and slipped away, but the bulk of the crowd remained. The police lines tromped closer, coming to a halt across Broadway and Telegraph, just past 16th Street.

Photo by Stephen Lam, via reuters.com
Photo by Stephen Lam, via reuters.com

The next few minutes passed in a blur of terror and adrenaline. I know the police probably issued their dispersal order again, now that they were close enough for us to hear it. I’m sure I did hear it. Nobody moved to leave, and I stayed along with them. The gas masks the officers were wearing came sharply into my focus, and delayed instincts made me pull on my own, seconds before the air around me grew thick with tear gas, and people began to run.

Photo by Stephen Lam, via reuters.com

The intial barrage of tear gas dissipated as I moved through the crowd, spraying Maalox and water into the eyes and mouths of the people around me, hoping it would actually do some good. The riot lines moved up again, and the people around me began to run. I ran with them as another volley of tear gas began, and with every step I took, another canister landed directly in front of me. It took four strides before I realized they were aiming for me, and eight strides before the second barrage stopped. I don’t know how much time passed between that second storm of tear gas and flashbang grenades, and I don’t know how I managed to avoid being hit by any of the rubber bullets flying through the air. I operated in a haze, tending to the people around me, making sure no one was left behind. I do remember how glad I was to see other medics who had gone home earlier in the evening back at the intersection of Broadway and 14th. I remember panicking and screaming at some point. I remember walking home, accompanied by a friend who wanted to make sure I got there safely, and I remember showering for a long time, not caring that the steam was reactivating the tear gas dust that had settled into my hair, causing it to burn my eyes, nose, and throat. I remember sobbing in the shower and scrubbing at my skin, feeling like I would never be cleansed, and I remember spending the next week of my life operating on auto-pilot, until I actually learned how to manage the flashbacks which would crop up unbidden and completely unpredictably.

I didn’t know it until years later, but November 2, 2011 was the night I became an anarchist, and despite all the trauma incurred that night and in all the nights afterwards, I’m fairly certain that my first experience being teargassed in the streets of the city I call home was the defining moment which led to my discovering the person I was always meant to be.

POPSEC: Security Lessons Learned from Harry Potter

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There are a lot of security lessons we can learn by examining popular media, analyzing mistakes which are made, and striving not to repeat them. The Harry Potter series is rich with such lessons, and while the following contains all kinds of spoilers (for every one of the books/movies), it’s also full of important life lessons we can take away by scrutinizing the mishaps which take place in the Wizarding World.

Lesson 1: Don’t be Hagrid.

Hagrid is a lovable, gentle soul. This is all well and good, but if we’ve learned anything from the Harry Potter series, be it the books or the movies, it’s that Hagrid is a drunk, a braggart, and overly trusting. Each and every one of these traits leads to Hagrid divulging information that should really be kept private. Over and over again Hagrid slips up, from spilling secrets to hooded strangers in pubs who are actually the most evil wizard ever to live, to showing Madame Maxine his dragons. If loose lips sink ships, Hagrid is probably responsible for capsizing an entire fleet. Furthermore, as Jim MacLeod (@shewfig) points out, Hagrid also has a bad habit of sharing PARTIAL information, which has the result of endangering people who listen, as demonstrated when he tells Harry to “follow the spiders,” and almost gets Harry and Ron eaten by Aragog’s offspring when they take Hagrid’s advice.

Lesson 1A: Don’t tell Hagrid your secrets.

We all have a friend like Hagrid. We all love that friend. That friend is fiercely loyal, loving, and always knows how to lift our spirits when we’re down. We all NEED friends like Hagrid. But we also all know that our friend/Hagrid is terrible at keeping secrets, and so we should maybe protect ourselves (and keep our friend from being put in a position to unwittingly betray us) by finding other ways to demonstrate our trust in our friend. Because Hagrid is a ride-or-die kind of friend, and accidentally spilling the beans hurts him almost as much as it hurts us. Cheer up, Hagrid: you’re still great!

Lesson 2: Security through Obscurity doesn’t work.

It’s tempting to think that keeping vulnerabilities secret is a fail-proof way to ensure that they’re never exploited. Unfortunately, Security through Obscurity leaves one vulnerable to social engineering attacks, as in the case of Fluffy. Who could possibly know that a vicious three-headed dog is a sucker for harp music? Well, literally anyone who had ever come into contact with Hagrid. It is true, too, that given sufficient time and determination, someone could have figured out Fluffy’s weakness all on their own, but a combination of unpatched vulnerabilities and Hagrid’s inability to keep his mouth shut in the pub very nearly led to Lord Voldemort seizing the means to immortality.

Lesson 3: If you don’t know how it works, don’t trust it.

Remember that diary Ginny Weasley found that spoke to her? Remember how she confided her deepest, darkest secrets to it? REMEMBER HOW IT TURNED OUT TO BE AN ACTUAL MANIFESTATION OF HE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED? Arthur Weasley advised, “Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.” When talking about magic, this is perfectly sound advice. When talking about security in the real world, it’s probably wise to say you should never trust anything with your data if you don’t know how it intends to use it, and how it will store it. This also means you probably shouldn’t rely on tools if you don’t have at least a working understanding of how they function: you don’t need to know the particulars of how something is encrypted, but you should have a good idea of what a tool does and doesn’t do (and protect) before relying on it.

Lesson 4: Know your threats.

