The inauguration of Donald Trump — and the attendant marches and protests against his presidency — is expected to draw about a million people to the Washington, D.C., area. If you’re planning on being one of them, make sure you plan ahead!
I’ve covered protests — both peaceful and less so — around the world, and my professional training on how to survive riots has come in handy more than once. If all goes well, the events in D.C. this weekend will be peaceful and productive for all involved. But here are a few tips to make sure your trip to D.C. is as safe as possible.
Dress appropriately. D.C. gets pretty chilly during the winter. Wear lots of layers. You’ll likely get warmer as you actually march or move through crowds, but then when you’re standing still, you’ll likely get colder — especially if you weren’t able to remove layers while you were walking and you got a bit sweaty. If security allows, you might want to carry a backpack to stow additional or removed layers.
Comfortable and warm shoes are an absolute must. Particularly if you need to move quickly — if, for instance, there is a security concern — you want to be wearing athletic shoes that won’t slow you down.
It sucks to write this, but we are living in a time that is hostile toward women and many other individuals. If you’re ever worried about being sexually harassed, wear a belt with your pants and try to find clothes that are complicated to open. Even a few seconds of delay can help.
Have a plan. You may already have plans for meeting friends and family before the march or festivities begin, but what if you get separated?
Have check-in points planned ahead of time in case of separation. Print out physical maps for everyone in your group, and circle your emergency meet-up places. You might also want to map out friendly businesses offering beverages and bathrooms.
If you’re attending inauguration or a march on your own, check in regularly with someone at home — a parent, spouse, or friend far from the action. Let them know you’ll be sending them a quick text every other hour, for instance, and have them call you if you’re 30 minutes late. You could also check in on social media, but depending on your activities, you may want to keep your location private.
Bring your phone, but don’t count on it. Service may be patchy, and the cold often makes batteries die more quickly. If you experience patchy service or low battery, make sure your check-in person above is aware that you won’t be in regular communication as planned.
Write important information, like emergency contacts, on a piece of paper, rather than storing it in your phone. And, of course, if you have an external battery charger for your phone, don’t forget to pack it!
If you have more secretive plans, you might consider bringing a burner phone that doesn’t have all of your contacts and app data stored on it.
Bring supplies. Be sure to pack plenty of water; cold weather can make you very dehydrated, and you don’t want to wait in long lines if you run out. You might want to bring some snacks as well, since you’re likely to be in this for the long haul.
Related: never pass up a chance to use the bathroom, especially if it’s relatively clean!
Friday looks a bit rainy, although Saturday should be more clear. You might consider packing a portable umbrella or a poncho.
That being said…
Carry only what you need. First of all, you don’t want a heavy backpack; but more importantly, you don’t want to lose anything important. If you must bring a camera or other expensive equipment, wrap a scarf around the camera strap and keep your equipment hidden.
Keep a very close eye on your backpack, and keep all valuables as deep inside as possible. Make sure everything is always zipped up all the way!
When you remove valuables, try to be as inconspicuous as possible. Never keep wallets, phones and other items tempting for thieves in the front pocket of a backpack or the outer pocket of your purse; men might consider moving their wallets to their front pockets.
Be alert. Stay on the edge of the crowd; don’t get sucked into the middle. Keep an eye on the energy of the crowd in general and those around you in particular. If you ever feel unsafe or unsure about the direction the event is heading, leave immediately. You will never regret putting your safety first, even if you’re being overly cautious.
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum!