Safety First: How to March Responsibly

Basic and just-in-case tips for peaceful protesting in the Women's March(es) this Saturday.

Women's March

By Taylor Smith

This past election cycle, many Americans saw their value demeaned and their rights threatened with hateful and frightening rhetoric. Hundreds of thousands across the country will respond this Saturday by taking part in the Women’s March on Washington and affiliated protests. Such a massive and impassioned demonstration so close to a presidential inauguration harkens back to the Woman Suffrage Procession of 1913, which took place the day before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson in D.C. One of the key lessons from that parade—and other peaceful protests like it to this day—is that even the best laid plans can go awry. Though exhaustively prepared, unexpected intrusions and lackluster policing resulted in injury to roughly 300 participants in the Woman Suffrage Procession; just last November, North Dakota police officers inured the same number of peaceful protesters at Standing Rock with water cannons and teargas. As many prepare to rally against language and proposed policies that may jeopardize their future security, the last thing anyone wants is to place themselves in immediate danger. With that in mind, here are a few tips for staying safe as you speak out.

The basics…

  • Dress for success.

As exciting and Instagram-worthy as it can be to make a statement with your clothes, there’s no need to get sick or break an ankle in the process. Avoid heels or otherwise uncomfortable shoes, and dress for the weather. The official Women’s March website recommends dressing for “extreme cold” even if the forecast doesn’t predict it, because you may be on foot for hours on end. Come bearing umbrellas, raincoats, and layers upon layers.

  • Be vigilant.

Just as you would in any large gathering, keep a close eye on your belongings in case of loss or theft. You should also pack light for your own sake, and note that backpacks may be subject to search. For more info on permitted bag sizes, see the Women’s March site’s “What to Bring” section.

  • Bring a buddy or a few.

This one should go without saying, but travel in groups, especially if you’re headed to a different city. Agree on a meet-up time and place in advance in case you lose track of each other.

Should things take a turn…

  • Get out sooner rather than later.

If you sense the crowd closing in on you, get out while you can. In response to the tragic Hajj stampede in Saudi Arabia in 2015, CNN National Security Analyst Juliet Kayyem outlined some helpful tips for staying conscious of your space if and when your fellow marchers start to feel too close for comfort. Keep your arms close to your chest so they won’t get pinned to your sides, and worm your way out without moving against the flow of the crowd so you don’t risk falling and getting trampled.

  • Bring a makeshift teargas repellent.

Amnesty International USA Executive Director Margaret Huang told The Cut about this handy trick to protect yourself from teargas: bring a bandana along, wet it, and hold it over your mouth and nose so you can continue to breathe safely.

  • Worst case scenario, know your rights.

Always remember that if you see a peaceful protester tangled up with law enforcement and suspect a violation of their rights, you have a right to film the interaction as long as you don’t physically interfere, and an officer cannot seize your photos or video without a warrant.

You can read more about protesters’ rights and photographers’ rights on the American Civil Liberties Union website. And if you need some extra signage, be sure to take advantage of our free poster download.