In order to protect yourself, you need to first correctly identify your threats. False negatives can leave you open to attack, while false positives can cause you to implement the wrong defenses, as well as cost you valuable resources and potential allies. Harry, Ron, and Hermione (and everyone else) spent an unreasonable amount of time trying to defend against Sirius Black, when it turned out that the man responsible for the deaths of Harry’s parents had been sleeping in Harry’s dorm room for years. The takeaway here is that fixating on a single threat can (and often will) distract you from where the real danger lies.

Lesson 5: Whitelisting > Blacklisting

Remember how the Goblet of Fire was bewitched to reject all entries not submitted by someone over a certain age? Remember how that didn’t matter, because an adult submitted Harry Potter’s name to the Goblet? Remember how that adult used a fake school that doesn’t even exist to ensure that Harry Potter’s name was chosen? Had the Goblet of Fire been enchanted to instead ONLY accept the names of actually eligible students, Cedric Diggory would probably still be alive today.

Lesson 6: Getting owned once doesn’t have to be the end of the line.

Things look pretty bad for Harry when Voldemort transports him to a graveyard, has him surrounded by Death Eaters, and strips away Harry’s most powerful protection against his adversary… but it’s not the end of the line for Harry, and getting bested once by your adversary doesn’t need to be the end for you, either. If your security is, in fact, compromised, take a deep breath, and start doing damage control. In most cases, getting beaten isn’t a sign you’ve failed, so much as an indication that you need to try something different. Get creative, and keep plugging away.

Lesson 7: Your security doesn’t need to be perfect, it needs to be good enough.

When Harry and his friends are attacked by Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries, it looks like it’s lights out for the temerarious teens. They’re outnumbered and clearly outclassed by their adult adversaries, and the only tools at their disposal are perfectly puerile compared to the malicious magical mastery of the Death Eaters. Yet, against all odds, Harry and his cohorts are able to fend off their fearsome foes and stay alive long enough for reinforcements to arrive. Expelliarmus and Reducto may not seem like much, but they’re sufficient to keep Harry and his friends in the game. It’s easy to fall into the habit of thinking that if your security isn’t perfect, it’s useless, but the fact is that your security only needs to be good enough to narrowly beat your adversaries… and in some cases, only for a little while. Worrying that your security isn’t perfect can cause you to fall prey to security nihilism… and falling prey to security nihilism can make it hard to recognize that some (if not all) of your practices are sufficient at least in the interim, and can also make it hard to identify what can reasonably be improved upon to harden your security a bit more.

Lesson 8: Know your sources.

Even though Harry should have learned his lesson about putting trust in the contents of sketchy books after the incident with Tom Riddle’s Diary, he makes a similar mistake in putting his trust in the notes left in the margins of his borrowed textbook by a person known only as the “Half Blood Prince.” This leads to a newfound success at potions making, but also leads Harry to try a rather heinous (if not altogether Unforgivable) curse on Draco Malfoy. Harry’s faith in this unverified source essentially results in a lot of bloodshed… and that’s an important lesson for us to learn. If we don’t know where our information is coming from, we can’t verify it… and if we trust in unverified information, the results may be dire. Whether uncritically reading state-sponsored propaganda (I’m looking at you, everyone who shares links to RT content), or trusting un-vetted privacy resources (remember Firechat? How about Telegram?) can leave people dangerously misinformed, and devastatingly vulnerable. To keep from falling prey to this classic blunder, make sure you know where your information (and your tools) are coming from, and verify it before you rely on it.

Lesson 9: Don’t fall victim to tunnel vision.

Remember how Harry and Dumbledore go to retrieve a horcrux together? And remember how much energy they put into retrieving that horcrux? And remember how in order to actually get it, Dumbledore has to drink A LITERAL VAT OF POISON? And remember how it turns out it’s not even a real horcrux? This is a classic example of falling prey to tunnel vision. The duo is so focused on retrieving this objective, they don’t stop to think that maybe they should focus their energy on tracking down the OTHER horcruxes as well before taking action. Now Dumbledore’s dead, there are still six horcruxes out there, and Harry has no idea how or where to find them.

Lesson 10: Know a person’s circumstances before you trust them.

Xenofilius Lovegood is a decent person. Sure, he rats out Harry, Ron, and Hermione to the Death Eaters, but that’s because the Death Eaters have kidnapped his daughter, are holding her hostage, and have threatened to kill her. Xenofilius doesn’t do anything any reasonable person in his situation wouldn’t do, and that’s why it’s important to know our allies’ situations before we rely on them. The lesson here is never trust someone if you don’t understand what they have to lose from supporting you, and what they stand to gain by betraying you. Does this mean you should never trust anyone with anything? Of course not. It just means you should never willingly put your life (or freedom) in anyone’s hands if you aren’t certain they’ll protect it as if it were their own.

Lesson 11: Never underestimate your adversary.

Neville Longbottom is kind of a hapless foil for Harry’s cavalier, clumsy heroism. Neither is terribly graceful, but Neville is nervous where Harry is bold, and Neville is risk-averse, while Harry repeatedly throws himself into dangerous situations without a second thought. Because we spend the entire series watching Neville fail pretty miserably at most things, it’s easy to see why Voldemort and the Death Eaters may not have taken Neville seriously as a threat… RIGHT UP UNTIL NEVILLE SLICES OFF NAGINI’S HEAD. Now, of course, nobody could have seen that coming. There is no way Voldemort could have predicted that Neville-effing-Longbottom would be responsible for the loss of one of his last surviving horcruxes… but his loss is our gain, because we can take away from this that with enough determination, even the clumsiest of our adversaries can cause us to have a very, very bad day.

