I was 22 when I went to my first protest. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision.
I had just gotten off work and remembered that a Black Lives Matter march was happening near my apartment. It was late and I was tired from being on my feet for seven hours, but I still wanted to go. Black Lives Matter stood for things that mattered more than the pain in my legs.
The march was loud and crowded but inspiring. Everyone around me was filled with passion. You could see it on their faces and hear it in their voices as they chanted. I was proud to be there, proud to stand with them and take the time to shout that things need to change.
And then the tear gas came out.
Instantly, things went sour. People got rowdy, police started shouting and a tear-gas bomb went off a few yards from me. I felt like things were getting out of hand so I speed-walked back to my apartment two blocks away and watched from the safety of my balcony as helicopters flew overheard, authorities ordering protesters to disperse.
It was an exciting 20 minutes.
I’m still glad I went to the protest. It felt good to stand up for something I believed in, even if it was only briefly.
Still, there are things I wish I’d known beforehand. And things you should make sure your teenagers know before they start protesting.
On March 14, a month after the high-school massacre in Parkland, Florida, there will be a nationwide protest for gun control.
Arranged by Women’s March Youth Empower, the youth branch of the Women’s March group, the protest encourages students, faculty and staff to walk out of their schools for 17 minutes to honor the 17 young people killed in the shooting.
If your teen plans to take part of the protest, here are things to talk about:
It takes a lot more than passion and a cleverly worded sign to be prepared for a protest. Attending should not be a spontaneous decision. Before your teens participate in one, make sure they have:
- Their ID and a printed copy
- Any medical bracelets they might need
- A fully charged cellphone (and a backup battery if they have one)
- Water bottle
- Swimming goggles (they can help protect your eyes from tear gas)
Talk about what they plan to wear while protesting. As someone who went to a march in sandals after a five-hour retail shift, I can tell you that proper footwear and clothing are essential. Sneakers and layers always.
Make sure they’re not planning to go alone. It’s always better to go with a group, in terms of both safety and enjoyment. Remind them to pick a meet-up spot if things get out of hand.
In case they lose their phone, they should have a contact number written on their arm and covered in sealant so it won’t wipe away.
BE AWARE OF THE SURROUNDINGS
One way to keep your children safe at a protest is to go with them. But organizers of the walkout have asked people not directly affiliated with a school to stay away for security reasons.
Make sure your teenager knows when to pack it up and head home. Watch for rising tensions, destruction of property and any kind of physical violence. These are signs that the protest is turning into a riot and they should leave. Passions will be running high. Remind them to stay calm and not escalate the situation.
Emphasize: There’s no shame in leaving if they don’t feel safe.
CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION
After marching and demanding change, it can be easy to feel like you’ve accomplished something, but the truth is you haven’t.
After the protest, talk with your teenagers about other ways they can wield influence. Remind them they can reach out to their legislators, speak at town-hall meetings and start clubs to continue fighting for the things they care about.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, URGE YOUR TEENS TO VOTE.
Ask about their plans to register. Offer to take them yourself. A lot of emphasis is placed on presidential elections, but local elections matter just as much. Encourage your teenager to keep the momentum rolling by get involved as soon as they can.