Practical Advice for Protesters

Anti-Trump protest

More than 200,000 people are expected at Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington.

I’ve lived in DC for two decades and have witnessed countless protests, from the aimless grifters of OccupyDC to the thundering anti-war protests of the George Bush era.

I love taking photos of protesters. It’s real drama on the streets of DC. And while I’m not one to rise up, fist in the air (unless it’s in support of bike lanes), I admire their passion.

Living in DC, it’s easy to be jaded. During the Occupy movement, it was protest du jour, as a couple dozen millennials occupied K Street at rush hour every evening (“Whose streets!” “Our streets!”) while police protected them from a sea of angry drivers. The protests had a ritual quality – the same people, the same slogans, the same protocols until the whole thing fizzled out, the professional left drifting away, leaving McPherson Square a shantytown of broken tents and broken dreams.

Hippie star at Key Bridge protest

But protests can make a difference, as any history of the 1960s will tell you. More importantly, they bring like-minded people together, allowing them to forge stronger connections and partnerships. If you’re a liberal in Oklahoma, a protest like the Women’s March provides affirmation that you’re not alone.

Protest means sacrifice. You’re giving up your time and money to support a cause you believe in. It ain’t easy. And protest in DC, amid the marble columns and soaring monuments, can be thrilling. And exhausting. Here’s some practical advice for protesting in Washington, DC.


U St Metro in black and white

Washington is a complex urban environment, relatively dense, with limited access points. We have a semi-functional subway system, some commuter rail and are surrounded by highways in perpetual gridlock. Complicating things, there’s a river on one side. And chunks of the city, like around the Capitol and White House, are closed to the public.

Don’t expect to drive anywhere near this mess. Take Metro, a bus or a bike. Leave early and give yourself plenty of time.

The good news is that Washington is a walkable city. You can walk from the White House to the Lincoln Memorial in fifteen minutes.

Also, the scale on the Metro map is deceptive. The stations downtown are closer than they appear. It’s only a couple blocks from Metro Center to Gallery Place. If you’re coming to the Women’s March, use the stations off the Mall, like Archives and Federal Triangle to avoid the crowds.

Bikes aren’t allowed in the exclusion zone during Inauguration Weekend. Which is a pity, because they’re the best way to get around the city. Capital Bikeshare is the city’s bikesharing system and it’s cheap and easy.

Circulator in the snow

The Circulator buses are also a great way to get around. The fare is a $1 and the routes are pretty straightforward.


Joggers and walkers by the Lincoln Memorial

You’re going to be walking! Wear comfortable shoes. The day of the march is not the day to break in a new pair. No one cares what your feet look like.

Bring food and water. Around the monuments, your food options are limited. If you’re lucky, you can get a hot dog from a stand. Pack some snacks. Also, all the water fountains on the Mall have been turned off for the winter. Bring water. You’ll get thirsty from marching and chanting.

Dress for the weather. Check the forecast and dress a little warmer than you think you’ll need. You may be outside for hours.


A classic iPhone scene #charging

Ah, the problems of our connected age when we can’t get connected. 100,000 people trying to update Twitter at once is going to tax even the most robust network. Your cellphone may not work in the crowd. Be patient. If you’re meeting people, make plans ahead of time, if possible – don’t count on them being able to reach you.

At some point during the protest, everyone is going to need to recharge their phones. People will peel off, in search of electricity, clustering around outlets like cavemen around a fire. Bring or borrow a portable battery. I like my Jackery portable charger.


Park Police look on

You need an appointment to get arrested in DC. It’s true. The DC police are not going to arrest you during a protest, unless you’re a celebrity who has made previous arrangement with them. It’s a highly choreographed and largely symbolic affair. The city is still paying off plaintiffs from their last mass arrest during a protest so they have no interest in arresting you or anyone else.

The Park Police, however…  Perhaps because they’re least intimidating of DC’s numerous police forces (they have the word park in their name), they tend to be the most aggressive. Nothing they like more than closing monuments and public spaces. Do what they say, even if it’s nonsensical. The same is true for the Capitol Police and the US Secret Service. There are at least 28 separate police forces in DC plus countless rent-a-cops so there will be men with strange uniforms and guns yelling instructions at you.

fenced in at the Washington Monument

Security theater has overwhelmed Washington over the past two decades, stealing space from citizens and making it the private reserve of the nomenklatura. It’s infuriating. And expanding, as the Secret Service slowly takes over the Ellipse and other public spaces around the White House.