Lesson 12: Don’t get lax when you think you’ve neutralized a threat.

Voldemort killed Harry in the Forbidden Forest. We all saw it happen. He used Avada Kedavra, the killing curse. There was a bright flash of green light, and Harry’s lifeless body sprawled out on the detritus of the forest floor. We even see Harry speaking with the absolutely-definitely-verifiably-dead Dumbledore in a sparklingly-clean train station in the sky… so where did Voldemort go wrong? There are actually a few different mistakes he made here. The first was not verifying *HIMSELF* that the threat-known-as-Harry had been truly neutralized. Instead, Voldemort asks Narcissa Malfoy to check that Harry is dead (violating Lesson 10 in the process… see? That one is important!) Naturally, Narcissa lies, because she cares way more about her own kid than she does about some creepy old bald guy with no nose and a weird obsession with teenage boys. Voldemort also makes the mistake of violating Lesson 11. He assumes that because Harry has been taken out of the picture, everyone else will just sort of flop over and let him conduct his evil reign of terror completely unchecked. Now, had Voldemort checked to ensure that Harry was dead himself (and maybe taken the extra step of rifling through his pockets), he’d have realized that Harry was very much alive, and in possession of the Resurrection Stone, and he probably would have behaved accordingly, rather than marching on as though he were frigging invincible. So what can we take from this? A) never assume that you’ve succeeded in neutralizing a threat. If you think you’ve eliminated a threat, verify it yourself, and B) just because you’ve taken out an adversary doesn’t mean there aren’t many others out there just waiting for you to show a little weakness so they can take you out in turn.

Now, I realize that, had the characters in the Harry Potter series not made all these mistakes, the stories would have been much less interesting, and might have had an entirely different outcome… That said, we can take a lot away from fictional blunders by imaginary people, and we can (and should!) always be on the lookout for ways that the characters in our favorite books and movies could have done things differently. (And yes, there will be future installments of POPsec, so stay tuned!)

Eternal gratitude to @deviantollam for his eyes and his notes on this piece.

Everyday Activism

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Let’s say you, like so many others, care about social justice. Let’s say you want to build a better world by helping erase oppression, and facilitate resistance against the power structures which prop up the disenfranchisement of marginalized groups. Let’s say you, for literally any reason, have decided that marching in the streets and taking part in large protests just isn’t the right role for you.

It turns out, there are a wide range of options available to you to further the causes you care about, even if you are unable to participate in direct action, or other demonstrations. Not sure where to start? Here are some suggestions:

  • Find out who does legal support work in your area, and ask how you can help: between helping conduct Know Your Rights workshops, answering phones for the legal hotline, tracking down arrested people, communicating with worried family members, doing administrative work for attorneys doing pro bono defense work, and everything else that needs doing in the activist legal field, there is almost always a need for more help in this area.
  • Support people at their court dates: find out when people who have been arrested have to appear in court. Check in to see whether they’d like support, if you can. If this isn’t possible, show up, be well behaved, and make sure they know they don’t have to endure the dehumanizing process of being shuffled through the court system alone.
  • Write to prisoners: whether it’s someone whose case is ongoing, but cannot afford bail, or someone who was unable to beat their case and is now serving time, writing to incarcerated people is a wonderful way to remind them that they still matter to people, and that they are supported in their struggles. All prisoners are political prisoners, and all prisoners deserve reminders that they are cared for.
  • Support campaigns for incarcerated people: people who are imprisoned are both in dire need of income, and also largely cut off from sources of income. Fundraising for prisoners may look like raising funds for their commissary, funds to help support their children, money for their families so that they can afford the exorbitant prices for accepting phone calls from their incarcerated loved one, bail funds, and legal defense/appeal funds. Other support for prisoners may look like campaigns to send them books and/or magazine subscriptions, organizing visits from comrades, facilitating visits from family, providing childcare, and generally helping a prisoner’s family survive while their loved one is incarcerated.
  • Providing emotional and/or material support to those who DO engage in demonstrations and/or direct action: this may look like holding space for friends while they unpack trauma caused by police repression, cooking a meal, helping with some chores, being willing to talk about anything BUT what they’ve just experienced, offering to cover shifts for them at work if they are arrested (or simply too tired/traumatized to go into work), offering to feed their animals if they are incarcerated, offering to babysit while they go to a demonstration, offering rides to people who need to get out quickly, being an emergency contact for someone attending a protest, and more.
  • Doing actual educational labor around social justice issues: this means you actually check in and engage, one-on-one with people when they say something crappy, rather than standing on a soapbox and talking about how you are superior to them. This may mean recommending resources for further reading, linking to studies which demonstrate how they are wrong, and patiently rephrasing your point until you land on phrasing that actually sticks. This means speaking to people as equals, and generally means assuming that they have good intentions and bad information, rather than the inverse. This means engaging rather than blocking, and it usually means a *private* discussion, because a public discussion is often too embarrassing to be productive. This may also mean being a trustworthy resource for people who are working on their shit, so that they know they can come to you without receiving judgement or ridicule, and without having their confidence broken, to ask questions about doing better.
  • Checking in with people doing support work: support work, especially in the cases of medics, legal workers, and anti-repression work, can be an emotionally taxing and highly traumatic experience. The secondary trauma which comes from diving into repression-filled environments in an effort to pull others out is a heavy burden to carry, and having community members check in and shoulder some of that burden means that those doing the immediate support work can continue to do so for a much longer period of time. If you’re not sure how to support people doing this work, simply ask how they’re doing. If that doesn’t feel like enough, it’s okay to tell them you’re here for them, and that they can lean on you if they need to. Even if they don’t take you up on your offer, I promise, the offer is worth a lot, and it DOES help.
  • Stop laughing at racist, sexist, ableist, transphobic, queerphobic, classist, ageist, otherwise oppressive “jokes”: even if you’re not in a place where you’ve eradicated oppressive language from your speech, you know this shit isn’t funny. Speak up about it. Straight up say, “I don’t think it’s funny to make fun of _________ people.” Don’t repeat the joke later, don’t turn around and tell others how awesome you are for not laughing, just put this nonsense in check whenever and wherever it pops up, because making fun of people for being part of an oppressed class is never, ever funny. And because not laughing at this shit doesn’t make you some sort of social justice superhero, it’s actually the bare minimum for human decency.
  • Work with kids: in any way, and for any length of time. Teach kids to be decent to one another without erasing the differences between them. Teach them that while our differences shape our life experiences, they also give us amazing opportunity to learn from one another. Teach what kindness and decency look like. Teach them to know the difference between right and wrong, for real.
  • Don’t drag down other people’s efforts: there is room for people with differing political ideologies to work on the same issues without belittling one another’s work. There is nearly infinite space for addressing the harm caused by oppressive power structures, and what works for some people may not work for others. Rather than focusing energy tearing down other efforts for not being perfect, we can all strive to do our best, and leave others to do their best. We are not all operating with the same tools, so the solutions we build are all going to be different. Since we’re still a long way away from an egalitarian society, THIS IS OKAY. We don’t have to be in agreement on what an ideal society looks like, because we’re still generations away from it. We just need to agree on some of the things that are wrong, and all work in our own ways to address it. More tactics being employed by more people means a greater chance of finding some solution that works, even if it only works a little bit, for a little while. By all means, if someone’s tactics are actually hurting you (or someone else), that should be addressed… but none of us are perfect, we are all still learning, and we all need constructive feedback from time to time. Meet people where they’re at, if you can, and if you can’t, maybe just leave them alone and work on your own project instead.
  • Accept feedback gracefully: even when it doesn’t come in a tone you appreciate, try to divorce the feedback from the tone, and make something of it. Consider carefully others’ critique of your work, even if it isn’t given kindly. It’s okay to reject critique if you’ve considered it and found it invalid, but it should be considered nevertheless. This goes double when the critique comes from someone marginalized upon different axes than your own, and triple when you’re doing “ally” or “accomplice” work, and the critique comes from someone you’re attempting to be an “ally” or “accomplice” to. Criticism is a learning opportunity, and we should all do due diligence to make sure we’re not missing important facets of the issues we are collectively struggling to fix.

