Roles on Demonstrations

Roles on Demonstrations:

Affinity Groups

Affinity Groups are small groups of people who come together to prepare for and take action. Sometimes these groups are formed just for one action, but often they are ongoing groups that organise and take part in actions over a number of years. Affinity groups work best when people have something in common (the ‘affinity’ bit). The ideal situation may be to have people like you, who live locally, who have a similar amount of time to take action on the same issues using the same tactics. However, even if your situation isn’t perfect, this doesn’t need to stop you from doing anything at all.

Taking action with an affinity group can be empowering and effective. Usually 10 groups of 10 people each planning their own separate actions can achieve much more than 100 people acting together. Small affinity groups also allow you to take action with other people, without losing direct democratic control over everything you sign up to do. All important decisions can be made within the group even if you are participating with others in a larger action. Affinity groups work when everyone acts together as equals in actions and meetings. To make this possible in the long term, think about skillsharing and rotating tasks so no one migrates into an informal leadership role.

Buddy Systems

Buddying-up with someone else means you are never alone on a demo or an action, you’re less likely to get lost and have someone to leave with if you need to stop for any reason.

It can be good to know if your buddy has any needs (medical or otherwise), you should check that your buddy is OK, physically and mentally, you should stick together if either or you want to leave the situation and support each other if either of you gets in trouble or is arrested.


Many actions and demos need vehicles and vehicles need drivers and map-readers. In most cases drivers will need to avoid arrest, so they can drive people home as well.

Police Station Support

Especially if people are new to arrest or feeling anxious about it, it can help to have someone whose role it is to support them. This person stays somewhere safe and away from trouble, next to a phone. They should have basic information about each member of the group: their name, contacts of anyone they want informed if they’re arrested, etc. Arrestees can call this person from the police station and any legal observers can pass on information about who’s been arrested and where they’ve been sent. This way they can coordinate post-arrest support, getting in touch with solicitors and meeting or picking people up from police stations on their release.

First Aider / Street Medic

The more people who know medical care of any kind the better, but in many types of action it is wise to have at least one person who knows basic first aid.

Legal Observer

A legal observer stays on the fringes of the action and is responsible for responding to calls from those taking part in the action if the police are being unreasonable or are making arrests. They should take detailed notes of interactions with police including names of anyone arrested, police badge numbers, what took place and exactly when. A camera or video recorder can be helpful. Being a legal observer is no guarantee of immunity from arrest.

Media Spokesperson

It can be good in some situations to have someone prepared to talk to the media, whether to give a brief statement or a fuller interview. Remember that you can’t trust the media and, if there’s a risk that the police will stop your action, don’t send a press release out until your action is already in full swing. Having a spokesperson who can talk to the media means that that person can work out in advance what they’re going to say, can prepare for any awkward questions form the press and it takes some of the stress away from anyone doing an arrestable role, also decreasing the chances of anyone saying something they later regret.

Action Support

Those doing “action support” provide direct support for arrestable people. These people may risk arrest, but try to avoid it. Depending on the nature of the action, this could mean bringing water and food supplies to action participants and keeping everyone high-spirited and informed. If people are locked-on, it helps to have a support person with them who is prepared to be assertive at stopping traffic and making it clear to police, workers and security guards that they could be injured if they are moved.

Action Participants

The people carrying out the actual action (climbing, locking-on, sitting down, etc). Should be technically prepared for everything they plan to do, and well-rested, fed and calm.

Sometimes you won’t need all the roles, but it’s worth considering them.

(The above was taken and adapted from the “Handbook for Direct Action”)

Guidelines for a Successful, Legal Demo (from “Know Your Rights” Handbook)

Despite what the police, and some members of the public, would like you to think, it is still legal to hold a demonstration in this country. These are some basic guidelines for carrying out a standard demo, such as outside a shop or business, which should ensure you are keeping within the law.

Remember that you do not have to give prior notice to the police if you are taking part in a static demonstration (at the moment, you do not need police permission or authorisation), but that you do if you are organising a moving demonstration (a march). See notes on Sections 12 and 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 <link> for information about conditions placed on protests, prior notification, etc.

