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How to Organize a Legal Protest

Although it may seem like a daunting task to organize a protest, it really only involves a few steps to ensure you stay on the right side of the law. However, those few steps can vary in complexity depending on the anticipated size and activities of the protest, as well as where you plan to hold it.

At the outset, after you have been inspired to take action, you need to do some research into the legal requirements in your city, county, and state to make sure your protesters don't end up as inmates. Also, you need to look at your own legal exposure, both criminally and civilly.

Permits Permits Permits

Whether or not you need a permit will depend largely on your planned location. Most cities require permits for protests of a certain size or larger, particularly if the protesters will be blocking sidewalks or street traffic. Usually, if it's just you and a dozen friends or so, you will be fine without a permit so long as you don't cause problems.

Be aware that cities may have laws that prohibit protesters from targeting specific businesses or individuals, or require protesters to keep a specific distance from businesses. Some cities may have certain areas where protesting is encouraged and doesn't ever require a permit.

Thankfully, due to the times we live in, most laws can be looked up online with relative ease. A quick visit to your city's .gov website will likely be able to help with getting information regarding the required permitting.

It is worth noting that permits may require fees or costs to be paid, and may even require proof of an event insurance policy. If you are an individual trying to organize the protest, you may find these requirements difficult to meet. Typically, thanks to the First Amendment, these requirements can be waived but only if you can prove that you cannot meet them without undue burden. In this situation, you may want to consider reaching out to, or teaming up with, a nonprofit organization for assistance.

Exposure to Civil and Criminal Liability

If the protest you organize turns violent or destructive, as the organizer, you could be facing civil and criminal liability. As blocking traffic has become a relatively recent trend in protests, more stories about protesters and organizers being arrested for doing so are popping up. While the usual arrests for disorderly conduct or trespassing generally do not result in serious criminal charges, when protests turn to riots, or violence or intentional property destruction occurs, serious charges can result. 

If organizers are found to have encouraged the violence or destructive acts, they could be facing serious criminal prosecution and civil liability. Additionally, if organizers create an unsafe environment, or organize a protest in an area with dangerous conditions, they could be liable for the negligent injuries of protesters.

With all the legal liabilities, it is usually best to not act alone, and to involve as many people as you can in organizing the protest. You can delegate roles and assign tasks for different people to accomplish.

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