When the world is topsy turvy, causing you sleepless nights and many angst filled days, it seems easiest to wallow in chocolate and hide under the covers. While chocolate and chick-flicks might make you feel better for a bit, they can’t fix big problems. Instead, sometimes you need to raise your voice–loudly. No matter your cause–whether it’s a Women’s March or Pro-Life rally–the First Amendment protects our rights to peacefully protest. Stand up and be heard—but be safe. Here’s a list of must-have items to pack for a protest.
I’m not a rabble rouser. Crowds make me crazy, and noise gives me a headache. After all, as a freelance writer, I spend extraordinary amounts of time alone, in a silent office, lacing words together, trying to beat deadlines. If I’m troubled, I write about my worries, turning ideas over in my brain until a solution unfolds on my computer.
But sometimes, the world becomes inexplicable, and written words can’t create order or solve problems.
And, as a blue speck in a blood-red state, I found that words failed me in our new political climate.
Packing for a Protest: It’s Not about Politics.
But this isn’t a post about politics, I promise. Well, OK, maybe it is a bit. After all, I’m sharing about my first experience as a protester, which happened to be at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. As a first timer, I felt overwhelmed and anxious. Still, much to the concern of my husband, my 15-year-old daughter and I packed our bags, joined 200 lovely women from Greenville, South Carolina, and traveled to the Women’s March—all while I tried to mask my anxiety with an activist’s game face.
I worried about everything: traffic, navigating the metro, my daughter’s dislike of crowds, bathroom access, and most importantly, safety.
Why We Protest.
Still, I’m a feminist raising a feminist daughter, with a Swiss husband holding a green card. I’m a woman who’d experienced inequality in pay and harassment. I’m an environmentalist and daughter of a scientist. Many of my friends reside in the LGBT community, and some immigrant friends fear for their families’ security. I knew I needed to attend the Women’s March. I craved it emotionally. I sought to surround myself with like-minded people, sharing a common cause, making our voices heard.
I wanted to find my tribe, and I needed to show my daughter the strength of women.
I wish I could describe to you the joy, the emotions, the friendships, the kindness, the amazing sense of community at the Women’s March.
It sounds dramatic, but it changed my life, and I’m so thankful I experienced it with my daughter. Just yesterday, she said that it was one of the best experiences of her life.
Peaceful Protests: Our Gift of the First Amendment.
No matter your political affiliation or cause, the power of free speech and the right to assemble is a gift to all of us from our founding fathers. Rejoice in that gift. Whether we rally for life or march for science, we need to exercise our rights and make our voices heard. By joining a march or planning a protest, we not only support causes we believe in—we also find friends.
For me, those 200 women traveling from South Carolina to D.C. made me realize I’m more than a solitary blue blip in a red state.
Planning for a Protest.
Still, traveling to a protest, whether it’s across the country, in a nearby state, or just down the street, requires planning. I’m incredibly grateful to the organizers of my first protest march, because they provided constant communication to ensure a safe, fantastic event.
To help make your protest march or rally a great experience, I’ve compiled a list of 16 things to take to a protest.
1. Things to Pack for a Protest March: Identification.
Proper ID is crucial when attending any large event, particularly one where emotions run high. We were incredibly lucky—the Women’s March participants experienced no violence, no arrests. With more than 500,000 people crammed into the city streets, it’s a miracle that tempers remained in check. (Contrary to news reports of 500,000, security officials at the march told us the crowd exceeded a million protestors. I believe it.) However, some protests become violent rapidly, with tear gas and arrests turning a peaceful march into a frightening reality. The last thing you want is to end up in the hospital as a Jane Doe.
Make sure to safely tuck away your driver’s license and insurance card, preferably in an interior pocket of a jacket. Include a card with an emergency contact name and phone number, as well as listing any of your medical issues, such as allergies or medications needed. Our organizers provided a “water wallet” lanyard for each of us, a wearable waterproof pocket that contained our contact information, as well as the hotel name and address in case we needed to return separately from the group, along with space for emergency contacts and medical information. (Have I mentioned how amazing our organizers were?)
Make It Permanent.
In addition to your driver’s license and contact card, use a Sharpie to write your name, emergency contact name/phone number, and any important medical issues on your arm, in case your card and/or license is lost.
I’ll admit, the morning of the Women’s March, I worried. The fear of the unknown—and potential unexpected situations that could turn ugly—made me want to cancel our participation to ensure my daughter’s safety. However, since one of my goals for the march involved surrounding her with strong women role models, I needed to fake bravery and bury my fear.
I’m glad I did. We experienced a perfectly peaceful, lovely crowd where kindness ruled the day. (Besides, I think my daughter might have adopted another marching mom to take her, if I said we weren’t going. She needed to march.)
2. Things to Pack for a Protest March: Cash.
A little cash, hidden in a deep inner pocket, provides peace of mind in case you need to grab a snack or hail a cab. I tucked a bit of money into the inner pocket of my coat, and I also put $20 in my daughter’s jacket, too.