They love putting up fences. Fences around monuments. Fences around fountains. Fences protecting other fences. Someone climbed over the fence! Put up another fence!

This absurdity will be at its highest level during the inauguration, as if chain-link could protect us in the era of the drone and missile.

If you’re here for the Women’s March, expect to be funneled through fences, like cattle, and subject to TSA-style search. You won’t be able to get near most of the monuments, either – they’ll be protected by fences, of course.


A picture of me that I actually like

It’s tough to participate in an event and take photos of it. Fortunately, my friends from DC Focused, InstagramDC, ExposedDC and countless local photographers will be there to document the action using #WomensMarch

I’ll be around too, posting photos to my Instagram account and Flickr. Ironically, I’m not a big fan of crowds, so I’ll be on the periphery, where I can easily escape.

Don’t bring much gear! Nothing bigger than a small bag is allowed during the Women’s March.

If you are taking photos, look for details that stand out in the crowd – a red flag, a friendly smile, a cheeky sign.

i'm socially conscious and stuff

Plan B

Planning ahead means having a Plan B. Make sure you have a contingency plan, one that covers events ranging from the annoying to an actual emergency. For example:

  • You get separated from your group and the mobile network goes down. Where will you meet?
  • You’re tired/hungry/cranky. Where will you go for food/water/caffeine?
  • You get anxious in the crowd. How will you get out?
  • An actual emergency occurs. It’s chaos. Where will you go to be safe?

Hint: hotel lobbies make excellent places to hang out if you get lost/bored/tired. If you’re at the Women’s March, go north to Farragut Square and Dupont Circle to find food and shelter. I like the Renaissance Dupont, because they have an Illy cafe there.

Cappuccino Viennese

Trump is determined to bring back many elements of the past. He’s also bringing back the era of the mass protest. The Women’s March is just the first of many.

If you are coming to DC to make your voice heard, plan ahead. And wear comfortable shoes.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost: Election Lessons from Gandalf

White House at nightIf you’re a progressive, these are dark times indeed. You’ve suffered a historic and surprising loss, one that seems to usher in a new age of evil.

Great works of literature, such as The Lord of the Rings, can provide consolation to discouraged liberals in the new Trump universe. Look for hope, not from the east, but in the big books of fantasy. From Gandalf to Aslan, the characters in these imagined worlds endured far worse than a bright orange politician. They took on and defeated enemies who would enslave them. Let their stories be your guide to surviving the Age of Trump.

When it comes to confronting evil, no one is more inspiring than Gandalf the White in The Lord of the Rings. Pulling together an unlikely coalition of misfits, he defeats evil in its purest and most implacable form.

His greatest weapon: hope. As he struggled with the impossible task that was destroying the One Ring, he rallied his companions by saying:

Despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt.

If you’re Gandalf, you fight on, even as you plunge into the pit with a Balrog.

His credo was simple:

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

That means that you do what you can, every day.

Gandalf knew how to deal with a two-faced politician, too. Lock him in a tower. After the treacherous wizard Saruman is defeated by the Ents, Gandalf keeps him trapped in Orthanc. Saruman pleads for release, with words whose very sound was an enchantment:

Those who listened unwearily to that voice could seldom report the words that they had heard; and if they did, they wondered, for little power remained in them. Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to see wise themselves. When others spoke, they seemed harsh and uncouth by contrast; and if they gainsaid the voice, anger was kindled in the hearts of those under the spell.

Saruman possesses the oratory of Ted Cruz. And, like Cruz, he’s taken every side on every issue. He turned evil because evil was going to win. Better to be on the winning side. Gandalf wisely keeps him in Orthanc.

And if Saruman is Cruz then who is his treacherous companion, Grima Wormtongue? He tries to weaken King Théoden of Rohan and nearly succeeds. Playing the role of Wormtongue in the Republican Party would be Newt Gingrich, who sought to discredit the Republican establishment from within. Unlike the Lord of the Rings, the Grand Old Party never woke up from its spell. Rohirrim did not ride to the rescue at the Republican Convention.

