Health

A Guide to Protesting Without Wearing Yourself Down

I can’t lie: Protesting made my bones ache.
February 3, 2017, 3:17pm

Trump's first week in office has left most of the world stunned (and much of us enraged). From the Women's March to the Muslim ban protests last weekend, everyday people are mobilizing in numbers that the country hasn't seen for a long time.

Last weekend I was among the throngs of people who attended their first protest. Ever. When news of the travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries broke, a deep sense of dread seeped into my bones, seemingly setting fire to each one. Legal American residents with green cards were being detained, senior citizens denied their medicines, a five-year-old was reportedly separated from his mother for hours.

As a Muslim-American, my identity and my community's beliefs have been under attack for most of my adult life and I was finally sick of it. I put on my warmest layers and Ubered (the app has since been deleted from my phone, and it seems like the movement took) and headed down to the Brooklyn courthouse just in time to witness Judge Ann M. Donnelly sock it to our Commander-in-Chief.

But just two hours of protesting out in New York's unforgiving January weather had me blowing on my fingers to keep them warm as I coped with wobbly legs from barely eating all day. As a novice protester, I had no idea what to expect and didn't have time to prepare.

Staying woke isn't an easy job. Our bodies and minds need proper vetting (see what I did there?) in order to cooperate with our passionate hearts. And judging from the way things are going, the protests, marches, and general civil unrest isn't ending anytime soon, so this won't be the last time I take to the streets.

Before you get out there to fight the good fight, you need to prepare and take care of yourself so you can continue to stand up for the things that are important to you.

Fuel up.
News sources and friends shared stories of kind-hearted souls delivering pizza and biryani to protesters around the country last weekend. But social justice warrior bodies don't magically change overnight: we still need to follow proper nutrition practices.

"The best types of foods to eat are ones that will provide lasting energy while keeping blood sugars stable," says Lisa Moskovitz, nutritionist and founder of New York Nutrition Group. She advises combining lean protein (such as eggs, yogurt, fish, or chicken) with high-fiber fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains like oats, and brown rice.

Portable items that are easy to pack include nuts, fresh or dried fruits, string cheese, granola, peanut butter on whole wheat english muffin, bran cereal packed in baggie—and of course, water (scout bathrooms locations out early). Starchy, sugary, carby goodness like bagels, croissants, pizza won't help you that much.

"These foods will give you a surge of energy for a short while and then you will crash quickly after. High-carb or starchy foods are comforting and do provide a quick source of energy but aren't ideal for long-lasting energy or proper digestion," Moskovitz says.

Protect your vocal cords.
One of the most awe-inspiring and comforting things about protesting is joining in the chants. Normally an outspoken person, I was timid at first, since I rolled solo to my first protest, but when I eventually joined in, I was immediately immersed in a sea of solidarity. But it also made me super hoarse.

"Using your voice is like any other physical activity; the more you use it and the more intense you use it—like when shouting and yelling—the more likely it is to fatigue or become damaged," explains Aaron M. Johnson, otolaryngologist and assistant professor at NYU Voice Center. Here are his top tips on preserving your voice:

1. Your breath is the energy that drives your voice, so if you want to be louder use more breath and not your throat. If you feel yourself pushing or straining with the muscles in your throat, you're more likely to damage your voice.

2. Pace yourself. Taking short vocal breaks throughout the day before a protest (or being completely silent) can help your voice rest and last longer. And during, chant every other repetition or only one part of a call-and-response chant. Remember any extended voice use (talking, shouting, singing) can lead to fatigue.

3. Just like an athlete going out for a long run, it's good to both warm up and cool down your voice before and after extended use. There are many vocal exercises, but one of my favorites is sustaining an "ooo" through a straw, first on a single note, then sliding up and down in pitch. Here is a video demonstrating the exercise.

4. Practice general vocal hygiene—non-vocal behaviors that can help or hurt your voice. Some common advice is to drink plenty of water, avoid smoking or other inhaled irritants, keep acid reflux under control, and avoid coughing and clearing your throat. While all these are good ideas, how and how much you use your voice is ultimately more important for your vocal health.

Or you can buy a megaphone. But if you do, see below for crowd etiquette.

Wear clothes that protect your body and your politics.
I dashed out of the house in my favorite yoga leggings, white tee, fleece-lined hoodie, puffer coat and knee-high flat boots. And my fingers and toes were absolutely freezing.

I clearly didn't think things through, but depending on the season and where you are in the world, comfort must take absolutely priority. Everything from your base layers (T-shirts, tanks, tops) to your shoes should take into account that you'll be standing and walking for hours. Amnesty International suggests wearing comfortable shoes you can run in, and sunglasses or regular glasses—they don't recommend wearing contacts in case there's tear gas.

"I find the longest kameez (long shirt) or kurta and jeans with comfortable flat shoes as my go-to protest wear. The kameez is comfortable and allows me to express my South Asian Muslim background," says activist Chaumtoli Huq.

Prime your body.
I can't lie: Protesting made my bones ache.

"It's likely you've been feeling many different emotions leading up to this moment, so take a moment to notice what you're feeling emotionally, mentally, and physically," says Anna Guest-Jelly, author of Curvy Yoga: Love Yourself & Your Body A Little More Each Day. Before you head out for a full day of social justice activities, take some time to stretch out with Guest-Jelly's recommended yoga stretches.

"From seated or standing, bring your hands to your hips. Inhale and lift your sternum, or breastbone, coming into a gentle backbend. Exhale and tuck your chin to your chest while rounding your back, coming into a gentle forward bend. Come back to center, then on an inhale, twist to the right, exhaling back to center. Repeat on the left," instructs Guest-Jelly.

When in full-on protest mode, she recommends taking the time to roll your shoulders, stretch your neck from side to side, and otherwise move your body so it doesn't get too tight in any one position.

Engage in proper crowd etiquette.
I mean, it's simple really. Don't shove. Don't push. Don't be an asshole. If there's a focal point, make sure you're not constantly blocking people from it. Don't hog the possibly toxic but mercifully heat-producing street grate.

"It's quite amazing that folks do walk together, knowing it's crowded. We really are in this together," says Huq.

Post-protest moves are important, too—mentally and physically.
"You've given your love and energy to the world. Now, turn that back to yourself so you can refill your own reserves and be ready to show up again," says Guest-Jelly. She suggests stretching out tense muscles in order to release the pressure of a high-stress atmosphere.

"Lie down and bring your legs onto a chair seat or couch to give your legs a break…Roll onto your back, letting your lower legs come onto the chair seat. Once in position, make any adjustments you might like to rest comfortably, then return to your deep breaths for a few rounds before letting yourself simply breathe and be."