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A guide to peaceful protest

3 Mins read

It’s been the key factor in many historical changes and has shaped society incredibly. But how do you go about protesting without succumbing to the violent ‘riots’ that the press often splash across the front page?

How do you practice peaceful protest?

In Paris, during the COP21, an organisation called Alternatiba held a Global Village of Alternatives, which took place on December 5 and 6, as a way of highlighting other paths to climate change that societies around the world could adopt.

As part of this two day event, and because it’s been a part of climate talks and overall French history, a workshop was held by ANV COP21 to guide those who were interested through the art of non-violent protest.

Violence has always played a precarious role in protest and everyone involved is often quick to point the blame at the other, but here are ten of the best ways to ensure that your protest remains of the upmost professionality and respect.

The first five points deal with the protestor’s actions when unaffected by representatives of the law, and the second five deal with the protestor’s actions when confronted by such a person.


Artwork by Oswin Tickler.
1. Do not hitPossibly the most obvious, don’t physically assault any person. It’s important to view your opposition not as enemies, but opponents and to be respectful to all parties involved.
 Artwork by Oswin Tickler. 2. No purposeful vandalismSmashing the windows of the local shop will simply antagonise the opponent and increase the likelihood of violence by a fellow protestor or an opponent.
 Artwork by Oswin Tickler. 3. Do not runThe raising of tension is perhaps the single greatest instigator of violence and running creates a space with less control and has the tendency to raise tensions. Remain calm and composed during the entirety of the protest.
 Brandish a placard 4. Brandish a placardA common sight in the majority of protests, a placard is an effective way to voice your opinions without shouting and raising the tension of the situation.Note: placards must not contain inappropriate references or slurs which could instigate violence.
 Raise a white cloth 5. Raise a white clothPerhaps associated more with surrender, the white cloth is a symbol of peace and does not suggest to anyone any motives of violent tendencies when confronted or arrest by a representative of the law.
 Raise hands in the air 6. Raise hands in the airHands raised in the air cannot punch, accidentally or purposefully, any surrounding person. Raised hands can’t easily be seen as a precursor to violence.
 Passive resistance 7. Passive resistanceWhen arrested or physically redirected by a representative of the law, two approaches are most common; the first is to walk tall and proud, a symbol of defiance. The second, and more common, approach is passive resistance by deadweight, forcing the person attempting to move you to physically drag you from your location.Note: this is not the same as active resistance, which can be a criminal offence and is likely to instigate violence.
 present a human blockade 8. Present a human blockadeWhen herded by representatives of the law towards or away from a specific area, the human blockade can be an effective means of non-violent defiance. To create one, simply lock arms with two fellow protestors to your right and left.Note: this action tends to be reserved for experienced protestors as non-violence is harder to maintain once underway.
 Sit 9. SitWhen confronted with aggression by a representative of the law by an item such as a baton, sitting is an effective form of remaining defiant while freeing yourself of blame from any wrong-doing.Note: Though sitting is non-violent on your part, it might not remove the possibility of violence done to you, as you will have placed yourself in a submissive situation.
 Film 10. FilmFootage of your actions can tell far more about what went on and serves as an effective way of not only gaining media traction but also showing your innocence if such a situation demands it.Note: The more members of a protest who film, the more the actions of everyone involved are captured and the harder it is for any one person or party to commit acts deemed inappropriate, such as unfair arrests or violence on behalf of the protestor.


Violence can thrive during peaceful protest with no real indicator as to who was the original offender. If an instance of violence is about to occur, allow the organisers of the protest to intervene before it’s too late and distance yourself from the act and the actor.

If an instance of violence has occurred, distance yourself from the violator and verbally rebuke him or her. Also, raise your hands to show a lack of involvement with that particular individual.

Tear gas is not an uncommon deterrent for law enforcement and one must be prepared, if possible, for such an occurrence.

Preparing protective eye gear and clothing in advance is advised. If you don’t own such items, improvised devices such as tissues soaked in water can protest yourself and prevent serious pain.

Rubber bullets and stun grenades may also be used and organisers of the protest much address such issues accordingly.

Finally, be prepared, train, and be ready and able to take legal action if needed; these steps help ensure the safety of all participants and the longevity of the protest.



To find out more ways of participating in non-violent protest, visit ANV COP21.


All artwork by Oswin Tickler. Featured image by Antonin Rémond.

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