What is a Protest?

A protest is a public expression of objection, disapproval or dissent towards something that is happening in society or an idea, typically a political one. By nature, protests can be controversial since they bring up an issue or problem that is real for some and is being ignored or not given enough attention by others. Protests can take many different forms, from individual statements to mass demonstrations such as marches and boycotts. The purpose of a protest is to call attention to an issue and the overarching purpose is to demand change. Some goals for a protest include: influencing public opinion, drawing attention to and sharing information about a perceived injustice; gaining a wide audience for the cause, pushing public policy or legislation forward, learning more about an issue, connecting with others who feel passionate about the issue, speaking one’s truth and bearing witness.
(via, adl.org)

What is the First Amendment?

It guarantees freedoms of: religion, expression, assembly (protests), petition (gathering signatures for a cause). It also prohibits Congress from restricting these rights as they are exercised peacefully, and allows for individuals and the press to speak freely. Past precedents (Supreme Court cases) have further secured these rights from being violated. Freedom of Speech is protected under the Constitution, the Supreme Court has had struggled with defining what exactly warrants free speech protection. Free speech may not all look the same, it can come in a variety of ways of being expressed. This can also extend into freedom of association and expression.

What is an Unlawful Assembly?

The First Amendment allows and protects for certain rights to exist, one of them being the right of freedom of assembly. Assembly being three or more people having a public meeting without the government interfering. However, there is also unlawful assembly, in which individuals group together to carry/commit a crime that could disturb the public peace of the community. An example of this could be protestors destroying private property to express their grievances on a particular issue. In California, the State Supreme Court narrows the definition of assemblies by noting that while some assemblies may cause fear to the public, it does not warrant restraints unless there is justifiable reason that may cause violence.

Dispersedness: When a protest or assembly is deemed unlawful, officers must first give clear warnings that people can hear. They must provide an unobstructed exit route, and enough time to leave. Be aware of “kettling”, when police officers corral protesters in one area, and not allow them to leave and then arrest them for not leaving. You also need to be aware of not obstructing law enforcement when recording the police officer’s duties, you may be arrested.  

What to do when declared: Remain calm. Get in contact with a legal observer. In the future one can become a legal observer, notice what is happening around you. Take notes, videos, and voice recordings about what is happening, how many law enforcement officers there are, the tension of the environment, how much force is being used. Is there an abuse of power? Are law enforcement officers over-exerting their powers? Are they prohibiting medical aid from helping others?

Types of free speech protected

  • Not to speak (the right not to salute the flag)
  • Allowing students to protest at school
  • Allowing students to use certain words/phrases that are considered offensive to convey political messages
  • Symbolic speech: kneeling during the pledge of allegiance, burning the flag in protest

Types of speech not protected

  • Making or distributing obscene materials
  • Burning draft cards
  • Inciting actions that could and would harm others

What rights do Counter-protesters have?

Counter-protesters have free speech rights just as protestors do. You have the right to be present and to voice your opposition, but cannot physically disrupt the demonstration. Police must treat protesters and counter-protesters equally. Police are permitted to keep antagonistic groups separated but should allow them to be within sight and sound of one another.

Examples of Unlawful Assembly

  • Protestors destroying private and public property
  • Two or more people doing something legal in a violent manner

What is an unpermitted demonstration?

There are demonstrations that need certain types of permits, but a permit is not required for all protests. As long as the demonstration takes place in public areas like sidewalks, streets, and parks, there is no need for a permit. A permit is only required for events that require closure of streets, or if they are over a certain size. An unpermitted protest should not affect car traffic, for safety reasons. 

Can I protest on Campus?

Yes, public universities are government entities that are bound by the Constitution, therefore students on public campuses have free speech rights protected by the First Amendment. You can probably protest in a private college, you will need to check the student handbook and look at the rights granted to you and what the policy is on campus demonstrations.

Time, Place and Manner of Freedom Expression Policy

Cal Poly Humboldt is committed to providing all members of the University community the protections of freedom of speech, expression, assembly, religion, and press available under the US and California Constitutions and all applicable federal and state laws. However, this freedom is subject to reasonable restrictions of time, place and manner. Within the context of this policy, free speech activity includes, but is not limited to, pure or symbolic speech, assembly, meeting, demonstrations or rallies, picketing, petitioning, mime and theater, music and singing, survey research, and religious or political activity.

The following “manner” restrictions apply to all free speech and assembly activities on campus. Such activities must not:

  • interfere with classes in session or other scheduled academic, educational, cultural/arts programs or with use of the University library;
  • obstruct the flow of pedestrian or vehicular traffic;
  • interfere with or disrupt the conduct of University business;
  • employ unauthorized sound amplification or create unreasonable noise disruptive of normal University activities;
  • severely harass or intimidate persons in the immediate area of the activity; or
  • violate any federal, state, or local safety code, such as regulations set by the State Fire Marshal.

Members of the campus community and outside guests have the right to peacefully protest any speaker, meeting, or event, so long as the event being protested is not significantly or materially disrupted. The speaker has a right to free speech and the audience has the right to see and hear the speaker and these rights are not to be violated. Members of the University community and non-University community may use campus buildings and grounds for public meetings, performances, rallies, demonstrations, and similar events in accordance with the general limitations described above. Non-amplified outdoor demonstrations or public protests may be held on University property, without advance permission, so long as they follow the general limitations. Spontaneous events occasioned by news or affairs coming into public knowledge less than 48 hours prior to such event may be held in the Designated Public Forums as well as outdoors without advance permission, and in University buildings with special permission of the President or the President’s designee. For more information on protesting at Cal Poly Humboldt click this link.

Are all forms of protests protected?

No. Public colleges are allowed to maintain reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. They can have viewpoint-neutral rules on where, when, and how you can demonstrate on campus in order to prevent disruption of the educational environment. Visit FIRE’s FAQ for student protests on campus for more general information.

What are the Designated Public Forums?

The UC Quad and the Art Quad are Designated Public Forums where members of the University community and non-university community may exercise their free speech rights without special restriction, subject only to the limitations stated above. If sound amplification is to be used, you will need to reserve it ahead of time.

Can campus cancel the protest if they don't agree?

No. Under the First Amendment, you may not be censored or punished because of your opinion. This means that students have the right to express even the most controversial viewpoints. There are some exceptions however such as threatening to harm another person or inciting imminent violence or destruction of property, that can have disciplinary consequences.

When Your Rights are Being Violated

  • When possible record the entire incident 
  • Write down the officers’ badge and patrol car numbers and the agency they work for
  • Collect eye witness testimonies
  • Photograph any and all injuries
  • Once all evidence is collected you can file a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board

Police can issue a notice of dispersal if a protest

  • disrupts car or pedestrian traffic
  • presents a clear threat of disorder & rioting
  • presents an immediate threat to public safety 

Your Rights as a Protestor

  • You are entitled to speak out and protest in Public Property, such as parks, sidewalks, and plazas
  • Owners of Private Property set their own rules for speech & demonstration so be aware and respectful of their decisions
  • A permit is required if a protests passes through a street with traffic

Tips if encountering police

  • Be respectful
  • Do not resist
  • Ask, am I allowed to leave?
What police cannot do:
  • Confiscate/demand to see your pictures/video WITHOUT warrant
  • Delete photos/videos taken under any circumstance

What you do not have the right to do

  • Trespass
  • Record audio of people's private conversations without their consent

How to protect yourself and others when using your pictures/video

  • Avoid capturing identifying aspects of individuals (faces, tattoos, etc)
  • Make sure to edit all media before posting by blurring faces, tattoos, etc.