A lot of this work is a lot less “sexy” than rioting, or chaining oneself to a police station door to shut down their operations, but every bit of it is extremely important. If you can’t, or don’t want to be in the streets, that doesn’t at all mean that you and your work don’t matter. The struggle for a better world is reliant upon all of our best efforts, and there are ways for each and every one of us to contribute according to our abilities.

The Quick and Dirty Tear Gas Primer

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Because tear gas is a commonly-used dispersal tactic all around the world, here is a primer containing all the basic information you need to deal with it before, during, and after exposure.

  • Tear gas is not actually a gas, but rather an aerosolized acidic particulate. Basically, it’s acid dust and propellant. It is designed to stick to mucus membranes (eyes, nose, mouth, throat) and burn.
  • A damp towel, bandanna, or other cloth over the nose and mouth can greatly reduce the effects of tear gas. The tighter the weave of fabric, the more effective it will be.
  • Because tear gas is an acid, a mixture of liquid antacid and water (commonly referred to as LAW) can be applied to affected areas to rinse off the dust and neutralize the burning. Maalox, milk of magnesia, and actual milk are all commonly-used remedies. Milk of magnesia contains the highest concentration of antacid, is typically the least expensive per application, and doesn’t spoil.
  • It is commonly believed that vinegar on cloth can help counteract tear gas. The reason this works is because of the previously-mentioned effectiveness of cloth+moisture for trapping dust before you inhale it. Vinegar is not necessary, and you can (and absolutely should) use the liquid antacid and water of your choice for this purpose. Using the liquid antacid mixture also reduces the chance of accidentally pouring the wrong liquid into people’s eyes, in low-visibility conditions.
  • Tear gas is classified as a “less lethal” munition. Tear gas is painful and unpleasant, but most people CAN breathe in conditions where tear gas has been deployed in outdoor settings. Short, slow, shallow breaths are best, when possible.
  • Tear gas is classified as “less lethal” in part because it absolutely can kill people with asthma. As you are leaving an area being gassed, look around you for people who are unable to walk, and try to help them to safety. If you are traveling with an asthmatic friend, it may be a good idea for you to carry a spare inhaler for them, in an easily-accessible place, so that they are at less risk of not having access to one.
  • Tear gas canisters are typically deployed using 40mm grenade launchers. A canister blow to the head may be fatal. If possible, wear head protection. Even a bicycle helmet could save your life.
  • Tear gas canisters are extremely hot. Do not touch them with bare skin, plastic, or other synthetic materials which may melt. If you intend to touch a canister, welder’s gloves, leather baseball mitts, oven mitts, hockey sticks, etc. may be your best bet.
  • It is not necessary to touch canisters. Dumping water on an active canister, or covering it with a bucket, can help stop deployment of additional particulate.
  • Don’t run. Running causes you to breathe harder, and puts you and others around you at greater risk of falling, being tripped, being trampled, or other injury. Additionally, because tear gas clouds impair vision, this gives extra reason to move carefully and as calmly as possible.
  • Under most circumstances, the damp cloth over the mouth and nose, and swimming goggles over the eyes is sufficient for normal tear gas exposure. If you intend to spend prolonged amounts of time in tear gas, or if you have breathing conditions, you may want to look into a gas mask or respirator.
  • If you are going to purchase a gas mask, look for one that takes “NATO” (40mm) threaded canisters, as these are easiest to find replacement filters for.
  • If you are going to purchase a respirator, look for one rated N-95 or better. If pepper spray is also a risk factor, you may want to consider spending the extra money on a R- or P-95 or better-rated respirator, as these are (respectively) resistant to or “proofed” against oils as well as particulates.
  • If you do opt for a gas mask or respirator, make sure that it properly seals around your mouth, nose, and (in the case of a full gas mask) also around your eyes before relying on it to protect you. Practice wearing your respirator or gas mask, familiarize yourself with how it alters your breathing, and get used to the way it feels before wearing it outside.
  • Do not wear contact lenses. Contact lenses can trap tear gas particulates against your eye, potentially doing irreparable damage to your corneas.
  • Do not wear oil-based sunblock, lotions, moisturizers, or other skin products. Oil-based skin products can cause tear gas to better adhere to your body, intensifying its effects.
  • If possible, carry a change of clothes in a sealed ziplock bag, and a trash bag for contaminated clothing. You may want to change in front of your house, rather than bringing contaminated clothing into your home.
  • After exposure to tear gas, take a COOL shower to wash off remaining particulate. Keep in mind that taking a hot shower can reactivate remaining particles, making your shower experience very, very unpleasant. Please believe me when I tell you that teargassing yourself in the shower is significantly more unpleasant than taking a cold shower.
  • Seek medical care if you continue to have trouble breathing after exposure. Smoking dried mullein leaf is some hippie shit that can actually significantly alleviate the ill effects of tear gas exposure.

