So, you're going to the March for Life in Washington DC. What's it like? How do you prepare? What should you be ready for?
I have been a few times, and here are some things I wish I had known (or wish others had known) before my first trip.
1. Dress warmly.
This might seem like a given. After all, it's January is Washington DC. Who wouldn't dress warmly? Let me tell you, you will never meet so many ill-prepared people in your entire life. People without hats, without gloves, without scarves. Some people even come without a coat! It's cold. It's windy. And, there aren't a ton of places to get out of the cold. Even if you know of one, you might not be able to get to it or you might have to walk quite a distance.
When dressing, layers are your friend. We often forget about our legs in our daily lives. They will get just as cold as everything else. Snow/ski pants are a great idea. If you have long underwear, put them under your jeans. If not, a pair or two of leggings will do. Wear thick socks or wear two pairs (or both!) and wear waterproof boots. Even if it isn't actively snowing it will be muddy and you can't always avoid stepping in a puddle. Wear several layers on your top half with a warm coat over it all (NOT a pea coat or a heavy sweatshirt, an actual waterproof winter coat). Add a heavy scarf (long and heavy enough to wrap around your face), warm hat, and thick gloves. You should be good to go!
If you're not used to northern climates, don't underestimate how exhausting, miserable, and even dangerous cold can be. You might think, "I don't want to spend money on a coat, I'll be fine." Trust me. You will not be fine. You will be many things, but fine will not be one of them. If you don't want to spend tons of money on a new coat, check out online thrift stores. You could even wait until you get in the area and look around, but then you're running the risk of not finding something in time. Don't worry about fashion, just bundle up.
Another fun thing can be those warmers you can activate and stick in your pockets. Cold hands are no fun. You can also get electric socks if you really want to, but layering should do the trick. I also recommend carrying an extra pair of thick socks in your bag. If you do get mud/snow/water in your boots you'll need them.
2. Bring a blanket for the trip home.
Even with all of your awesome layering you'll be chilled at the end of your trip. Once your car or the bus warms up you'll want a soft blanket to snuggle into.
3. Bring a battery pack for your cell.
Last year, my phone died within fifteen minutes of being out of the bus. It just gave up the ghost. Not a big deal, because I was with two friends with phones, but it could have been scary to be in a crowd like that all alone with no way to connect with my group. This year, a fully charged battery pack and an extra cord are coming with me.
4. Bring a buddy.
There will be hundreds of thousands of people there, but without someone you know you will be alone. Sure, people are friendly, but if you're trying to get back to your car or the bus you came in on you'll want a friend. Not to mention, you need someone watching out for you (so does your buddy!). It's easy to get lost in a crowd that huge. If you're going on a bus stay with your group or buddy up with at least one other person. You can even be dorky and get matching hats!
5. Realize not all pro-lifers are the same.
You will meet ALL KINDS of people at the March for Life. Not everyone will look like you, act like you, sound like you, or even worship like you. Attend with an open mind, you'll learn something and probably even make some new friends!
6. Bring extra water, snacks, and more water.
Food is expensive and not always easy to get to you. The crowd can be downright oppressive, and it can be so closely packed you might not be able to move. As you're marching you may not even notice that you're thirsty, but your body needs water. Stay hydrated. Carry some with you and leave more on your bus or in your car. Not to be gross, but if you're not peeing you're not drinking enough.
7. Be prepared for crowds.
I love people, I love crowds, and I love pro-life. That being said, there were times I started to feel a little panicky in the press. If you have limited mobility, small children, PTSD, claustrophobia, or just a plain dislike for crowds you'll need to be very thoughtful. It is easy to end up somewhere you can't even take a step.
8. Don't be dumb.
You'll be closely packed, right? And, of course, pro-lifers are amazing people. However, you will be in a strange city in a huge crowd. There will be people happy to take advantage of your inattention or your poorly secured valuables. Don't carry anything with you that you can't afford to lose. Keep an eye on your cell phone and confirm periodically that you still have it. Leave the fancy jewelry, extra credit cards, and other unnecessary items at home. Last year, I found a cell phone dangerously close to a mud puddle and, like any good samaritan, picked it up. I figured it would ring eventually and I could arrange with the owner to meet him/her and return it. I carried it for hours. It did not ring. As we were leaving I turned it over to a police officer. Not everyone is as kind or honest as I am, so keep an eye on your stuff.
9. Plan ahead.
What do you want to see? Which speakers do you want to hear? Which of your reps do you want to connect with? If you're driving, where will you park? How much will it cost? If you're on a bus, where are you meeting? If not there, what's the backup plan? Do you have cell numbers of leaders on your bus? Make a plan and stick with it! I am a fan of just wandering around but DC is huge, especially if you're on foot, and it is easy to spend a lot of time and energy without actually getting anywhere. Check out the March for Life's website to find out what's happening.
10. Plan for the worst.
One year, it was so cold they cut down on the outdoor actitvities because of fear of frostbite. The same year, the snowfall on the way home was so bad many buses and cars were stranded. If you're traveling, especially if you're not used to winter weather, be prepared to be stuck. This is when your extra water, snacks, and blanket will come in handy.
What if you lose your bus? Make sure you have a plan to contact the leader on your bus. They won't leave without you, but they need to be able to find you. If you or someone in your group has a health concern (diabetes, allergy, etc) know who and how to handle it if they get in trouble. Does that seem like a total drag? Maybe. But, it's better to have a plan and not need it.
Don't forget to have fun!
Finally? Remember to have fun! The March for Life is AMAZING. If you are ready for it, you will love it. It is wonderful to see how many people in our nation are dedicated to protecting the unborn. I hope to see you there!
After the March for Life is over you'll want to do something more to stay engaged. Check out my new curriculum on my website. Start a Bible study at your church or in your community. Let's keep the momentum going!