  • Always discuss actions with everyone involved beforehand and make sure everyone understands and is happy with the plan.
  • Know your rights and stand your ground (see notes).
  • Don’t be afraid to tell the truth about what happens to animals. You can give graphic detail, but be peaceful and polite, don’t swear or make personal attacks or insults (either spoken or on banners/leaflets).
  • Show whatever pictures you like to make your protest – there is no law against causing offence/distress or upsetting people – as long as you are not threatening, abusive or insulting (Section 5 Public Order Act 1986) – think about what effect you want to have though and what may put people off supporting you.
  • Don’t physicaly obstruct anyone, such as by standing in front of a door or occupying the whole pavement.
  • Record everything (especially any contact with the police/security guards/community support officers) on video camera and/or dictaphones to prevent malicious allegations (see info on filming/taking photos <link>).
  • Hand out leaflets about the demo – you can easily make your own if necessary.
  • It is often useful to have a kit of stationery (eg tape, string, paper clips, glue, marker pens, etc.) for making, modifying or securing posters, placards and banners.
  • Make the demo highly visual with large cloth banners (old sheets come in handy) and posters, props (dummies, puppets, cages, etc.) and people in costumes. It’s best to get posters laminated to protect them from the rain. Street theatre can be very effective – use your imagination.
  • Making noise (with whistles, drums, megaphones, etc.) is not against the law in general, although some towns do have bye-laws about such things and you’ll often have more trouble, especially in more residential areas, if using noise before 8am and after 10pm. It is not a “breach of the peace”, but it could be “aggravated trespass” if you are on private property and are trying to disrupt a lawful activity.
  • Trespassing in itself is not illegal, unless you are trying to disrupt something, or unless it concerns an animal research organisation. Holding banners or leafletting on private on private property should theoretically not be a problem, but land owners will often want you removed. While you can’t be arrested for trespass, you can be arrested for aggravated trespass if you are trying to disrupt a lawful activity and you could be arrested to prevent a breach of the peace.
  • If traveling by car, park at a distance from the demo. The prevents anyone from finding your car and finding out who you are and where you are from.
  • Information stalls are legal and you do not need a permit provided you are not asking for donations. You are not obstructing the highway (as long as you site your stall sensibly) so do not be intimidated by threats about obstruction. To receive and impart ideas and information is a guaranteed human right.
  • Some more direct action-style demos, such as lock-ons, office occupations, etc. where the intention is to obstruct or disrupt an activity may be against the law. Always make sure you are aware of the legal consequences of your actions and the actions of other with you.

Dealing with Police on Demos.

General Points.

The most important thing to remember is that, in general, the police are not impartial and can often be quite hostile to protesters. Years of collective experience have shown that the police will often lie to you, try to convince you that your protest is illegal or that they have the power to move you on or place conditions on your protest. They will often try to get your details or search you.

It’s important to know your rights so that you know when the police are lying to you (or just don’t know the law very well) and what you do and don’t have to do when dealing with the police. There are very few things that you have to do when a police officer tells you to do them, although there are some circumstances when you have to comply with instructions from the police. These will be covered below. Do not do anything that you don’t have to do. Some requests by police are listed here and you do not have to comply with these requests:

  • Asking you to give or show the police something which you are carrying
  • Telling you to stop filming them
  • Asking you to get into a police vehicle or going to meet them somewhere
  • Asking to come into your house
  • Asking to take your photograph (often they do not ask, but will try anyway)
  • Telling you to go somewhere with them / telling you to stay somewhere*

*unless you are being lawfully detained for a stop & search, so that they can use a lawful power to obtain your details (“Stops and Searches”) or you are under arrest, you can lawfully walk or run away from the police.

Police will talk to you on a demonstration usually for one of four main reasons: to give you an instruction or use a police power, to gain intelligence (often under the guise of a friendly chat), to gain evidence against you or to establish a rapport with you (often so they can control you more easily). It’s for their benefit and not yours, so don’t talk to them unless you have to. If you do talk to them, try to record everything that is said on a video camera (with sound) or at least a dictaphone. In particular, respect other people’s privacy and don’t discuss other people or give their names or other details to the police. Also remember that if you end up talking to or arguing with the police, you are more distracted from the protest.

If the police start talking to you about their legal powers to move you on, take your details, arrest you or other legal talk a little legal knowledge can go a long way. Stay calm and polite. If you are absolutely certain that the police are abusing their powers and the persist in hassling you, threatening you with arrest, you can choose to disobey them and be arrested unlawfully. However, you must be certain that you are in the right.

Have the details of a friendly solicitor or a trusted friend with legal knowledge at hand in case you need to seek advice. See our list of recommended solicitors on the “Solicitors” page. Or have a “Police Liason” on your demonstration – see above.

Situations when you have to comply (or can be forced to do so):

  • If you’re actually under arrest, it’s an offence to actively resist or run away (see “Obstructing Police”). Sitting or lying down and ‘going limp’ is known as passive resistance and is lawful. Unless you are passively resisting, it makes sense to get into a police vehicle if asked to do so.
  • Under certain circumstances the police have the power to give you directions as to where you must stand, how long you can remain there and how many people can be present (see “Conditions places on Protests” and “Harassment in the Home” and “Injunctions”).
  • If the police signal for you to stop your vehicle on the highway.
  • Giving your details in certain circumstances (see “Giving your details”)
  • Letting the police search you in certain circumstances (see “Stop and Search” on the Police Powers page.
  • Remove a face covering or hand over to the police something they believe may be used as a face covering in certain situations (see “Removal of Masks, etc”).
  • Letting the police take your fingerprints, DNA and photograph if you’re under arrest.