Remember that tear gas is, first and foremost, a tool for dispersal. Its intended use is to get you to leave and never come back, and it is extremely effective at achieving this. Tear gas is scary, and extremely unpleasant, and it’s okay to be afraid. If you can push through your fear, you are actively denying the police what they want, and that is a truly beautiful thing.

An Open Letter to the Man Who Raped Me

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This is hard for me. I know you’ll probably never read this, because reading this would involve first acknowledging that you did, in fact, do something wrong. It is probably worth mentioning that I do believe that you didn’t intend to hurt me. It’s also worth mentioning that, regardless of what you did or did not intend, you did hurt me. Whether you meant to or not, you did damage to someone you claimed to love, and at least some of that damage is irreparable.

I don’t think you’re a fundamentally bad person. If I’m being entirely honest, I don’t even think you’re really and truly 100% to blame for your actions, because we live in a society where the discourse around consent is so incredibly fucked up, you probably didn’t realize what you were doing was wrong until I screamed and started to cry. You might even think that, because you stopped when I cried out in pain, that you didn’t actually do anything wrong at all. You probably think that because you stopped, it wasn’t rape. You did something to me that I had previously told you I would not be okay with, and I am almost entirely positive that you still don’t think it was rape.

You raped me. Even though it didn’t last long, even though you stopped, even though you tried to comfort me afterwards. You raped me.

I don’t need you to apologize to me, not really. I don’t actually really want to ever speak to you again, after I came out publicly about being raped, and you tried to convince people that I was crazy, that I was a liar. I’d be happy if I never had to see you again, after that. I thought, at one point, that I could probably forgive you some day. I thought, at one point, that the pain and anger and disgust might fade, and that I’d be able to at least look at you without wanting to vomit. I know now that none of that is possible, and that if I never saw you again, it’d still be too soon.

I also thought, at first, that I would want revenge. I thought that nothing could possibly feel better and more cathartic than breaking your fingers, your kneecaps, your nose. I used to think that inflicting pain on you would somehow settle things between us. I’ve had to break a man’s foot since then, to get away from someone who grabbed me while I was walking alone at night. I know now that breaking another person’s bones is not something I can ever feel good about, no matter how necessary it is. I know now that I don’t want any revenge, because I’m just not the sort of person who can feel good about bringing more pain into an already-cruel world.

I know now that all I really want is for you to admit to yourself that you did something wrong, and for you to make a commitment to never doing it again. All I actually want from you is for you to resolve to be better about respecting boundaries and obtaining consent. I don’t want to ruin your life, I don’t even want to make you a social pariah. I just want to know that you won’t hurt any future partners the way you hurt me. And I’d appreciate if you had the good grace to stay far, far away from me.

I want you to understand that, despite your best intentions, you did harm. I want you to understand that your intentions don’t actually lighten the burden of carrying what you did to me. I want you to understand that I’m going to have to carry this for the rest of my life. I want you to understand that your good intentions don’t keep away the night terrors and the waking flashbacks. Some small part of me wants you to finally understand that you fucked up, simply because it’s not fair that I have to carry the full weight of what you did to me, while you continue to live your life unburdened by your actions. But mostly, I just want you to know that what you did was wrong, even though you probably didn’t mean for it to be.

All I really want from you is for you to never, ever hurt someone again the way that you hurt me.

Let’s Talk about Rape and Accountability.

