mass action handbook
getting your community on the road and into the street

so you're not planning to get arrested...
be ready to get arrested.

if you aren't trying to get arrested, you probably won't, but sometimes police use some weird tactics and they arrest people for walking down the sidewalk while being an activist. (kinda like "driving while Black".) since the police are so arbitrary and weird it's best to be prepared to be arrested.

preparing for possible arrest

  1. legal preparation

  2. logistical preparation

  3. psychological preparation

1. legal preparation

everyone should participate in setting up a legal support system for your affinity group as outlined in the legal section of this handbook.

2. logistical preparation

  • if you are a minor, have your parents write a letter giving someone you are traveling with the authority to take "custody" of you in order to get you out of jail.

  • be sure you are never carrying anything with you that would be a problem if you were arrested. this means anything that can be construed as a weapon (even a small knife) or a tiny amount of drugs.

  • make sure that you carry on your person your prescriptions for any medications that you are carrying or that you might need while in jail.

  • if you are not a citizen (with a visa of some kind), it is very important that you speak with a public defender or attorney before accepting any "deal". you may need to go to all the way through court to make sure you are found "not guilty". that means you need to be patient. keeping your record clear is more important than getting out soon. this is not legal advice. talk to a lawyer!

  • if you are not a citizen (without a visa), you need to get out of jail as soon as possible and very quietly, without drawing attention to yourself. ask the other arrestees around you to let you go first in talking with the lawyers. if you have a chance to accept a citation-release you may want to do this. do not reveal any information about your status over the phone or where police may overhear or be surveilling you. do tell the lawyer as soon as possible, in person (the privacy of your conversation is protected). this is not legal advice. talk to a lawyer!

  • make sure you are not wearing or carrying anything that you would be really sad to lose, like jewelry, sentimental items, extra cash, or your diary from the last six months (carry a fresh notebook to the action).

  • minimize possible exposure of other persons as a result of your arrest. don't carry your address book, palm pilot, or meeting notes!

  • dress for success in jail. don't wear your favorite light-colored pants. do wear underwear. bring a sweater. (it may be hot outside, but it's often very cold in jail. if you believe you are about to be arrested, get the sweater our of your backpack and put it on immediately, before they take your backpack away.)

  • make sure to have pens and paper in your pockets, not just in your backpack. these items are very useful in jail (but you won't have your backpack). likewise, if you are about to be arrested, put your cellphone in a hidden pocket. this may enable you to make calls from the bus (after they take your backpack but before they go through your pockets!)

  • who to call in this situation? NOT your parents, lovers, friends. your affinity group legal support person will handle all your personal calls for you.

    1. the legal team: let them know how many other people are arrested and alert them to vulnerable people who may be arrested. for example, if there is an elder who you saw arrested, or an injured person, let them know about that. if there are people who might be non-citizens or transgender tell legal "there might be some immigration or gender issues in this group" but do NOT identify the people in any way over the phone – that's all the info legal needs to spring into priority action.

    2. the Indymedia Center to make a street report on what just happened to you.

  • if arrest is immanent and you are carrying any kind of camera, huck it to someone outside the arrest area and ask them to leave it with the legal team or with the's safer with a stranger who's a protester than with the cops. police often do not return cameras to arrestees! and even if you do get your camera back, you won't get your film back (including the images of your probably illegal arrest situation).

3. psychological preparation

  • arrest and incarceration are uncomfortable and scary.

  • remind yourself that the arrest and jail system are designed to make you feel powerless, vulnerable, dehumanized, and alone.

  • look around. there are other activists arrested with you. some of them have been through this many times. they are your source of strength, courage, and entertainment. together you will transform this experience. focus your energy on working together with these people.

  • you are not alone. the instant you are arrested, not only your affinity group but many other activists you don't even know swing into action tracking you through the system, harassing the jail to release you, and publicizing what is going on.

  • activists are often denied rights to phone calls and other basic rights and needs. this is harassment and you will find that solidarity among arrestees can be VERY effective in addressing these issues. work together with other arrestees to sing, chant, dance, or bang on the walls until the guards give in and give you what you need. you are not powerless.

  • cops lie. guards lie. jail employees lie. they lie in order to control you. they will like in the form of threats to frighten you or coerce you and they will lie in the form of promises to pacify or manipulate you.

  • cops and guards are not prosecutors and they are not judges. they do not decide what you are charged with nor what you will be sentenced with. they cannot negotiate with you about these things. don't believe anything they say about charges or sentences. you're going to have to wait until your public defenders or lawyers can sort through it, so just don't try to figure it out while you're in jail.

  • don't admit to anything. don't accept guilty pleas unless you talk to a lawyer about it. don't talk with the police or guards about what happened or who did what. it will not help you or anyone else for you to babble. remain silent! you do not have to participate in any kind of questioning while in custody. repeat "i want to speak to my lawyer. i am going to remain silent." say this over and over and over. it will NOT help you to participate in questioning.

  • if you are being threatened, intimidated, isolated, hurt, or denied medical care while in custody the best thing you can do is communicate what is happening to other prisoners. non-activist prisoners may have MORE access to telephones than activists. ask them to call the legal team for you. be sure to give as much information as possible about where you are being held (the name of the facility, the building, floor, cell block, etc.) and if possible, give them any and every id# assigned to you. sometimes you have a citation number, a jail number, and several other numbers assigned to you between your paperwork and wristbands.

  • when you get a chance to make a phone call, call the legal team or your legal support person, not your family and friends. be sure to provide information about other people who you think may be in danger in jail. if there are people who were separated from the group or injured or isolated or threatened, be sure to give this priority information to a legal support person. describe the people you saw and when and where you saw them last.

  • if you have a pen (or a good memory) try to keep scrupulous records on everything you experience in jail, including the names of any misbehaving guards and what time various things happened. for example: we were put in cells at 4:15. we were fed at 8:30. such records can be the basis of important civil suits against police and jails for violation of your rights. keep in mind that things that don't seem important to you may be illegal! keep track of everything! this is also a good way to feel a little more powerful, and it's something to do.

  • remind yourself that as bad as it is, you will get out.

  • be patient. even in the best of circumstances, the jails are very very slow in processing people. even once you are told "you are being released" it could be 2-12 hours before you actually walk outside. again, stay focused on the other activists you are with.

  • you will get out. in the meantime, organize a teach-in. share activist experiences and stories (but don't talk about anything you don't want the cops to know about. they're probably tape recording in your cell.) learn new songs and games. write love letters. write newspaper articles. practice cheerleading. develop some new cheers, please!


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[an error occurred while processing this directive] table of contents

Table of Contents

  1. introduction/home page
  2. get ready! what you need to know to make your participation effective
  3. becoming an affinity group & living the world you want to see
  4. putting on a teach-in
  5. outreach is something that everyone does!
  6. trip logistics
  7. legal
  8. media
  9. at home, while the mass action is happening
  10. when you get to protest-town
  11. back home, after the action

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let us know

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links you need:

international listing of major protests.


Video Activist Network,
Big Noise Films, Whispered Media, Cascadia Media, indymedia videos



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