Living and working in DC, you wind up seeing and going to a lot of protests, rallies and similar public events. Here’s a list of stuff to bring and think about, especially at a time when we seem to be pulling these events together day-of. This list is curated with an eye toward gear that also serves other purposes.
Have some other ideas? Leave a comment and I’ll keep adding to the list!
Remember: democracy is a lot like camping.
If you’re not Tweeting it and Facebooking it, did it really happen? Your phone is the main way to stay in touch with people and call for help if you need it. It’s also a great camera. Seasoned protesters will also regularly film police and counter-protesters.
Live streaming sure does suck up battery life. Backup batteries can be super-useful for charging your own gear and helping other people charge theirs. Ultra-beefy backup batteries can even jump a car. I’m not kidding. And these batteries are surprisingly light, too. Look for ones that come with cords that hook up to multiple devices.
Food and Water
Hitting the old democracy trail? Bring a full, reusable water bottle and some trail mix. If you’re feeling generous, bring some bottled water and snacks for others, too. The only thing you want to be hangry for is justice.
A First Aid kit or even just some Advil can be super helpful to bring. Make sure you bring whatever meds you personally need and please, please make sure you’re vaccinated. Being in a big crowd is a great way to appreciate herd immunity.
Dress in layers. Invest in wool, especially wool socks, that will stay dry and insulating throughout the day. Consider bringing scarfs, bandanas, or Buffs to keep your head warm or shield your face from the sun. Of course, some protesters use those tools to hide their faces so they can avoid being recognized by police or online trolls.
Most of us aren’t used to being outdoors for more than the time it takes to get from our front door to the car. Use sunscreen and bring some for you friends.
Think ahead about whether or not bringing a bag will be cumbersome or make you a target for screening or profiling. A relatively flat bag like the kind bike messengers use is often ideal for being in a crowd since larger bags tend to bump into people. Want to go bagless? Unlock full hiking nerd mode and bust out those cargo pants!
Let a friend who isn’t going with you know what your game plan is and shoot them a text when you’re all wrapped up. Coordinate with your friends about where you’ll meet and where you’ll go if you get lost. Download maps from an app like maps.me, which will display your location even if you’re out of cell phone service.
Poster paper and supports
Why are we protesting again? Make your message clear with signs and on behalf of all organizers everywhere, please, please, stay on message. :) In addition to standard poster paper, consider buying paper by the roll. People will often attach their signs to cardboard inner tubes, too. Some protests will ban sticks used as supports, so check to see how police are regulating a gathering.
Good signs make for good protests. Go chisel tip to make filling in lettering and images easier. Also good for writing your phone number or who to contact on your arm if you’re worried about getting arrested or injured. And, hell, write a number on your kid’s arm if you’re worried that you might get separated.
Say it with your shirt
Don’t feel like making or carrying a sign? Wear a shirt with a message instead.
Awesome for field repairs, decorating and securing signs, and using different colors to identify people taking different actions or participating in different teams. Duck brand is legit.
I screamed myself hoarse trying to clear spectators off the street during a march once. Never again! This Pyle megaphone fits into a backpack and offers decent amplification for a crowd of perhaps 100 people. Going bigger means getting something you probably need to strap across your chest. Also helpful for coaching your kid’s soccer league. Also consider a portable speaker. Great for indoor and outdoor events, long battery life and you can use it for karaoke and playing jams at your backyard BBQ. Rolling speakers are awesome, too. You can march and chant and sing all at the same time! Also useful if you’re in a band.
How to get all this shit to the protest? Try an “outdoor utility wagon,” which I affectionately call a “democracy cart.” If you’re looking to stay mobile, especially in a city, a bike wagon can be an excellent investment.
Think there might be some gas? No need to get a bulky mask. Just put on some swim goggles instead. Or if it’s going to be bright out, some ski googles can make you look oh-so-dashingly cool, though they’re more expensive.
This CAT cab light is genius. Functions as a flashlight, lantern, distress signal and a USB charger.
Rain! It sucks. Ponchos are great for individuals and for sharing with a friend. Also useful as tarps to protect gear.
Leatherman is the gold-standard in the field and the Juice has the right combo of tools for field repairs and cracking open a cold one, at least in my opinion. It does have a knife on it, so be sure that won’t get misconstrued as a weapon.
If someone came to your event but didn’t sing up or register to vote, did they really show up? Professional clipboards have pockets for storing completed forms and storage areas for pens. They can also protect paper from inclement weather.
That’s all I got for now! Keep the suggestions coming.
Thanks to Laura Marchelya, Kate Cell, Ashanti Washington and Travis Hobbs for their feedback.