Have you seen that picture of a guy at a protest holding up a sign that says “Not usually a sign guy but geez”? That is basically my position. I’ve never been to a protest, not because I haven’t objected to things before but because protests and signs and chanting have not been my thing.
We are deciding right now, as a country, whether we’re going to shut people out of our country (including people begging for our help escaping an enemy we share) based on race and religion. That idea fills me with cold horror. So I vote no. And to be more precise, I vote HELL NO. And when what you want to say is “HELL NO,” a protest is a good place to say it.
Here were my anxieties, before the protest:
1. What if there’s not enough parking at the subway station.
2. I don’t know how to use the subway.
2a. I don’t know how to buy a ticket.
2b. I don’t know how to tell what direction the train is going.
2c. I don’t know how to switch lines, or if I need another ticket for that.
2d. I don’t know where to get off the train, or what to do after that.
3. The whole finding-a-place-to-pee situation.
4. I hate cities.
5. I have trouble with maps. How do I find where the protest is?
6. Should I make a sign? What should it say? I feel self-conscious.
7. What if I hate the feel of being in a big crowd?
8. What if things get violent?
9. What if we all run at once and people are getting trampled?
10. Do I have to worry about other people knowing I’m there?
11. Do I really have to leave my phone at home? But what if I need it?
12. Will there be repercussions for this, for me or my family?
13. What if no one else shows up?
14. GOING TO A PROTEST AT ALL, THE WHOLE THING
I think it helped that it happened fast. I debated about the women’s march for weeks, and eventually talked myself out of it. Afterward, I wished I’d been a part of it. This time I had less time to think, and also I could remind myself of my previous feelings of regret.
Also, Rob and William said they wanted to go with me. This increased both my anxieties and my interest in going. It added these anxieties:
15. What if they get hurt?
16. What if there are repercussions for them—colleges, jobs, etc.?
17. What if we get separated in the crowds?
18. Wait, but now we REALLY NEED our phones.
19. I don’t really know what I’m getting them into, and one of them is a minor.
Well. But we went. We did bring our phones. We turned off location and turned off the phones and we password-protected the lockscreens; according to protesting tips lists that may not have been enough, but that is what we did.
We made a flappy uncertain effort at signs, using half-size posters we keep on hand for school projects. I felt self-conscious about what I wanted to write in large letters and then hold near my face, and spent a fretful half-hour looking through pictures of other protests for things I felt reflected my thoughts on the topic. We ended up with signs that fell well within range: ours weren’t as funny or creative or clever as a lot of the signs we saw, but there were people there with signs written on the torn-off upper half of a pizza box, so.
I wanted a sign without a stick, and on flexible paper I could roll up, to make it easier to bring on the subway. But TONS of people on the subway had rigid signs with sticks, and that worked just fine, and that kind of sign is WAY easier to use AT the protest. We made a note: next time we will favor rigid signs with sticks.
I’m sorry, yes, that was two paragraphs just about making the signs. Those of us who’ve been in the “not really a sign girl” category have a bit of a learning curve to deal with.
We did find parking at the train station. On a weekday that station can easily reach capacity, but it was a weekend. It was surprisingly full for a weekend, but there were spaces. We found an ATM-like machine that said it sold tickets, and I managed to figure out how to buy some. I bought adult tickets for Rob and William when probably they could have had student tickets, but I was in no frame of mind to figure out the details. I noticed that at other machines, people were asking other people how to work the machine; this gave me a happy feeling that I could have help if I needed it. No one seemed to be impatient. When I went to another city on a weekday once, the people behind us in line were reaching around and saying, “SIGH, no, like THIS,” which is helpful in its own way but also a little flustering.
There were bathrooms at the subway and we thought we’d better take any chance. In line, a girl started talking to me in a friendly way: “Not as busy as last week!” (she meant the women’s march, I assumed). And I said I hadn’t been there last week but I’d heard it was amazing, and she said “SO AMAZING. But this is looking good too!”
I joined Rob and William in the hall outside the bathrooms, and I suggested my plan: ditch the three pages of subway maps and directions, and do this by the “follow other people who have signs” method. Rob was not a fan of this plan. I persevered, and I was correct: it made the whole thing easy. We knew already which train to get onto at the start, but if we hadn’t known, we could have followed. Then we followed people off that train and onto a different line (i.e., a different train route), and then we followed them when they got off at a stop, and then we followed them down a couple of city blocks, and then we arrived with them at the protest.
I don’t know how many people were there, but “lots.” There were helicopters flying overhead, and I saw overhead photos later and it looks like just hella lots of people. I was glad to find that big crowds don’t freak me out—but if things HAD felt too close, it would have been easy to get more on the outside of the group for more air: most people were trying to get further IN.
We weren’t close enough to be able to hear the main speakers, even though they were REALLY YELLING into a microphone. (The protest was larger than expected, and we were kind of around a corner.) So that was a little boring, to stand there listening to what we couldn’t hear. Periodically the speaker would, apparently, start a familiar chant, and then the crowd would join in. Some of the chants made me feel self-conscious: I am not naturally inclined to yell things that start with “Hey hey! Ho ho!” and then add a rhyming line. But okay, fine, I did some of it. And I liked other chants better. There was one with a very catchy rhythm, almost song-like, where a few really loud people in the crowd would yell “SHOW ME WHAT AMERICA LOOKS LIKE!” and the whole crowd would yell back “THIS IS WHAT AMERICA LOOKS LIKE!” and I kept getting choked up. …It’s a lot better when you can hear it. I’ll bet they sing-chant it at all the protests now, so you can hear it if you go.
It felt good to be in a big crowd of people who felt the way I did about the situation. That is just always going to feel nice.
It was fun to see all the signs: there were a lot of good/funny/clever ones.
I’d wondered how we’d know it was over, and whether there’d be a mad dash for the trains. The way we knew it was over was that someone with a really loud voice said “Thank you all for coming, be safe!” and there was some cheering and then we all started walking back to the train. Probably there were some people walking briskly to get there ahead of others, but I didn’t have that impression of the crowd as a whole: casual strolling, lots of chatting. We were able to get onto the first train that arrived after we did, though it ended up being crammed full—but the subway had arranged extra trains, so there was another one coming along in 2 minutes and another one coming 2 minutes after that. It felt as if everyone (police, subway) was VERY familiar with how to deal with the extra crowds, no big deal, all in a day’s work.
I would have been more nervous about the packed-full trains (we are STANDING UP on a moving vehicle and all crammed together with strangers), but everyone else was so yawningly chill about it (reading paperback while swaying, or chatting with someone else, or literally yawning while looking out the window) and that calmed me. Also, in both directions I was right next to someone holding a sweet, calm, well-behaved little dog in their arms, and in both cases the owner said it was okay to pet the dog’s soft little ears, so in both cases I did. A calm soft dog ear is even better than a worry stone.
I was glad I’d gone. And I felt so much better getting the first one done: for me the worst part is not knowing how things will go and not knowing how to handle all the logistics. Even if the next protest I go to is in a completely different location, I’ve still learned a lot of the basics and will be much less nervous next time. And when you are in a very low-power situation, it is nice to be able to say you DID do some of the things you COULD do.