“Just in case cash,” we called it. We didn’t spend a cent at the march, though, but we knew it was there if we needed it.
3. Things to Pack for a Protest March: A Teeny, Tiny, Cross-Body Purse.
Both our local and national organizers warned against carrying a purse to the Women’s March, mostly due to cumbersome lines for security screening. Backpacks and large purses would not be allowed, we were told. (Honestly, with the overwhelming and unexpected turnout at the Women’s March, we encountered no security check points. I don’t think anyone anticipated the size of the crowd, nor knew how to adequately screen the hundreds of thousands of attendees.)
Still, as a rule follower, I found the tiniest, cheapest purse at Target. With just enough room for ID and the most basic necessities (lip balm, a few Advil, allergy medicine), it fit perfectly under my jacket. Plus, I knew it would easily pass through security, since it was too small to hold anything dangerous.
4. Things to Pack for a Protest: A Small, Clear Plastic Backpack.
Our group of 200 divided into 20 “squads,” with each squad leader carrying a clear vinyl backpack filled with emergency items: a first aid kit, aspirin, toilet paper, tissues, tampons, a few power bars. Especially for nursing mothers who need to carry a breast pump or for marchers with medical needs, a small, transparent backpack may be useful and should easily pass through security. Recommended size is no larger than 17” x 12” x 6”, and the vinyl must be clear, not colored. Check with organizers of individual marches to make certain it’s allowed.
5. Things to Pack for a Protest: Weather Appropriate Clothes.
While the temperature might be in the 50s at 5 a.m., a blazing sun at noon could make you curse that heavy sweater. Before heading out the door, check the weather for the day of the march, and dress appropriately—in layers.
January 21 in Washington was chilly, but with the immense crowd crammed together during the seven-hour rally, as well as the long, long march with our half-million new friends, we stayed toasty. Still, dress for comfort. You don’t want to overheat and miss the march.
Additionally, avoid expensive jewelry. You don’t want to chance losing it.
6. Things to Pack for a Protest: Excellent Shoes.
Make your feet happy, and you’ll enjoy a great experience. Try to be fashionable at the expense of comfort, and you’re doomed to misery. This is not the time to wear trendy, cute shoes. You need to baby your feet, cushioning them in the most comfortable shoes you own.
Trust me. Please.
At the Women’s March, we left the hotel at 4:30 a.m. With only short intervals of sitting on the bus or metro, we stood or walked from 6 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. Even with my most comfortable shoes, there was an hour that I honestly thought my right foot would never bend again.
Forsake fashion. I beg you. And, if it’s snowing or raining, choose waterproof shoes. (But make sure they’re comfortable.)
7. Things to Pack for a Protest: Waterproof Hooded Rain Jacket.
If inclement weather is on the agenda, throw a rain jacket over your clothes—or even on top of your heavy coat, if it’s not waterproof. Umbrellas in a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd are not only awkward: they can be dangerous. Mostly likely, security will not permit an umbrella into a protest, so choose a rain jacket to keep you dry.
A rain jacket with inner pockets is even better. Not only will you stay dry, you can stash snacks and tissues in your jacket.
8. Things to Pack for a Protest: Phone and External Battery Back-Up.
Considering that cell networks and Wi-Fi services can be overwhelmed with an additional 500,000+ people in a city, causing communication outages, why is it important to pack a cell phone for a protest?
First of all, hopefully you WILL have service. However, if you’re traveling with a group or with a few friends, you can download an app, like Firechat, to communicate via text without the need for a network or Wi-Fi signal. In case you become separated from your group or buddies, you need to communicate. Make sure everyone in your group downloads the app prior to the march so you can stay in touch. For instance, after the march, our buses couldn’t meet where we originally planned. The texting app alerted us to the new location.
Also, you’ll want to take photos and videos. Lots of photos and videos. After all, how often do you share the same space and passion with your heroes and favorite entertainers? And, if you’re in a new city, you can play tourist and snap photos of sites along the march.
Plus, the photos and videos of my normally introverted girl chanting loudly with strangers who shared her common beliefs made fantastic souvenirs for us to share.
Just make certain you have a deep pocket to store the phone and charger—preferably, one with a zipper or closure.
9. Things to Pack for a Protest: Water.
It’s awkward to carry, it’s heavy, but boy—it’s necessary. Pack the water. Especially if it’s a hot day for your protest march, you need water. Regardless of the weather, you’ll be talking, chanting, yelling, singing…and you’ll be thirsty.
I thought we’d find vendors with bottles of water for sale, so we didn’t carry extra water. Big mistake. Yes, vendors offered water for sale, but once we found a space near the stage for the rally, we couldn’t move. Really. We were literally shoulder-to-shoulder with other marchers, wedged into our space.
Don’t be the person who passes out due to dehydration. Take the water.
10. Things to Pack for a Protest: Snacks.
4:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. is a long time to go without food. Add some protein bars to your pockets. Grab a bag of trail mix. Pick portable, calorie-dense snacks that provide high energy for when your blood sugar dips. Again, don’t count on food carts. They might be at the march, but you might not be able to reach them.