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Let’s talk about rape. Let’s talk about domestic violence. Let’s talk about how we treat the people who have experienced it as being somehow at fault for getting brutalized, and how we consistently give rapists and other abusers the benefit of the doubt, while not extending the same courtesy to their victims.

Let’s talk about how a person doesn’t need to INTEND to harm someone, in order to do irreparable damage. Let’s talk about how even though someone may not mean to be abusive, or rape someone, their intentions count for very little (if at all) to the person whose boundaries are being violated, whose agency is being stripped, whose trust is being broken.

Let’s talk about how, when someone is brave enough to come out and publicly speak about how they’ve been abused, they’re seldom believed. Survivors are painted as unstable, liars, attention-seeking, vindictive. Let’s also talk about how, even when survivors are believed, there is still a scramble to place the blame squarely on their shoulders: they were asking for it, they consented but regretted it later, they were drunk, they shouldn’t have been dressed that way, they shouldn’t have said yes in the past, they shouldn’t have said maybe, they should have fought harder, they should have struggled more, they should have yelled, they should have called the police, they shouldn’t have gone out alone, they shouldn’t have gone to that party, they shouldn’t have married that person.

Let’s talk about how people who do fight back against abuse are frequently treated far more harshly under the justice system than their abusers ever will be. Let’s talk about how race affects this, how white women are more likely to get away with bashing back, are more likely to see their abusers sentenced (even if the sentence itself is shamefully light), and how black women are so much more likely to instead be sent to prison themselves. Let’s talk about Cece McDonald and Marissa Alexander, and how they did exactly what we’re told we’re supposed to do when we’re attacked. And how they went to prison for doing it.

Let’s talk about how Woody Allen and Bill Clinton have effectively gotten away with their predatory behavior, while people frothed at the mouth to hold Bill Cosby accountable for his transgressions. Let’s talk about how whiteness enables people to escape accountability, and blackness invites public condemnation. Let’s talk about how at least one person will read this and assume I’m saying Cosby shouldn’t have been held accountable, rather than that Allen and Clinton SHOULD be.

Let’s talk about missing stairs, and whispered warnings, and how we feel unsafe even warning our friends about the abusive behavior of others, for fear of public blowback and harassment campaigns. Let’s talk about how many people undoubtedly miss these warnings entirely, because maybe they’re new here and nobody knows or trusts them enough to feel safe letting them know.

Let’s talk about how nobody is willing to disassociate from people they know to be abusive, because the blow to their own social capital will be too severe. Let’s talk about how this serves only to enable that abusive behavior, and how ultimately, it hurts everyone. Let’s talk about how unchecked patterns of abuse systemically erode the humanity of those perpetrating that abuse.

Let’s talk about how people will say anything to avoid accountability. Let’s talk about the extremes to which they’ll go to ensure that their ability to further abuse remains unchecked. Let’s talk about how far people will go to silence those who would hold them accountable.

Let’s talk about how probably everyone who will read this knows at least one rapist.

Let’s talk about how when told we know a rapist, we always seem to say we “had no idea,” because that person is “so nice,” even though we can probably all think of at least one time that rapist we know willfully violated one of our own boundaries, regardless of whether that boundary was a sexual boundary or not.

Let’s talk about how, no matter what, speaking openly about abusive behavior burns social capital, yet the response is nearly always to claim that it’s only being done “for attention” or to garner some sort of “points.” Let’s talk about how nobody has ever gained social capital ever for pointing out abusive behavior, and how it is generally done at a great cost of personal relationships and mental health. Let’s talk about how to speak out about rape, about abuse, is to open oneself up to a neverending chain of demands for proof, calls to repeat and relive our trauma ad infinitum, and how this silences so, so many people.

Let’s talk about the lengths to which people will go to delude themselves into believing that they could never possibly be friends with a rapist. Let’s talk about the lengths to which people will go to delude themselves into believing they could never BE a rapist. Let’s talk about how both elements of this dynamic end up enabling abuse patterns, and how accountability only ever comes when the ultimate social capital held by accusers outweighs that of the abusers.

Let’s talk about how even when we believe survivors, we’re so often willing to dismiss their need for accountability on the basis of their abuser doing “good work in the community.” Let’s talk about how that ultimately degrades the quality of community, and sullies the concept of community leadership, because it suggests that any transgression can be swept under the rug if someone is smart enough, charismatic enough, self-aggrandizing enough, philanthropic enough. Let’s talk about how we’ll tolerate abuse of others, so long as it doesn’t negatively impact us. Let’s talk about how this means we’re unwilling to hold abusers accountable, as long as we’re benefiting from their continued presence in our lives.

Let’s talk about it, and push back against it, and let’s work together to ultimately abolish the cycles of abuse so many of us are complicit in maintaining. We can do better.

OPSEC for Activists, Part 2: Packing for a Protest

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Many protests are impromptu affairs, and you don’t always have prior knowledge that one is going to happen. In some cases, you may not have time to pack a bag beforehand, and even when you do have time, you’re not always thinking clearly. For these reasons (and more!) I recommend buying a cheap backpack (if you can), and using it as a dedicated protest “go kit.”

My own grab-and-go kit is what I refer to as a “clean bag.” This is because as important as it is to bring the things you need, it is even more important to make sure you’re not bringing anything that could endanger you or your peers, or result in serious criminal charges being brought against you in the event of an arrest and search of your possessions. Packing a “clean bag” not only means that I make sure I’m not bringing anything to a protest I don’t want to be caught holding, but actually that even when I’m NOT attending a protest, nothing contentious ever goes into that bag.

