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Impromptu Logistical Networks Assist Protesters Behind The Scenes


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: No justice, no peace.


Marches, signs, fists in the air - these are the sights and sounds of the protests that have broken out across the country. Less visible are the people behind these scenes, the logistical networks keeping protesters fed, hydrated and safe. NPR's Noah Caldwell reports.


NOAH CALDWELL, BYLINE: It's 93 degrees out and muggy, and some protesters here in D.C. have been going for a week already.

AHMED AFIFI: It's really hot. There's a global pandemic, but people don't care because this is a cause that we need to fight for because it's been going on for too long.

CALDWELL: Ahmed Afifi lost his voice chanting and shouting down by the White House over the last few nights, but he doesn't plan on stopping.

AFIFI: It's hard. But, like, we have to show up because the more we are, the stronger our message is.

CALDWELL: So how does a movement like this sustain itself day after day after day? Well, just like a multinational corporation would - with supply chains. And one of those chains starts right here.

BRITT ENGLES: We've been taking donations for two hours, and already, we're just completely full. And, you know...

CALDWELL: Britt Engles is running this supply station for an activist group called Freedom Fighters DC. Normally, this is the courtyard of a brewery. Now it's a buzzing depot filled with provisions.

ENGLES: We've got half a dozen or more pallets full of water, snacks, you know, construction protective gear, hardhats, heat-resistant gloves, goggles.

CALDWELL: Engles is choreographing a fast-paced dance here. First, strangers arrive with donations...


CALDWELL: ...Which volunteers unload...

ENGLES: You're doing great. Thank you.

CALDWELL: ...And sort into piles. Some of it's stored here at the brewery, and the rest gets loaded into other cars and whisked away. This is just a staging area, the first node in the supply chain. Next, it goes halfway across town to here.

LIZ COX: We're at 9th and U. It's in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

CALDWELL: This is Liz Cox. She won't say exactly where we are because the business that's donating space doesn't want attention from the police. She and a team are loading those supplies from the brewery into a U-Haul to distribute to protesters.

COX: They're out there risking their lives on the frontlines, resisting the police. So if they don't have to leave the front because they have what they need, then we have accomplished what we need to do.

CALDWELL: A few of the volunteers take a break from loading up. I ask them how long they think this will last.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: This is a lifetime thing.



UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We're in this for life now.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah. Like, this is not just something - like, a hobby that you can drop. This is our community, and we're here to stay.

CALDWELL: They don't want to give their names, they say, because they're worried about police retaliation. Tonight they're trying to stay nimble.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Wherever we know that there's going to be people, we're trying to get, like, a mobile unit out there as soon as possible to be there as long as possible.

CALDWELL: It's dusk now. Time to get everything down to the final stop on the supply chain, the frontline of the protest.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting, unintelligible).

CALDWELL: Chris Barrientos and Jake Oster are loaded up with those supplies, and they're wandering the crowd to see who needs what.

CHRIS BARRIENTOS: So a lot of things that we've been offering are just water, cold packs, food, electrolytes.

JAKE OSTER: Thankfully, it's been easy today. We've seen, you know, a couple people get a couple scratches but nothing serious. So I hope it stays that way, but, you know, we're ready if it doesn't.

CALDWELL: They both expect to be out here well into the night.

OSTER: Everyone's putting in a little bit of piece, and they're making this work. There's people in the front. There's people in the back. There's people creating the signs. There's people doing - everyone has a role, and how good you are playing your role is how good this protest is.

CALDWELL: The crowd starts marching up the street.


CALDWELL: At every corner, there's someone handing out water or food or hand sanitizer.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Free water. Free water. Help yourself.

CALDWELL: The supply chains seem to be working. As we pass a Methodist church, bells ring out from the steeple.


CALDWELL: And out front, pastors give water to the protesters passing by.


CALDWELL: Noah Caldwell, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.