If the rallies, marches, and gatherings on January 26 are your first time at an Invasion Day protest, it’s important to know how to show up properly. That means acting and treating others with respect, keeping each other safe, being prepared for the long day ahead, and knowing your place; especially as an ally for the protesting minority.

Invasion Day protests are typically very busy — filled with First Nations people of all ages from local communities, organisers, marshalls, speakers, and protesters, as well as allies, and a serious police presence.

It can be overwhelming if you don’t know what to expect or how to prepare yourself, so PEDESTRIAN.TV spoke to the teams at Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) and Fighting In Resistance Equally (FIRE) about how to navigate an Invasion Day protest march if you’re a first-timer.

1. What Can I Expect At An Invasion Day Protest?

Expect it to be busy. Wemba Wemba & Gunditjmara woman, Rosie Kalina, said that they’re expecting large numbers of people to show up to protests, but to know that First Nations people protesting the day aim to keep each other and others safe.

“There’s a lot of people. A lot of people think that it’s really intimidating but it actually is full of families, young people, and elders,” Rosie said.

“It’s a really loving crowd of people, because mob really do look after each other – especially on the day.

“There will also be a really large police presence, they tend to really rock up for [the protests], which I think is the most intimidating aspect of the day. But it’s still a very passionate crowd, and very family-oriented.”

Proud Gamilaroi man and FIRE member Barray Bamba Gulbirr said that you should be prepared to hear some confronting things from key speakers and other First Nations people at the protests.

“Just be ready to maybe hear things that might be a bit uncomfortable,” he said.

“Talking about the past and history, you know, it’s there for everyone to see; there’s no denial of that.

“That can be a little confronting for our supporters, but sometimes that’s how a lot of us heal, you know, talking about it and sharing the pain.”

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2. What Should I Bring?

It’s going to be a long day, so be practical and use your common sense. That means bringing along a face mask, hand sanitiser, water, sunscreen, a hat, and other sun protection. If you’re in Melbourne, maybe a raincoat or umbrella, because who knows what the weather might do.

Rosie advised that it’s always a good shout to bring a lot of snacks, so you can keep yourself fed and share food around for others as well.

The Melbourne protest will once again be broadcast by 3CR, and people are encouraged to download TuneIn app on their phones and bring a fully-charged, portable Bluetooth speaker so the protest’s key speeches can be heard throughout the large crowd.

AUSLAN interpreters will also be present at many protests to sign the speakers’ addresses.

3. What Should I Not Bring To An Invasion Day Protest?

“Don’t bring an Australian flag?” Rosie said, laughing.

“And obviously anything that kind of infringes on the message that we’re making.”

4. How Can I Be Respectful To First Nations People At The Protest?

The most important thing is to have a presence at the protest, but don’t take up more space than you need, and let First Nations people speak for themselves – don’t be the loudest person in the room unless you’re joining in a chant.

Rosie said that bringing at least three people with you to the protest is a good place to start, because not only is it good for your own safety but it helps to extend the protest’s purpose and message further. There’s always strength in numbers.

If you’re headed along to a dawn service on Invasion Day, Rosie suggests that you bring along some flowers to lay, because January 26 is first and foremost a day of mourning.

“Just remember that the purpose of the dawn service and the march is to pay respect,” she said.

“It actually is a day of mourning, that’s how it began. Just keep that in mind as a person of solidarity or an ally.”

If you’re bringing banners or posters, Rosie said to not come with an agenda and stick to the messaging that First Nations people are pushing.

“Keep in mind exactly what we are fighting for, and that is to abolish Australia Day, not to change the date,” Rosie said.

“So it’s sticking clear to what the messages that we’re fighting for and not to come with an agenda. Listen to First Nations people and come with an open mind and just come to listen as opposed to take up too much space or talk over [us].”

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Thanbarran Dhawan said that being in the moment is the best way to experience a protest, so keeping your phone in your pocket is a good way to be respectful.

“Don’t be so gung-ho with phones and filming of stuff,” he said.

“I think to be in the moment and actually feel it and understand it is better than being behind phones.”

5. What Do I Do If Someone Outside Of The Protest Says Something Hurtful?

Remember that Invasion Day protests are family-oriented, and strive to be as peaceful as possible. Rosie said that it’s best to not engage with people who are trying to provoke a response and that there will be marshals working at the protest who are trained to deal with negative anti-protestors.

“At the end of the day, what we do is peaceful. We’re not going to engage in anything physical,” she said.

“We hope to get at least 200 [marshals] and we can never have too many marshals at this point. They’re trained to know how to handle that [kind of] situation. But the biggest thing is to not engage. Don’t escalate anything.”

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6. Can I Wear A Shirt With The Aboriginal Flag On It?

Rosie admitted that this is a contentious one because First Nations flags symbolise many things for many people. While some people might be happy with non-Indigenous folk wearing First Nations flags, others might not be comfortable with it.

“As an Aboriginal woman I want everyone to be proud of the flag, and of us, and of this country’s history,” she said.

“So you know, I definitely want to see the colours everywhere. It is a flag but it is also a political statement, in many ways.

“If people are going to [wear the flag], buy from Blak business. Wear something from Koori Circle or Haus Of Dizzy, something that’s going back into Blak businesses.”

7. Can I Protest And Stay COVID-Safe?

Absolutely! To stay in line with each state’s COVID-safe rules around outdoor gatherings, protests, dawn services, and events this year are enforcing different things to keep everyone safe. Everyone is required to wear a face mask and bring hand sanitiser to marches, QR codes will be available to scan in for contact tracing, and some events are asking attendees to register ahead of time.

Social distancing is also a must, and some marches are making sure that protesters are grouping together in line with the relevant state’s rulings – for example, the marshalls in Melbourne will be making sure people are in groups of no more than 100, and spacing groups 10m apart on the march route.

NSW Police have warned that they’ll be handing out fines to anyone who gathers in groups larger than 500, so be wary that heavy police presence will be happening at many protests.

Protests are kicking off in most capital cities around Australia in the morning on January 26, to find out where your local march is happening and how they’re keeping COVID-safe, check out our guide over here.

If you are feeling unwell or wake up with flu-like symptoms on the 26th, DO NOT ATTEND a protest or gathering. There are options to support and be an ally without physically being at a march, like tuning into NITV for its rolling coverage and donating money to Pay The Rent.

8. How Can I Help As Well As Showing Up?

You might hear a lot of discussion around non-Indigenous people needing to “pay the rent”. No, it doesn’t mean that you have to foot the bill for your mate that month, but it means that, as an ally, you should look to donate to causes the Invasion Day protests are promoting and supporting.

“We are encouraging people to bring cash or cards,” Rosie said.

“As a part of what we’re fundraising, we just asked kindly that people to bring money if they can.”

You can also find plenty of collectives and not-for-profits to donate to online, and this list from Welcome To Country is a great place to start.

Image: AAP / Glenn Hunt