Things to AVOID bringing:
As I said before, what you bring is secondary in importance ONLY to what you make sure you do not bring. These are things I make sure don’t go into my clean bag EVER:

  • Anything sharp: no knives, no scissors (I carry a pair of trauma shears instead), nothing pointy at all.
  • No weapons: don’t bring baseball bats, brass knuckles, those little cat keychains, or anything else considered to be a weapon, if you can possibly avoid it.
  • No “burglary tools“: lockpicks, hammers, wrenches, etc.
  • Nothing explosive: No matches, no flares, etc. Being caught somewhere you’re not supposed to be, carrying “incendiary devices” is pretty much never a good thing.
  • No alcohol: It may seem silly to mention, but don’t bring booze to a protest. At best, you get popped for public intoxication; at worst, you get accused of trying to make incendiary devices. It’s not worth it.
  • No drugs: Don’t bring any illegal drugs at all (even weed, even where decriminalized), and never bring more than 3 days worth of prescription medication with you. If you are bringing your prescription, make sure it is in its original packaging, complete with your legal name and dosing information on the bottle.
  • No paint, spray paint, etc.: Getting caught with paint supplies during a protest where any kind of vandalism may be taking place tends to look real bad. I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I am going to say “don’t get caught with paint.”
  • Oil-based makeup, lotion, and/or sunblock: Oil-based products can cause chemical agents like pepper spray and tear gas to stick to your skin, intensifying their effects. If you’re not sure whether or not your sunblock is oil-based, you’re far better off covering up in light clothing and skipping the sunblock altogether.
  • Contact lenses: as oil-based sunblock can cause chemical agents to stick to your skin, contact lenses can trap pepper spray and/or tear gas against your corneas, potentially resulting in permanent blindness.

    As an added precaution, it is generally best to make sure that anything essential that you do bring (medication, ID, house keys, phone) stays on your immediate person rather than being put into your bag, as arrest is always a possibility, and sometimes you will be separated from your bag (or may need to abandon it to make a hasty getaway), and you want to make sure you can still take your meds and get into your house.

    So what should actually go into your bag? All kinds of things

    The Essentials:

    If you’re planning on attending a protest, the following items are bare essentials you should bring along, in order to sustain you and keep you from being reliant on the people around you (who may or may not actually be prepared to assist anyone), and to mitigate some negative outcomes which may arise. Some of them may not seem necessary, but a majority of what seems excessive weighs next to nothing and will make a huge difference in the event of arrest or injury.

  • Water: And I’m not talking a little 16.9 oz bottle, either. Water is heavy, water is important, and if you can carry a gallon of it in your pack to cover yourself and someone who may not be able to carry their own, you’re not just shouldering your burden, you’re taking care of others around you and alleviating the work load of organizers and medics.
  • Snacks: Hanger (that’s hunger, plus anger) is real. Hanger is the mindkiller. Hanger is the little-death that brings total obliteration. You must feed your hanger. Let it pass over and through you, and when it has gone, you will know you were right to bring those snacks. Being hungry can take a bad situation, and make it worse. Making sure to keep your blood sugar at reasonable levels can make all the difference at a protest. You’re putting your body on the line for a cause, that body needs to be fueled!
  • Your ID: Plenty of people will argue with me on this one, but the fact is that if you are going to get arrested, having your ID on you may be the difference between being cited and released, and being held in custody.  You probably don’t need to bring your entire wallet, but it is almost always worth grabbing your ID and sticking it in your pocket (not your bag) on your way out the door.
  • Prescription medication: If you are on prescription drugs of any kind, and missing a dose is going to be a problem, do yourself a favor and bring along 3 days worth of your medicine *IN ITS ORIGINAL PACKAGING*. Make sure the packaging has the dosing information and your legal name on it, and make sure to keep it on your person (again, in a pocket, not in your bag.)
  • Emergency cash: You never know at what point you may need to beat a hasty exit. Bringing emergency cash can enable you to hop onto public transportation, dive into a taxi, or wander into a coffee shop to buy a latte and blend in with the rest of their clientele. You don’t need to bring much, but it’s always worth it to have a little cash on hand.
  • Comfortable shoes, and clothing you can move in easily: You never know how long you’ll be out, and you also never know how quickly you’ll need to get away. It may also be a good idea to pack a small change of clothes in your bag, for a variety of reasons. For one, if you need to get away, ducking into a restroom and swapping out your clothes can help you disguise yourself. Additionally, if you’re exposed to chemical agents like tear gas or pepper spray, you may want to change outside and put your clothes into a seal-able plastic bag before bringing them into your home.
  • Emergency information: write crucial phone numbers (legal hotline, the co-worker who may need to cover your shift, the housemate who might have to feed the cat or walk the dog, a friend who might be able to bail you out, the babysitter who may need to stay late) on your arm, in permanent marker. Other things you may want to write on your arm include allergies, medical conditions that first responders should know about, etc. Arrest and injury are always possibilities at pretty much any protest, and permanent marker on skin is the best way to make sure that you never get separated from your emergency information.

    Additionally, in the event that emergency medical attention is needed, and you cannot advocate for yourself, having that information on your body can be extremely helpful.

    Non-essentials:

    There are some things which, while not entirely necessary, may well be of use if you’re planning on attending a protest. A majority of these items are geared towards helping you and the people around you, and are generally intended to extend the length of time you may be able to stay out in the streets.

