Someone posted an interesting meme that discusses how the different generations, beginning with Gen X, through the Millennial and into Gen Z, have embraced the modern era of exercising their First Amendment rights of Assembly, Petition and Free Speech. As a Gen Xer I was proud to see how far the use of technology has come since we spearheaded the move from flyering and zines into chain emails and blogs.
This new generation, with the assistance of us “old folks” with our connections and our financing, are able t make much more massive moves than ever before by exploiting technology is fantastic ways. Look at the last minute coordination of protests and assemblages across large geographic regions and the shear size of the protests themselves. That couldn’t happen without the younger generation improving upon and amplifying what the older generations had been doing all along. They can rally more like minded individuals to more places more quickly than some of us might ever have imagined
However, it’s important to note that just because volumes of information are now available at everyone’s fingertips via technology doesn’t mean that technology has solved all the problems in exercising your First Amendment Rights. Here’s a few old school pieces of advice for anyone who attends any kind of march, protest or other assemblage
#1 Sharpie on your arm. Seriously, your phone can and likely will be confiscated. Or lost. Or stolen. So can pieces of paper in your pocket and just about any other means that isn’t indelibly inked to your physical being. You need three numbers clearly written on you that you can reference in an emergency 1) The ACLU or another related organization that regularly deals with First Amendment Rights Issues. The national number is fine, a local chapter if there is one for you is even better. 2) A Local Legal Firm that has experience in dealing with local law enforcement on a broad range of issues and can respond to your particular case immediately. In the greater New York City area that would be an organization like Legal Aid, but not every town is going to be as fortunate as NYC to have such an organization. Research a local firm in advance, make arrangements with them if possible to be prepared for an arrest and then ink their number to yourself. 3) A reliable family member. I know you think you have your friends and family numbers memorized. Write it down anyway. If you’re under stress it’s amazing the obvious stuff you might forget. This person needs to be able to coordinate a lot for you in the background if an event goes sideways so talk with them about your plan of action in advance so they can be prepared. If nothing else, if you know me you likely have my number – so indelible ink that to yourself.
#2 Know your rights. You NEED to be aware because law enforcement has no obligation to be knowledgeable of the law and if you don’t have your device you won’t be able to look it up. Seriously, the Supreme Court has allowed time and again ignorance of law enforcement officials to supercede your rights, one of the most recent examples being Heien v. North Carolina. This means law enforcement is generally shielded by the Courts for being ignorant and it’s up to you to cite your rights as they are violated. And, chances are they will be violated not only out of law enforcement ignorance but because as has also been demonstrated in a number of court cases, law enforcement is given a wide berth interacting with citizens whether they are enforcing laws or not. They can, and most likely will, violate your rights accidentally, intentionally or otherwise.
Knowing your rights off the top of your head will mean you can make an educated decision on if you want to step over the legal thresholds afforded to your for protection and be prepared to face the immediate consequences of said actions. And, to know when your rights are violated in order to take appropriate counter-actions. The law IS ultimately on your side of your rights if you’re smarter. Be smarter.
#3 Work with people and groups you trust. Much like you shouldn’t hike alone, you shouldn’t protest alone. This not only goes for who you attend actions with in person, but in general just what your political and social involvement is when taking actions.
There are plenty of recent examples of Russians and other foreign agents, as well as lots of opposition party examples, and even law enforcement examples that aim to create confusion, entrap unsuspecting individuals and otherwise manipulate the outcome of political and social actions. Research who you are working with and know what you are getting yourself into and don’t be lulled into a false sense of security about what is happening when you are exercising your rights under the first. Whomever you protest with needs to have your back as much as you need to have theirs. If you’re really in it together for the same reasons then you’ll work together to be prepared. When in doubt, don’t get involved.
And, with this, similar to point one, let a reliable family member know what you are doing. Not just so you can call them if something goes sideways but in case they need to take a proactive approach to keeping you safe as well. They can’t do that if they don’t knew were you were expected to be and what you were expected to be doing because if you do lose your technology device GPSing you won’t do anything.
Finally… show no fear. You are not alone as I hope this demonstrates. Say your piece. Make a difference. Help finish what some of us started and bring the change. Ok. Good luck. And, may the force be with you, go forth and prosper or whatever salutation best suits your inspiration.