Protest Survival Skills

What we present here is a brief guide to surviving public order situations and slowing down or preventing the police from gaining the upper hand once a situation has occurred. Bear in mind that the police are much better equipped and trained for close combat than you or I. They will have been psyching themselves up for hours, have plenty of reserves standing by, and will feel confident with the law behind them, beating the police is about outwitting them, not necessarily hitting them over the head.

• Don’t be tempted to stand there and fight--get out to where you can cause some damage or disruption without the police around.

• Keep moving around, as a group and individually, fill gaps, never stand still -- chaos puts the police off.

• Police attempts to divide the crowd and the formation of police lines must be nipped in the bud.


• Do everything in small teams, prepare in advance.

• Think defensively, protect each other and escape routes.

• Always face outwards, away from us and towards them.

• Link arms as often as possible, form barriers, use your body.

• Move quickly and calmly, never giving the police time to react.


Staying out of jail and hospital need not be hard work. Most people caught up in riots manage it -- even a fairly high proportion of the really pissed-off ones. But with a bit of forethought you can turn surviving a public order situation into living a public order situation!

The Aims of the Protesters

No one really “wins” at the end of the day, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are unhurt, still free and that some egg is still stuck to the face of your original target, after the police have come and gone.

With all that in mind, we suggest you stick to these 3 basic aims when you find yourself in a riot.

1 - Getting you and your mates away safely, rather then fighting.

2 - Finding a place to cause embarrassment and economic damage to your real target, rather than fighting.

3 - Helping others in trouble by administering first aid and de-arresting, rather than fighting.

Sticking Together

Always try to form an affinity group before setting out and at the very least have a buddy system whereby everybody has one person to look out for them and to act with when a situation arises.

Affinity groups are just a handful of people who work together as a unit, as and when circumstances arise, they can meet beforehand to discuss issues and possible reactions, practice or role play scenarios, the more your group meets, the quicker the reaction times will get and your effectiveness will improve. Affinity groups can often act without the need for internal discussion, they naturally develop their own shorthand communications and can divide up skills and equipment amongst each other. Water, d-locks, paint, first-aid, food, banners and spare clothes is a lot for one person to carry, but divided up between 5 people it’s nothing.

Do pay attention to what you wear in advance. Although no one wants to go to a street party or demo dressed in full body armor, consider precautions that are discreet, adaptable, easy to apply and discard.

Thinking about these things in advance will help:

1 - Surveillance Masking up makes it difficult to identify individuals in a crowd and if everyone masks up no one will stand out. The cut off sleeve of a long sleeved t-shirt makes a good mask. Wear it casually around your neck. If you wear glasses use a cut off section of a short stocking (hold-ups work best as they have thick elastic) instead of a t-shirt, this prevents glasses from steaming up. You can use it as a hair tie, if you’re a hippy type, until you need it. A hooded top will cover most of your face and a baseball cap on its own provides good protection from most static cameras, which are usually mounted high up. Sunglasses give good protection against harmful rays including UV and CCTV.

2 - Truncheon blows. A placard makes a good temporary shield and light strips of plastic under your clothing on the forearm could offer some protection. The best protective clothing however is a good pair of running shoes.

3 - CS spray. The best authorities suggest a solution of campden tablets (used to clean home brewing equipment), some say use lots of water, but it’s effectiveness is unclear. WHATEVER YOU DO DON’T RUB IT IN or take a hot shower. If in doubt get clear and let the wind blow it away from your skin, this will take 20 minutes. It is highly recommended that you carry eyewash wipes that are provided in most first aid kits.

4 - Someone needs to watch the police from a good vantage point, so that their next move can be preempted. On top of the sounds van is not a good place- -no one can hear you shout “here come the dog handlers! fucking run!” and any gestures you do will be interpreted as dancing...

5 - Sitting down is good for dissuading the police from charging, but you should only do it in large numbers and the crowd needs to feel confident. We advise you to sit down as soon as the shout goes up, hesitating is not good, you can assess the situation once you’re down there. hopefully others will do the same. If it still looks viable 5 seconds later, link arms with your neighbors. There are times when sitting down is not really recommended -- horses are maybe too unpredictable but the authors have never seen horses charge into a seated crowd, the way they do into a standing crowd. It’s a good way to avoid the crowd getting split up. Some particularly violent gangs of police just aren’t worth it either. Only experience will teach you when to sit down.

6 - Throwing stuff is a defensive tactic, it is not wise to throw stuff at the police at the best of times, it only winds them up so they hit you harder. We shouldn’t stop having respect for life just because the police have. If you want to throw do it defensively, strategically, and en mass -- a constant hail of debris creates ‘sterile areas’ into which the police don’t want to go, thus keeping them at arms length.

REMEMBER: don’t throw to attack or cause injury, only throw from the front, then disappear into the crowd, only wankers throw from the back.

