An activist’s tool kit

This started out as the activists tool kit, but then I thought it was a bit presumptuous to call it ‘the’ tool kit and it would also imply that it is as good as it gets. It’s not; new ideas and developments are occurring every day.

I digress, what matters is that it is a rather small list with the nuts and bolts of a digital activists tools to get those stories and pictures out whilst it is going off.



I have long championed the evolution of the smart phone as a tool for change. The world of apps such as Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook have changed the way people engage in protest. Whilst the downside has been an increase in something we call ‘keyboard warriors’ – people who tweet and message from the comfort of their living room (or toilet?) it has also inspired flash mobs when people are asked to leave pubs and restaurants for kissing their same-sex partners and of course helped to coordinate the Arab spring and Occupy moments of 2010 and 2011 and many others. Armed with just your smart phone and a data or wi-fi connection, you can literally create your own media and report stories as they happen.

Along with this, the advancement in technology of cameras has been of huge significance too. Whilst some photographers bemoan the sight of every man and his dog with a DSLR in their hands and driving down the price of their images, it also means that a far greater, far wider view of life is being captured. If it is not caught on a camera phone, it will most definitely be caught by a DSLR enthusiast. Some DSLR cameras are now fitted with wi-fi connectivity, reducing the previous time delay between taking an image and having to upload it to your laptop before sending it off to a news room or the blogosphere. I recently upgraded from Nikon D3100 to the D5300 for two reasons; the moveable lcd screen and the wi-fi connectivity and they have proved their worth countless times in the short time I have had it (D5300).

It would have been easy to add a laptop or tablet device to this list (I regularly carry my iPad with me for its larger screen and copy of photoshop I have on it) but in the main, and to keep it light, the smart phone (Samsung S4 in my case) is more than capable to receive and upload pictures as I go and is much more versatile. A multi-functional device if you like.

On the subject of smart phones, I moved from Apple to Samsung 2 years ago because I was fed up of the minor Apple upgrades, short battery life and storage issues. The Samsung enables me to increase the storage size with mini SD cards and has the bonus of being able to change my battery when I am running low on juice. This is invaluable when you are not anywhere near a power point or the event is going on. When considered with the portable pebble charger (good for 3 charges from flat for a smart phone) it means that you have more than enough power to see you through the day. Unlike my previous iPhones where they would kick it half way through an event. They may have remedied this with the new 6 plus but I have yet to be convinced.

A megaphone (£5 from Tiger pictured) is useful depending on what side of the camera you are, if like me you are keen to record and capture the moment that is making our history, you will find yourself less behind the megaphone and more with a camera in your hand. I was once told that a journalist should cover an event as removed from the emotion of it as possible. I am not sure that is necessarily possible as we are an empathic civilisation and it is in our nature to emphasise with the people around us.


A decent pair of walking shoes is a must, you’ll certainly start racking up the miles attending protests and if the current format of governments continues in the UK, then I presume there will be many, many more miles covered in the near and foreseeable future. If you are going to crawl around on your hands and knees though, make sure you use tape to protect the fronts otherwise you’ll quickly wear a hole in the toe caps. The Karrimor shoes here are cheap and cheerful, getting the job done without worrying about damaging the expensive alternatives. A good pair of walking shoes also aid in the inevitable walls, trees, fences and gates you’ll climb to get to where you need to get to or to evade the mounted horse back charge from the police! Knee pads and gloves speak for themselves, if you intend to crawl anywhere, the street is filthy. You will also be surprised to see how much human hair lines our pavements. Knee pads also double up usefully when taking pictures, you’ll often see photographers performing contortionist acts to get the shots they want, knee pads will help with this, or at least they do me as I am not getting any younger.

The Anonymous mask speaks for itself, it has become synonymous with protests, both physical and virtual in recent years after the movie V for Vendetta. There are now a significant number of new designs out there today than this old one.

The fire truck was my nephews, they begrudgingly donated it to me for a greater cause to campaign about privatisation within the public sector but you can use any prop that supports your cause. Work as paramedic? Use a toy ambulance, dress up like the object of your frustration such as Chris grayling or Michael Gove and make a visual demonstration somewhere, be seen and be seen doing something out of the ordinary. It will always attract attention and local press love a good unusual story.


Lifeventure thermal cup; keeps hot things hot and cold things cold. When on a shoot, it’s important to have a cup of something hot and I never leave for a day out campaigning without making sure it is filled up with fresh, hot coffee. Of all the cups I have used over the years, this is by far the most reliable. I’ve had the same one for 3 years. It’s had 2 new heads and new bodies… it is rugged and fares well after being dropped (and keeping the coffee where it should be) from considerable heights!

Most importantly, it comes in black.

Berghaus Freeflow 20

As well as the kit, you’ll need something to carry it with. My man bag is the Berghaus Freeflow 20, which is big enough to house the kit when you transport it around, rigid frame with air flow around the back with hydration pouch. A particularly useful feature when you are running around a march trying to get the pictures you want and you want to top up those fluid levels. It has useful stagger pouches and integral rain cover. Also coming in black.

You may think that there are things missing such as placards, sharpie markers, montana spray paint and stencils but then this is just a quick stop through an activist tool kit, not ‘THE’ activist tool kit. Other kit I could have included would have been my white board and marker, much more 21st century than a placard with one message. A whiteboard enables you to have a limitless number of messages throughout any given protest and allow for significant engagement with the hundreds of single serving strangers you will encounter on any rally, protest, march, occupation etc.

There are whistles and maybe 101 other things you could take on a protest (maybe I that will be the next blog) but the aim here is to keep it light, keep it tight and keep it easy. See you at the next one.

Save People, Not Banks

What’s in your essential activist tool kit?