Rage and violence are exploding in the streets of the United States. Eleven people have been killed, hundreds injured, and thousands arrested over the last week.

Police are running wild, attacking and injuring non-violent protesters, journalists, and bystanders in their rush to protect private property. A revolt on this scale has not seen since the Holy Week Uprising of 1968 after the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr.

What recourse do people have when they are locked out of the mainstream political process, victimized economically, and abused and murdered on the streets?

In this article we offer a clear outline of the equipment needed to sustain direct action of different types and highlight the importance of training, discipline, preparation, and good quality gear.

Equipment for Scouting and Action

The effectiveness of any organized direct action is dependent on leadership, planning, skills, and coordination. Equipment can also play an important role.

Many activists, organizers, and everyday people who show up to conflict zones don’t pay attention to equipment or skills. Most people dress in cotton t-shirts, jeans, impractical shoes, and so on. They are not prepared to take serious action, or to be confronted with serious police and vigilante violence, and instead treat protesting and resistance as a social activity.

In some circumstances, this is ok. Many protests and actions are most effective as family-friendly activities that do not involve direct confrontation. But even activities like this increasingly need protection from violent police and vigilantes. And increasingly, more serious action is required to dismantle the power base of the ruling class.

Serious resisters and revolutionaries cannot afford to be lax.

Police, military, and private security forces tend to be highly prepared compared to resistance movements. They wear specialized boots and equipment belts with radios, handcuffs, pepper spray, flashlights, and handguns. They wear gloves, high-performance clothing, and body armor. Most have face protection or at least sunglasses, and sometimes they may have shields as well. They are coordinated and ready to move and react in any direction.

When an individual member of the resistance, or better yet, a trained and organized team, has skills and the equipment, a whole range of new possibilities opens up. We gain freedom of action.

Don’t underestimate the importance of good quality gear. It can allow you to function effectively in a range of situations. We recommend that individuals purchase and maintain their own equipment for a variety of different scenarios. Here are a number of considerations while considering gear.

General Gear

Any mission will require a general set of basic equipment, such as appropriate footwear, clothing, backpack, food and water for the day, etc. You will also need to ensure effective communication with your fellow activists.

Mission Specific Equipment

Specific missions will require specific gear. For example, you may need materials to build a blockade such as a shovel, saw, drill and screws, etc.. To drop a banner, you may need rope, carabiners and a harness; to  breach a barrier—bolt cutters, hacksaw; observe or record from afar, binoculars, camera, etc. To protect an individual or a location you may need self-defense weapons. When facing police violence, you may need helmet, goggles, etc. You need to select your gear based on the situation.

How to Select Gear

  • Cost: Select gear based on a priority list of critical and mission essential gear first.
  • Availability: You may want it but it isn’t available, for whatever reason. Determine good substitutions.
  • Quality: Much of the gear should be excellent quality because your life or liberty may depend on it. Some gear isn’t as crucial. It depends on the specific situation. Set standards for what you need in your gear before buying.
  • Durability: The gear will be used under the worst conditions so don’t expect cheap dollar store gear to hold up under field conditions.
  • Multi-purpose: Finding gear that can be used for more than one task increases its value.
  • Size and Weight Consideration (SAWC): Sometimes good gear is large, bulky, and heavy and impedes mobility. Look for gear that is as compact, light but still functional for the tasks.
  • Camouflage pattern: Bright shiny items attract the eye and can give you away. Determine the best camouflage pattern for the area of operation. For urban operations choose dull colors instead of camo.
  • Waterproof: It will rain in the field so gear needs ideally to be water proof.
  • Shockproof: It will be dropped, kicked, sat on, thrown across the room in frustration or at a threat. It still needs to function after its abuse.
  • Simplicity: High-tech gear and moving parts will break. Select gear that is simple and robust.
  • Best achieves the mission: The main purpose of the gear is to assist in successful completion of missions (actions).
  • Ergonomic:  the gear should be both efficient and comfortable. This extends the time frame for use in work. An uncomfortable or inefficient piece of gear will wear down the activist earlier making work harder.

It is important to note that the best gear isn’t always the most expensive, coolest looking, widest advertised or what some other person or group is using. Do buy/access equipment that suits you. So, for instance if you are susceptible to cold or dislike being too warm, figure that in. Do seek the advice of an experienced freedom fighter/activist that has a good level of experience and knowledge in the use and procurement of gear for specific kinds of operations and missions. 

The Importance of Training

Once a training plan is developed and the gear is obtained the activist needs to train to standard on the skills and with the gear obtained in order to properly fit, modify, personalize and familiarize with that gear.

When all the gear procurement and initial training is complete a series of  exercises, based on all the different operations and likely missions for each, should be conducted. This provides an opportunity for testing to ‘standard’ and evaluating all the common and mission essential tasks to determine if the activists are operationally ready.

Basic Gear List

This is a rough outline of the supplies you can consider carrying for a direct action. This list should be tailored to your specific location, mission, skills, team and environment.

  • Backpack:  comfortable, includes a waist belt for distributing loads, carries weight well, allows you to stay balanced. It should be waterproof, or include a plastic bag to hold things that need to stay dry. Different packs will be needed for different missions. Some missions are best executed with no pack at all. Others will require a day pack with capacity for 20-40L of equipment. Longer missions may require larger packs.
  • Footwear: sturdy, comfortable shoes suitable for off-trail walking and jogging.  Waterproof depending on season.  You want sturdy shoes, but the heavier your shoes the faster you will fatigue.
  • More skill = less gear. This is a case where the stronger your ankles are, the lighter-weight shoes you can wear. However, the rougher the terrain, the more sturdy shoe will be required.
  • Clothing: must be durable, enable range of movement and be suitable for the climate/weather. Recommend long pants and long sleeves.
  • Consider everyone at an action wearing the same color of clothing to make it difficult for police to ID individuals.
  • Consider wearing waterproof layers, insulation layers and whether the clothing sufficient for the evening? What if you get wet? What if it gets windy? What if a storm blows in? Always pack extra socks.
  • Sunglasses: for eye protection, and to prevent ID via video or pictures. Full headmask/facemask to prevent ID via video or pictures.
  • A watch.
  • Bandana: good for multiple uses.
  • Pocketknife / Multitool / self-defense weapon / Cutting/digging tools: depending on the situation.
  • Food and water: bring extra, you never know how long an action will last. Will you be ok overnight if you have to miss dinner?
  • Notebook, pens, map and compass: small button compass for urban.
  • Binoculars, still and video camera.
  • Cell phone: leave your personal cell phone at home when scouting, or turn it off and remove battery or place inside a faraday bag before moving to the vicinity of your target location.
  • Small first aid kit: match to your training.
  • Flashlight or headlamp: take extra batteries
  • Cash: don’t use credit/debit cards or mobile payments when scouting or at an action.
  • Lighter: always good for cold emergencies to be able to start a fire.
  • Sleeping bag/pad/tent/tarp/bivy for wet weather and a survival kit.

A final word:

Sleep: daily training and specific actions will feel easier with a rested mind and body. Do not underestimate the importance of good quality sleep. Lack of or poor quality sleep impacts on your physical well being. Good quality sleep helps balance your emotional well being, sharpens your reactions and enables your problem solving skills to be at their best.

“Revolution is the sound of your heart still beating. And as long as it is, you have work to do. Do it. Without apology. Do it. Bravely and nobly. Do it. Exist, insist and by all means, resist.”

— Dominique Christina


Featured image: The Day Miami Burned, by Mike Shaheen. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.