7 - Barricades can be more hassle than they are worth. A solid impassable barricade can reduce your own options when you need to run. Bear in mind that anything you build now you are likely to get dragged over later -- leave out the barbed wire. The best barricades are random matter strewn all over the place--horses can’t easily charge over them, police find it hard to hold a line amongst them, but individuals can easily pick their way through. If you know police are advancing from only one direction and you have clear escape routes behind, barricading can be sensible. The tactics cops developed during the 1980’s riots was to drive vans into crowds with TSG in the back, jump out and arrest everyone they caught. Barricades are an effective way of preventing this.

8 - The best form of defense is CHAOS! A complicated hierarchy needs orders to act on and those orders come from individuals making informed decisions. If the situation changes constantly they simply cannot keep up. Keep moving all the time, weave in and out of the crowd. Change your appearance. Open up new directions and possibilities, be unpredictable. If you find yourself standing still and passive for more than a minute then you’ve stopped acting defensively.

Basic Police Choreography

With any crowd the police will be looking to break it up as soon as possible. Crowd dispersal is achieved with baton charges, horse charges, and sometimes CS gas and vehicles. Some particularly nasty or out of control units may pile straight into the crowd, but there is usually a gap between the time they arrive and the start of dispersal. This stalling time is often just dithering by the commanding officer, or psyching/tooling up time for the troops (the latter is easy to spot). this aside, there are only 3 more reasons why they aren’t wading straight in, see if you can spot them next time they’re waiting for “kick off”.

They first divide the crowd up into ‘actors’ and ‘viewers’, small groups of officers will move into the crowd and start politely encouraging the timid ones onto the pavement. Once the crowd starts moving the way they want, those little groups of cops will get bigger and start joining up. Before you know it, there’s two crowds on two pavements with two lines of cops penning them in. let the head cracking commence, or...

• Don’t stand and watch them

• Don’t look like you’ll let them anywhere near you

• Spot gaps in the crowd and fill them in

• Work out which space they want to take and get there with your mates first

• Get long tarp banners to the front to stop them advancing and filming

• Protect your escape routes by standing in them

• Get those who have turned into spectators off the pavements, back in the crowd and moving around

Of course, now having resisted being split up and penned in, they may just let fly with the baton charge. Fair enough, but you’re in a stronger position to deal with it and escape. Whatever happens next, don’t just stand there waiting for it. If you’ve managed to get their line drawn far away, you’ve bought valuable time and space -- so use it! Even if their line is right up against you, they still haven’t broken down your numbers.

However, it’s only a matter of time before the police try and get closer/break you up again use the time to get out of there slowly and in one block. (This is the last thing they want -- a large mob moving around freely.) Whatever you do, don’t stand there waiting for them to try again, you are now in control to go and do whatever you want, so do it.

If they have blocked your only exit, try...

Counter Advancing

This involves moving your lines forward into theirs, thus gaining more space and opening up more exits. Use the front line as a solid wall, linking arms and moving slowly forward. Use the long banner like a snowplow. (This stops them from grabbing you or breaking the line, but they can still hit you with truncheons.)

Snow Plows

A line of crowd control barriers can also be carried by the front line like a snowplow to break into the police ranks. The point of the ‘plow’ can then be opened once their line is breached and the barriers pushed to the side to contain the cops. This all needs a lot of coordination and balls. The advantage gained will not last long, so push all your ranks through the gap right away.

Using Your Body

Your body is your best and most adaptable tool. It is best used in concert with others. for instance it could take a long time for twenty to scale a wall, but stand two people against the wall, bowed together with their arms locked with two more crouched at their feet and you’ve got a set of human steps! (Those waiting to climb can link arms around the steps to protect them.) Always look for ways to use your body to escape.


Keep looking for ways of increasing your numbers, by joining up with other groups and absorbing stragglers, everyone has to get out and you’ll stand a better chance of getting out unharmed, with all your belongings and equipment if you leave together at the same time.

Snatch Squads

When the police want to isolate and arrest an individual in a crowd they will usually employ a snatch squad.

Watch for groups of 10 or so fully dressed up cops, rallying behind the police lines, they will be instructed by evidence gatherers and a superior (you can often spot them pointing out the person to be snatched), the lines will open temporarily to let the snatch squad through. Half the officers will perform the snatch, the other half will surround them with batons, hitting anyone who gets in the way. Once they have their target he/she is bundled away behind police lines.

Try and beat the snatch squad by:

1 - Keeping the crowd moving around.

2 - Spot the squad preparing.

3 - If possible warn the target to get the hell out of the area.

4 - Linking arms in an impenetrable wall in the squads path.

5 - Surround the squad once they are in the crowd and intimidate them so much that they panic and give up.

6 - If you are being grabbed or pressure pointed, keep your head and arms moving.


The best time to do this is as soon as the snatch has happened, you need a group who know how to break grips and some people to act as blockers, once you’ve got your person back, all link arms and move off into the crowd, the police may try and snatch back or arrest one of the de-arresters.

[From "Guide to Public Order Situations" by Peasant Revolt (?)]

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