  • A first aid kit: Specifically and especially gauze, duct tape, ice packs, ACE bandages, and extra water. Even if you don’t know how to treat injuries, carrying extra supplies is useful if you’re up for it.
  • A mask: Even if you intend to be the most peaceful protester who ever lived, there are still a million excellent reasons why you may not want to have your face associated with a demonstration, and any demonstration can change in a matter of moments. Additionally, in the event of tear gas, a dampened bandanna is better protection for your lungs than nothing at all. (Isn’t it a good thing you’re also carrying extra water?)
  • A notebook (and pen!): Jot down police officer names, street names, and times when you see shitty things happening. If you see someone being arrested, take notes on what you’re seeing, and be sure to share your notes with any legal organizations doing protester support work.
  • A camera: Read this, and then go out with your camera and start recording cops doing terrible things. Make sure to also read this before doing anything with your photos/videos.
  • A gas mask or respirator: You probably won’t need one. In most cases, even if tear gas has been deployed, as long as you’re not running into it, you are probably fine just covering your mouth and leaving the immediate area. However, if you have respiratory issues, do not intend to leave a tear gas-filled area, and/or intend to walk into tear gas, you may want either a gas mask or a respirator and goggles.
  • Liquid antacid and water: Because tear gas and pepper spray are both acids, it can be extremely useful to carry a mixture of liquid antacid and water in a spray bottle to apply to affected areas. Make sure to use unflavored antacids, as the peppermint-flavored ones often burn a bit when applied to the eyes. Milk of magnesia is generally a best bet, as it’s got a higher concentration of magnesium hydroxide (the antacid ingredient) than do most liquid antacids, and it also doesn’t contain the same additives as others. A 50-50 mix of liquid antacid and water is considered ideal.
  • Rescue remedy: Yeah, it’s hippie as shit, but it makes some people feel calm, and it’s unlikely to hurt anyone or anything.

There are plenty of other things you may or may not want to bring with you, depending on the role you intend to play at a demonstration, but it’s most important to consider what the negative ramifications of being caught with those items may be, and also important to leave anything that can’t be replaced at home. If you’re planning on bringing any of the items outlined in the first part of this guide, make sure they’re in a separate bag, which can be easily discarded if things are beginning to look like they may lead to arrests, and try to be conscious of what traces of yourself you may be leaving behind if and when you do drop that bag.

Protests are not safe spaces, and regardless of what any organizer may tell you, the risk of police brutality and/or arrest is always there. Planning accordingly can be the difference between a cite-and-release and a felony, and can also be the difference between going home or going to the hospital. This does not mean that you should stay home, it just means that proper preparation gives you and everyone around you your best chance at creating the change you want to see in the world. For more information about how to keep yourself safe before, during, and after an action, read this.

Eternal gratitude to @geminiimatt for reading this prior to release.

“Stupid” Is Not An Insult

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Today is World Down Syndrome Day. Today, people will be wearing blue and yellow together, and sporting mismatched socks, and standing in solidarity with people who have Down Syndrome. Today, people will be showing support for a group of people who are constantly told that their potential is defined by their diagnoses…

Today I am wearing black and grey, like I do most of the time. My socks don’t match, but they never do. Today, instead of making an Instagram-able gesture, I’m choosing to challenge the casual ableism within mainstream discourse. Today, I’m choosing to speak about the way many of us use intellectual and developmental disabilities as insults.

Like most of you, I was raised to believe that my value in this world was dependent on my intellect. I was taught that the worst thing I could be as a woman, as a person, was stupid. I was taught that only through cultivating intellectual pursuits and acquiring vast knowledge could I possibly be deserving of existence in modern society.

I was taught that it’s not okay to insult people on the basis of their gender, their religion, their sexuality, their race, their economic status, their physical ability, and a million other things they couldn’t possibly help… but for some reason, intellectual capacity was fair game. For some reason, I was taught that it’s perfectly okay to call people things like “idiot,” “imbecile,” or “moron,” despite the fact that none of us have any real control over our intellectual capacity. Despite the fact that, historically, those words are actually grounded in clinical diagnoses, and that throughout history, these diagnoses have been used to deprive people of agency. To deprive people of freedom. To deprive people of things like the right to reproduce. To this day, there are still places in the United States where people who are considered to be intellectually disabled are not allowed to vote.

When we accuse someone of being stupid, we are saying that it is an insult to be like someone with an intellectual or developmental disability. When we use pejoratives derived from a person’s perceived lack of intellect, we are effectively saying that we cannot think of anything worse than being a person with Down syndrome.

People with Down syndrome are PEOPLE. People with Down syndrome have aspirations, and frustrations, and emotions. They’re human beings, with value just like the rest of us. People with Down syndrome are worthy of respect, care, consideration, just like everyone else, and they do not deserve to be your default insult of choice.

There are a myriad words to choose from when expressing ourselves, and we don’t have to limit ourselves to ones who hurt innocent people when we use them. In fact, we can pretty much completely remove the pejoratives and slurs which derive their power from insulting wide swathes of the human population, in favor of words which far more accurately express our anger, frustration, or chagrin, and if we’re so smart that we’ve considered insulting someone else’s intelligence, then clearly we’re sharp enough to come up with a better word to express ourselves than “stupid,” or worse, “r*tarded.”

If you’re not sure where to go from here, consider consulting this wheel for ideas, and stop feeding into the societal norm of devaluing people on the basis of disabilities. You should be able to do better, and people with disabilities absolutely deserve better. If the best you can come up with is, “You’re so awful, you’re like people who have disabilities,” then you’re really, really not trying hard enough.