C.S. Lewis would argue that great sacrifice is needed to cleanse the world. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where it’s always winter but never Christmas (which feels like Washington today), it takes blood to put things right in this thinly veiled Christian allegory. Perhaps Hillary, like Aslan, should’ve sacrificed her political ambitions and let a more palatable candidate run for office.

George R. R. Martin dismisses these ideas about good and evil. You’re naïve to even think that way and liable to get beheaded if you embrace the hero myth. In the Game of Thrones, you either win or you die. Like Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger, it’s best to look after your own interest, without morals. His scheming and self-interest represent many in Washington.

I prefer the consolation of Gandalf. As progressives enter the political wilderness, remember the words of Greybeard:

Not all those who wander are lost.

In the years before the War of the Ring, Gandalf adventured throughout Middle-Earth, defeating monsters and learning about the people under his protection, from greedy dwarves to breakfast-loving hobbits. He could not become Gandalf the White without the forge of this experience.

From merry wizards to talking lions, the world of fantasy offers consolation to progressives looking into the land of shadow. At the very least, they’ll provide something to read over the next four years.

Five Novels for the Age of Trump

trump jalopy at the CapitolNothing makes sense anymore. You wake up one morning and your country has changed. It seems absurd. Laughable. Yes, America really did elect Donald Trump.

How do you survive this new vulgar age? By reading fiction. According to a recent Time magazine article, books will not only make you smarter, they can provide comfort during a traumatic time. The immersive experience that good books provide is cheap therapy for the disaffected.

Here are five books to help you cope with recent events. Five novels that provide a comic perspective to understanding the Age of Trump.

Super Sad True Love Story

No one is better at identifying a failing and corrupt state than a Soviet emigre. In Super Sad Love Story, Gary Shteyngart draws a portrait of a dystopian New York in the near future. No one works anymore, everyone seeks social media fame and the Chinese are threatening to foreclose on the country. It’s a comic ruin of a book, one that will break your heart while it keeps you laughing. And one that will make you determined that this dystopia never comes to America.

The Nix

Our poisonous politics began during the culture wars of the 1960s, according to the The Nix by Nathan Hill. Hippie vs square, young vs old, liberal vs conservative – it’s a battle that was never resolved and continues to today. In the book, a failed writer puts down the gaming console to discover the mystery of the mother who abandoned him for radical politics.

The Sellout

Racism. That’s the explanation for Clinton’s loss, according to her supporters. It’s America’s original sin. Okay. But what do you next? If you’re the narrator of The Sellout, you decide to reinstitute segregation in your LA neighborhood as an attempt to bring people up. And you keep a slave, one that has forced himself into your service. That the nation is outraged by these efforts is not surprising, as “The Sellout” is brought before the Supreme Court in a tour de force of comic writing. It’s a searing novel that deserves the mother of all trigger warnings but one that contains the tiniest threads of hope for the American project.


What do you do if caught in a world that doesn’t make sense? Thousands of bureaucrats in DC are about to find out, being whiplashed from the soft socialism of Obama to the incoherent populism of Trump. In this WWII novel, Yossiarian finds himself in a system that doesn’t make sense. He’s a bombardier and has to fly dangerous missions. If you’re crazy, you don’t have to fly missions. But being crazy is a rational response to flying missions. Therefore, you’re not crazy and have to keep flying. Catch-22 is a hell of a catch. This novel by Joseph Heller illustrates an absurd system, one instantly recognizable to any federal government employee.

One Hundred Years of Solitude

American politics are tumultuous. But not as tumultuous as Macondo, the fictional world created by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude. The doomed Buendia family suffers war, revolution, murder, magic, dueling, insanity, incest, massacre and a hurricane in this sprawling human comedy. It’s seven generations of suffering, as history repeats itself, going from hope to tragedy. A simple election doesn’t seem so bad by comparison. At least, you’re not being lined up in front of a firing squad, dreaming of ice. Lose yourself in this thick book.

Reading can provide consolation to those suffering trauma. Or at least distraction. Forget the news. Put down the iPhone. Pick up a novel instead. These five books will help you survive the Age of Trump.