Going to protests/marches alone and social anxiety
February 14, 2015 9:32 AM   Subscribe

There are a lot of protests and marches I would like to attend, but none of my friends are interested in going.

There are a lot of protests and marches I would like to attend, but none of my friends are interested in going. So a couple times in the past few years I have been going by myself. It feels sort of weird but at the same time, not having anyone to go with is no excuse for not going. At the same time, I find being alone in a huge crowd can be very overwhelming (even if it's not at a protest, I find being alone in a big crowd for any sort of event to sometimes cause anxiety or claustrophobia).
Does anyone have experience with this, or tips on how to make the best of this situation? Basically, I attend these events alone, but often end up with lots of anxiety and stress and it takes a long time to come down afterwards.
posted by winterportage to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds to me like it's past time to make some new acquaintances, if not new friends, that share those values and beliefs. I'm sure you chat with people while you're there - build on those connections.
posted by stormyteal at 10:24 AM on February 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Are there other ways to support the causes you believe in? Local office political candidates whose campaigns you can volunteer for? City council meetings where citizen comment on these issues could matter?

These might be lower-intensity (but possibly every bit as effective!) methods of getting your voice heard. Plus, you are likely to meet other politically engaged people who might go with you tto protests when they happen.
posted by nat at 10:32 AM on February 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

are there any social organizations you are interested in joining, even just casually? often times, these organizations will have an official presence at a march or protest, and you can walk with them, carry their banner, etc. It's an easy way of feeling a sense of belonging, and also easy to meet people who have similar interests.
posted by andreapandrea at 10:52 AM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

It is not a good idea for you to go to protests alone. If you still insist on doing it, make certain that people know where you are and what time you are due back home. Have your identification written in permanent marker on your arm. Things can get ugly fast at a protest. You are right to be uncomfortable going alone.

Perhaps it is time to evaluate why you are going in the first place. Have an open dialog with your most trusted friends and get their opinion on these protests. It could be that you are being led off a good path and your friends are silently protesting your leaving by not joining in. Perhaps they can suggest something that you can all do together to help whatever cause it is that you are trying to support.
posted by myselfasme at 11:02 AM on February 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Is there a local group supporting your causes? Our local Quaker and Unitarian-Universalist churches are very politically active in social justice issues, and often travel by bus together to march/protest. Also check Meetup for some like-minded folks.
posted by apparently at 11:15 AM on February 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding joining an organization marching in the group. I understand that for the Climate march in NY you could join all sorts of subgroups and march with them (bikers, artists, teachers for climate change, etc), or you could sign up to be a volunteer at the march. It's a great way to meet new friends that share your interests for future marches

You could start off now by joining a relevant meetup group and inspiring a group from there to go.

Once I went to a march alone because I was visiting a foreign city and I wanted to document it. Another time my bf at the time had to leave halfway through and I wanted to stay and take more pictures. I don't know of a photographer who doesn't mind going to a march alone. I'd assume that's the best way to work. So if all else fails and you want to go alone, just take your camera and make a project out of it.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 11:48 AM on February 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

It is not a good idea for you to go to protests alone. If you still insist on doing it, make certain that people know where you are and what time you are due back home. Have your identification written in permanent marker on your arm. Things can get ugly fast at a protest. You are right to be uncomfortable going alone.

Whoa, calm down. There are protests and there are protests. Most marches are calm and peaceful. At some events, there can be a small subset of black bandana'd types who the cops try to rile up, but anyone with a lick of common sense can avoid such confrontations if they want to.
posted by the_blizz at 12:10 PM on February 14, 2015 [16 favorites]

Arrive late and stick to the edge of the crowd. Or look for smaller protests to attend.
posted by serena15221 at 1:30 PM on February 14, 2015

In the beginning, I basically always went to protests alone, though I did go as a sort-of member of a group I identified with--where I basically didn't know anyone. Even then, it is pretty common to lose track of friends during a protest and end up alone anyway.

Protests like almost no other occasion I can think of are a bonding experience with strangers. I have often found myself meeting people, talking with them, or even walking arm in arm with someone as a sort of temporary protest friendship. I am not really an outgoing or ultra-friendly person--these sorts of things just tend to happen in protests. So GO, totally GO.

Obviously keep your eyes and ears open--if there are rumors of difficulty or violence, do your best to stay clear. If the police seem tense, be extra friendly to them and most generally stay out of the rear or front of any protest unless you are with a tight group of people you know well. If you see a bunch of black bloc types (dressed in all black and masks), let them go their way and, again, stay clear. (Basically, if someone breaks a window, you walk calmly and don't run in a sideways direction away. This is obviously very rare, but it does happen.)

Definitely carry ID and dress comfortably with good walking shoes. Don't carry a purse, and know that even a backpack can sometimes be a hindrance or target. Never carry a weapon. Be prepared psychologically and financially for the idea that you might accidentally get arrested, but in most cases you will be given ample opportunity to avoid such a thing.

By the way, I think protests are exhilarating but yes often exhausting. I think it's normal to find them a bit overwhelming. Best case, you meet people and go out for a beer afterwards. The way to manage that is never feel like you have to commit to walking every step of the way. Many people just come for a bit and leave, and you don't need to feel one bit of guilt for popping in and popping out if you want to. (I find this much harder if it's like a five-person protest, but even there, it's normal to have a limited time to be present.)

Basically, I've always found protests to be a fine way to make new friends or acquaintances.
posted by RedEmma at 1:49 PM on February 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

By the way, I'd bet at least half of any protest is made up of people who've come alone.
posted by RedEmma at 1:51 PM on February 14, 2015

I have the same problem. The best thing I found that sometimes helps is to find out who the organizers are ahead of time (I am only comfortable doing this if a legitimate organization is organizing i.e. Planned Parenthood or similar). I contact the organizers and just tell them my situation. So far everyone has been happy to meet me at the site and have me hang out near them. I have even been put to work passing out info which helped me feel better, I didn't feel like I was so obviously alone and on my own. Also, I'm not super good at this myself, but once another girl who was alone came up to me and just started chatting, by tacit agreement we became each others protest buddies for the day, we had lunch together (it was a protest at the state capitol and the organizers provided bag lunches) and hung out for the rest of the day. Maybe if you are not crazy shy (like I am) try chatting with some other folks who seem to be there alone. At least you have something instantly in common.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:36 PM on February 14, 2015

I used to go to protests alone all the time, including a rather major and long-running one you've probably heard of, but now I can't because it turns out they were full of people I wanted to be friends with and now even if I show up by myself, I'm never alone for long.

It's rare, in my experience, for an organized protest or march to take on a true mob mentality. That is, even if the crowd seems like a seething cohesive group, if you look around you'll find pockets of people talking or singing/dancing/drumming or just staying out of the worst of the weather. Hang with those people. They probably don't all know one another (well), and even if they do, they're used to meeting sympathetic strangers. Social boundaries can be a lot lower when you already know that the other people agree with you about at least one thing.
posted by teremala at 2:56 PM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Volunteer to steward. The more experience you gain, the more valuable you'll be as a steward.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:08 PM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

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