11. Things to Pack for a Protest: First Aid Basics.
Create a tiny first aid kit, using a zippered snack bag, and add it to your tiny purse or jacket pocket. Include the most basic of basics: Band-Aids, eye drops, lip balm, a few aspirin, an antihistamine, if you have allergies, and wipes. Keep it simple and small, taking pills out of packaging to reduce bulk. Hopefully, you won’t need your mini-medical kit, but you’ll be relieved to have it if a blister or headache joins you on the march.
12. Things to Pack for a Protest: Tampons.
I hope you don’t need them, but even if you don’t—you might be a hero to a friend or fellow protestor. Also, did you know tampons work well to stifle a nose bleed? Slip one or two into your pocket, just in case.
13. Things to Pack for a Protest: Tissues.
Those tiny, overpriced travel packs of tissues are perfect for a protest. They fit easily in a pocket, can catch a sneeze or work overtime as toilet paper, if the porta-potties are out. (There was no TP to be seen at 7:30 a.m. when we visited.)
14. Things to Pack for a Protest: Bandana or Scarf.
A pretty square scarf or bandana offers many uses: it ties back your hair, catches sweat, adds a bit of fashion to your protest attire, cools your temperature when doused in cold water, or, in worst case scenarios, protects your face from tear gas.
I hope you don’t need to test it against tear gas. If you think the protest you’ll attend offers a high likelihood of tear gas, add swim goggles to your packing list to protect your eyes. Remove children from the list of things you plan to take to the protest.
While we want to raise informed, socially aware kids, it’s not worth endangering their health or safety. (Also, as a side note: really think hard about taking young children. If it’s a short march with no likelihood of violence, great. Plop them in the stroller and enjoy. If it’s a gruelingly long day with enormous crowds, leave them home with a babysitter. Even my activist teen had a moment when I thought she might faint. Just please–play it safe.)
15. Things to Pack for a Protest: Signage.
A protest isn’t a proper protest without a sign! What’s your message? Why are you marching? What do you want your fellow protestors to know about you and your mission? Most importantly—what message will you send to those people, companies, or politicians that you’re protesting?
Your poster can be funny, cute, fierce, outrageous—but it should reflect you and your message. My poster focused on kindness and equality, while my daughter’s focused on human rights.
So many personal messages, so much passion, so much talent and creativity—the signs and the voices lifting up those messages made the Women’s March an amazing experience.
A few things to remember about signage: you will be carrying your sign all day. Keep it light, otherwise your arms will be exhausted. Also, forgo the wooden stick handle—many marches and rallies will not allow them. Instead, the cleverest method I saw to carry a sign involved ribbon strung through two holes in the top of the poster board, creating a purse-like strap that the carrier could wear over her shoulder or around her neck. It was perfect—a hands-free sign that was highly visible while marching.
16. Things to Pack for a Protest: The Unifying Piece.
In January, my daughter and I learned to knit. Neither of us knew how to knit, but we were determined to knit a certain pink hat with pointy ears.
Thank goodness for YouTube tutorials.
We wore them with pride, joining an ocean of hundreds of thousands of “kitty” hats in every shade on pink. (Sorry, I still can’t say or write the “P” word. I’m a prude.)
To further identify our Greenville group, our organizers gave each of us a Kelly green scarf, with the intent to help us stay together in our squads. And, underneath our winter coats, we all wore our specially designed t-shirts, commemorating the Women’s March.
While a pink hat or green scarf isn’t necessary to join a march, it does add to the sense of belonging. Different marches or protests will adopt different identifiers: for instance, I’ve seen both a “brain” hat knitting pattern for the March for Science, as well as an octopus hat for Earth Day.
Whatever the theme may be, think about adding that item to your packing list. It really does make you feel a part of the group, and it’s a great conversation starter with your protesting neighbors.
The Most Important Thing to Pack for a Protest: A Good Attitude.
Protests require patience. Patience with organizers, who extend a three-hour rally into seven hours, because they need to re-route a march due to extreme crowd size. Patience with the person next to you, who sways and steps on you foot. Patience with long lines and long waits.
But most of all, packing a good attitude is what turns a protest march into a joyful event. Yes, it’s crowded and exhausting, but it’s also a chance to meet like-minded people, working together to create change, to instill hope. Packing a good attitude can turn that stranger next to you, who offers your daughter half a candy bar, into a life-long friend.
Most importantly, the good attitude needs to remain long after the protest march. As my dear friend, one of our group’s organizers says, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” We must be patient for our activist efforts to make a difference in the crazy world.
We start with the protest march. And then, we come home, and the real work begins.
Whatever your cause—speak loudly and proudly.
“My favorite part of the Women’s March? Being surrounded by kind, decent people. Seeing all the positivity at the March gave me hope for the future.”
~ Kristen Adolf, 15
Stay safe, friends.
After all, we’re fighting for our future.
Here’s hoping our first grandbaby, born to our eldest son and daughter-in-law, will never need to fight for women’s rights.