On January 20, 2017, Chief Supreme Court Justice John Roberts will swear in Donald J. Trump on the steps of the Capitol. From the moment the inauguration ceremony concludes, Donald Trump, a man who has never before held elected office, or served his country in the military, will be the President of the United States. A lot of people are unhappy about this.
Between 800,000 and 900,000 people, to be more precise. While turnout for this inauguration is projected to be significantly lower than both Obama inaugurations, there will be a considerable number of people pouring into the District to either protest the inauguration on January 20th, or to attend the Women’s March on January 21st. Or to do both.
Either way, there will be a lot of people, all with individual and unique ideologies, in a very small space, rushing in over a very short period of time. As such, it will be very easy to get lost, disoriented, or hurt in the course of protesting. Bearing all that in mind, here are a few helpful tips, and things to remember when marching on Washington this weekend.
In his letter from a Birmingham Jail, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’
This was during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, in April of 1963, when multiple groups led a coordinated protest effort all over Birmingham, Alabama. Sit-ins, marches, and picketing were all used as nonviolent tactics by Movement leaders to openly protest racism and segregation. In spite of an injunction which prohibited any kind of protest in Birmingham, leaders like King still took to the streets. Things got worse before they got better for Birmingham after that April. While the protesters used exclusively nonviolent means, their opposition didn’t flinch to actively use violence. Dogs, fire hoses, billy clubs, and other forms of excessive force were used without provocation, and largely without hesitation.
Looking back at our rabble-rousing revolutionary American past, one could argue civil disobedience is one of the truest forms of patriotism. At its heart, civil disobedience is simultaneously an open act of defiance of law, and an embrace of the First Amendment. While much has changed since Knig’s day, and Ghandi’s before him, the spirit of nonviolent protest has remained steadfast. King tells us “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Nonviolent protest, in his eyes, is the most direct path to change.
WHAT TO BRING
As of Wednesday morning, local weather stations are forecasting rain in DC for much of Friday. While this might diminish turnout for both the official inauguration, and its protests, there are still ways of organizing, mobilizing, and resisting. Before leaving the house, though, it’s important to make sure you’re packed for the day. Here’s a list of things that might be worth bringing:
- Boots — Kind of a no-brainer, but still worth mentioning. Something slip-resistant, water-resistant, but still with a flexible sole. You might need to stand or walk for hours at a time. You might also need to run.
- Layers — These are important if the weather goes from cold to warm, and also if tear gas is used by law enforcement. Some of those chemicals are designed to penetrate cloth.
- Poncho — Protects you from rain, and from crowd-control chemicals. What’s worse: looking stupid, or getting a chemical burn?
- Zip-lock bag with Cash, ID, and List of Contacts — Your phone will not work downtown this weekend. It won’t. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the best carrier, or the newest phone. There will be so many people on the streets and so much wireless interference from law enforcement, it will be impossible to get a call out. Instead of your regular phone/wallet/purse, just bring a zip-lock bag with everything you’d need if you were stranded.
- Scarf — It’s not as effective as a fume/gas mask, but it makes you less of a target.
- Tear Gas/Pepper Spray Relief — Ready to feel like Tyler Durden? Mix equal parts Maalox and filtered water in a spray bottle. The magnesium oxide neutralizes the burn from the harsh stuff cops sometimes use on crowds. This is safe to use on faces and eyes that have been hit with cops’ chemicals. (Note: you will probably not need this for the Women’s March, which is supposed to be a well organized and non-violent affair. Some of the other protests we can’t be so sure about, but don’t get yourself worked up thinking you’re going to be pepper sprayed at every turn.)
HOW TO BEHAVE AROUND OTHERS
As mentioned before, thousands of people will converge on the District this weekend, and everyone will have different reasons for coming. Some people are angry. Some people are scared. Some people are furious and terrified. Whichever emotions you might feel, it’s important to remember the person next to you, or in front of you, or behind you might be in a different boat. The most important thing to do in any non-violent protest is to stick with your group, and stay in constant contact.
Protests are harder to break up if there are more people. If you see some people splintering off to vandalize, ignore them, and stick with your group. If you see someone actively testing or taunting law enforcement, ignore them and stick with your group. If you see tear gas, pepper spray, bean bags, or rubber bullets being used on the crowd, turning around, and walking the other way is the best way to not get hurt.
As all those thousands of people pour into DC for the weekend’s events, there will consequently be an increased police and law enforcement presence on the streets. It’s no longer the just the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department– we’re going to see MPD, WMATA Police, Homeland Security, ATF, uniformed Secret Service, FBI, and even the Park Police at the protests. To be very clear, these uniformed men and women are just that; men and women in uniform. Their job is to protect and serve, and their presence is meant to help keep everyone safe.
However, it is also worth remembering that it doesn’t take much for some cops to go from protecting and serving to unloading excessive force on protesters. Even non-violent ones. It’s also worth remembering that, police in the United States killed 258 Black men in 2016. 39 of those 258 were unarmed. It’s also worth remembering that, while all of these agencies will have a presence on the streets, they might not all be in contact with each other.
And it’s especially worth remembering that not all of these agencies are trained in crowd-control techniques. The Secret Service typically doesn’t use rubber bullets.
WHERE TO GO
Below are a few links to various events and protests around town for inauguration weekend. Some of these are protests that acquired a permit, others are more informal. Whether you choose to march with the biggest contingent, or march with your small band of friends, safety should be the utmost priority. Plan your route, have an escape plan, and stay in touch. If you’ve got all that together, the most important thing you can do is yell as loud as possible. That’s still well within your First Amendment Rights. For now, at least.
Friday, January 20
- Protest Inauguration Day: A Group In Alliance With Answer Coalition
- Protest Hate & Bigotry On Election Day
- Protest At The Inauguration: Stand Against Trump, War, Racism, and Inequality
- DC Cannabis Coalition