Juliette Kayyem: There are basic preparations those in women's marches can take for safe and meaningful protest
She offers five tips, including learning the route beforehand and how best to get out of a mob crush
Editor’s Note: CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem is the author of the best-selling “Security Mom: An Unclassified Guide to Protecting Our Homeland and Your Home.” She is a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, a former assistant secretary of homeland security in the Obama administration and founder of Kayyem Solutions, a security consulting firm. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
With the nation divided and protests already occurring around President Donald Trump’s inauguration, it might seem that now is a good time to avoid large public gatherings. But Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington is resolutely aimed at being a peaceful and meaningful demonstration against discrimination and hatred. Given this, it is important that none of us let a few bad apples deter us from participating.
For those planning to attend, whether in Washington or any of the cities where marches and rallies are being held, here are some tips to help you and your family stay safe – remaining vigilant and assured in your own preparedness for whatever unexpected circumstances may get thrown your way.
1. Preparedness and a plan
For those going to the nation’s capital, the FAQ page on the Women’s March on Washington website has some very helpful information. Check your local city’s event page for details on how those cities are handling travel, parking and road closures. Are there prohibitions for what you’re carrying with you? Signs? Strollers? Know the rules beforehand.
There are some basics that are all too easy to forget: Drink plenty of water; wear appropriate, comfortable shoes; make sure you apply sunscreen, even if the forecast calls for clouds, the sun’s rays will affect you. These steps may seem minor, but they will make what is sure to be a long day more manageable.
Lay in some situational awareness. Before you arrive at the event, study the route, know which roads are closed, where crowds will be gathering beforehand for the rally and where the march itself will take you through the city. Does your spouse have trouble walking long distances? Remember that you may be on your feet for a long time. Take these things into account.
One more thing: be sure to know what your kids are wearing – even take a picture of them– in case they get lost and you need to ask authorities to help you find them.
2. Designate a destination point
Organizers and DC officials are anticipating big crowds, so there is a high chance your group could get split up, especially if you have older kids who want to be independent and explore. Set a destination point and a time to regroup afterward.
3. Assume no cell
Either because in an emergency public safety officials take over some bandwidth or simply because service may be congested with so much activity, assume that cell phones will not be as operational as usual. Plan accordingly and use the previously planned meetup point as a fail-safe destination if you get split up. It’s also a good idea, especially if you’re attending with younger children, not to get distracted on your cell. It only takes a few seconds of lapsed attention to lose track of a small child in a crowd of this size.
4. Go with the crowd
Keep tabs on your personal space and be ready to maintain it or adjust it in a crush. If you feel the crowd getting too dense for comfort, get out before it gets worse. If it’s not possible to get out immediately, try to conserve your energy (don’t shout or shove!) and don’t let your arms get pinned to the side. Keep firm, well-spread footing (that’s where good shoes come into play again) and keep your arms close to your chest.
Don’t resist the force of the crowd. Similar to a rip tide, the rush of the crowd will be stronger than your chance of withstanding it, so try to go with the flow as you look for openings (moments of stillness) to weave in and out of the surge in a diagonal, stop-and-go motion.
The most important thing you need to do while you’re trying to get out of a crowd is to avoid falling – and to keep those around you from falling as well. If someone near you goes down don’t just ignore the situation, take the lead and lend a helping hand.
5. Don’t be a martyr
There is a chance that individuals will be in attendance to express their own free speech in opposition to the march. Stay focused and stay positive. Heed the wisdom of our former first lady, “If they go low, you go high.” A successful march will be one fueled by passionate, peaceful protest, not physical altercation or mass violence. There will be no victory in starting trouble for the sake of starting trouble.
Stick to the march and stay on message. And, above all, be safe.