If the new protest ordinance passed by Cleveland City Council raised alarms for you, you’re not alone. Whenever government does things at the last minute with no opportunity for public comment, appropriate reactions are usually skepticism and frustration.

But considering the old ordinance was full of vague language that left the door open to abuses by the city and police, the new rules are a net benefit—despite the bad practice of their passage.

If you’re an organizer planning demonstrations in Cleveland, here are five things you should know to use the new ordinance to your advantage:

1. You do not need a permit to protest on public property.

You have the right to gather, chant, and engage people in conversation in public spaces, such as parks and public sidewalks. As long as your actions do not block access to these spaces, police can’t restrict your speech. This is one of our most fundamental democratic rights and the ordinance can’t take that away.

2. You can use the ordinance to maximize visibility and participation.

Bystanders pay more attention when big groups walk down the street. If you want to maximize visibility while making it easy for all types of people to participate, obtaining a permit from the city is often your best option. It’s only necessary to obtain a permit if you intend to block access to sidewalks, obstruct intersections, or disrupt traffic in the street. A permit provides a way for people to engage in actions that would otherwise break the law without the threat of arrest.

3. Know the difference between free speech and civil disobedience.

The First Amendment guarantees the right to protest and public speech without interference from government agents, such as police. However, actions that intentionally break laws in order to create disruption and raise awareness are considered civil disobedience, and can result in your arrest. Make sure you, and those around you, know what you’re getting into, so everyone can decide on their own if they want to participate.

Read our Online Guide on Protesting in Cleveland. Tweet this!

4. The rules for getting a protest permit are actually clearer now than before.

We assembled an online guide for protesters so they can easily access the permit application. The new ordinance actually clarifies these rules by setting our specific requirements and timelines. The application is available online and must be submitted four days in advance.

But Black Lives Matter activists have shown us the power of social media to respond quickly to situations as they unfold.  If you’re coordinating an impromptu event and want to engage in actions that would require a permit, you can contact the Cleveland Division of Police Field Operations at (216) 623-5011 eight hours in advance. Make sure to take down the officer’s name and badge number you spoke with. Keep in mind, if time doesn’t allow the appropriate notice, there are always ways to demonstrate without a permit.

5. Make sure they are following their own rules.

If you’re meeting resistance from city hall or the police when trying to apply for a permit, make sure to call them out. Defending free speech requires brave people who refuse to be silenced when their rights are violated. Contact our legal department if the city of Cleveland is not abiding by their own rules.

Know your rights and use this moment to amplify your voice.