Whether you’re on old pro or whether this is your first time, if you’re planning on attending the Women’s March On Washington, there are some safety tips that may prove highly beneficial to you during the march. I spent close to fifteen years living in Washington, DC and I attended many rallies, demonstrations, protest marches and peaceful gatherings during that time. The safety tips I’ve listed below are based on my years of experience and they’re good for anyone regardless of their political beliefs or stance.
Some of these tips have been floating around the web already for a few days (they came across my Facebook feed in a long string of shares and re-posts) so while I’m not sure where they originated, they’re valid. I’ve taken those and added several of my own. Again, these are based on my own personal experiences participating in marches in Washington, DC, and while some of these tips are DC specific, most of them can apply to any march that you may end up participating in around the country.
Here’s the list:
• Keep your cool. Do not offer personal information to unsolicited requests. Unless you absolutely trust the person requesting, I advise against signing any petition. Marches tend to draw many people with their own political agenda that may not jive with yours and they may present a petition for you to sign. There is simply too much going on for either them to explain fully or for you to comprehend their issue. If you are interested, get a card or contact info and support them after the march.
• Don’t give money to anyone and try to avoid handling money or a credit or debit card during the march. If you plan on bringing your wallet with you, keep it – along with your identification – in a safe place on your being that will make it difficult for pick pockets to reach.
• Try to stay to the edges of the crowd, but try to stay clear of anyone that may be able to grab, punch, mace or club you. Marches can easily get chaotic in the blink of an eye, sometimes, those in charge of security, understandably, react instinctively and just as quickly. There isn’t time for them to calculate who is and who isn’t a threat. I came dangerously close to being clubbed in the head once during a peaceful march because some not so peaceful people behind me decided to heat things up. Had I not been pulled out of the way by a quick acting friend, I would have been. The club literally whisked by my ear in full force. I was simply standing in the crowd silently. The person next to me was not so lucky. Watching someone get clubbed is not a pretty site. Don’t let it happen to you. If you witness that level of brutality and are able to do so from a point of safety, video tape or photograph the act. Document it vocally (if using video) if possible – but do not do so at the risk of your own peril – unless you opt to do so – at your own risk.0
• Try to have a scarf or handkerchief on you to cover your mouth and nose should tear gas be used. Try to stay clear from the white, smoky cloud and leave the tear gassed area as quickly and calmly as possible. Again – I speak from experience.
• If someone unconnected to you requests to take your photo or suddenly positions themselves in a manner that makes it seem as if they are about to take your personal photo outside of a group shot, decline or turn away. During many of the marches I attended in DC in the 1990’s, there would be mysterious, fast moving photographers dispersed throughout the crowd who would suddenly appear in front of you, snap a quick photo of your face and then quickly disappear into the crowd before you realized what just happened. This was during a time of pre-digital cameras which made the action even more peculiar. They never identified themselves as being with the press, they wore no identification and they never asked for permission or for personal information. It was basically, turn, click and vanish into the march. Rumors began to spread that they were government plants attempting to document attendees. Whether that was true or not – why risk it? This may sound a bit paranoid, but you don’t know them and you don’t know their agenda.
• Have a meet-up-if-you-get-separated plan. Do not count on your cellphones for this purpose – however, try to make sure that your cellphone is fully charged in case you need it at some point. Keep in mind that cell service may be overloaded by the amount of data usage that takes place during a march.
• Write important information on your forearm in Sharpie. (Emergency contact, drug allergies, etc.) It will wash off eventually. In fact, bring a Sharpie with you to share with others for this purpose.
• Stay hydrated and never pass up an opportunity to use a toilet. Wear the right shoes and don’t carry anything that you aren’t willing to lose.
• Be aware of your surroundings! If you are on the mall and you sense or realize that the energy of the crowd is about to change and that you need to leave the vicinity, try to avoid heading towards the Metro. It will become a crowded nightmare of people all trying to flee at the same time. People in frenzied crowds don’t stop to think about who may get caught up in their escape plans. If you are on the mall, it has been my experience, that a good option is to head into one of the many buildings that line the mall. They are usually open and most, if not all of them, have exit access to the streets on the opposite side of the mall. The National Gallery Of Art is a good choice. There are metros within two to three blocks once you exit out the other side there that, while still busy, will be less chaotic – such as the Archives-Navy Memorial, Gallery Place Chinatown and Judiciary Square. There are also guards, bathrooms and water fountains in the museums
• If you are arrested for any reason – do not argue with the police. Never resist your arrest. Do not run away. Never resist the arrest of another person. KNOW Your rights if you are arrested! There’s a very informative list on the ACLU’s website here.
• Follow your gut instinct – do not question it and LISTEN to the energy of the crowd. Leave the vicinity as calmly as possible if you have any doubts about anything. If something doesn’t seem right – it probably isn’t. If someone doesn’t seem trustworthy – they aren’t. If someone seems completely whacked, they probably are. Also – try not to make eye contact with someone you would be leery of walking up to and asking directions. If you are with a group and you get separated – stay calm. Get yourself to a place of safety first and then attempt to contact them.
Again, these are intended to be peaceful gatherings but there is the possibility that infiltrators will try to incite violence simply because that is their ideal or to make it look like the peaceful marchers caused it – or both. Do your best to not be a part of that scenario. Again – most importantly – trust your instinct and remember – personal safety first. You have a constitutional right to assemble peacefully in this country. So, be peaceful, unity is what motivates establishment, not violence. Be proud. Be present. Be safe.