How to Keep Your Kids Safe and Informed at a Protest

Sharity Holley’s daughter participating in a recent peaceful protest in Over-the-Rhine.

Photograph by Sharity Holley

Protesters have been demonstrating in Cincinnati and across the country to voice their outrage over systemic racism and the death of George Floyd, who died on May 25 when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Although these gatherings remain mostly peaceful, reports of violence started by protesters and the police have kept those who would otherwise join at home—especially parents with young children.

Camp Washington resident Sharity Holley has been taking her children to protests since her oldest, now 23, was in a stroller. “We talk about the situation, and I ask them what their thoughts and feelings are, and I tell them that it’s OK to have different opinions than myself,” Holley says. “That’s where our conversation usually starts. I’d never ask my 13-year-old to march for something they don’t agree with, but I do make activism part of my kids’ teenage years.”

Over the years, she’s picked up a few tricks that help ensure her family is comfortable and safe while protesting. These tips can help any anyone planning to attend an upcoming event or protest, such as the Juneteenth celebration at Inwood Park on Friday, June 19, which Holley assumes will draw counter-protestors, or the protest at the Hamilton County Courthouse that’s scheduled for 3 p.m. the same day.

What to Bring

Holley has what she calls resource bags, packed full of necessities. This isn’t a comprehensive list of what’s inside, but here are a few important items:

  • Extra face masks and hand sanitizer
  • Saline solution and an eyewash made from baby shampoo and water
  • Ponchos
  • Sunscreen and aloe gel packs for sunburn
  • Bug repellent
  • Portable phone chargers
  • Ibuprofen and Tylenol in liquid- and pill-forms
  • Hydration packets and bottles of water
  • Snacks and soda
  • Extra socks and gloves
  • Pads, tampons, baby wipes, and diapers
  • Clean and empty zipper storage bags
  • Eucalyptus oil (if someone faints, this can help wake them up)
  • $20 bill
  • A small laminated card Holley made for each of her underage children, which includes the same identifying information found on a state ID
  • A first aid kit

“Everyone has enough supplies to care for other people, but they’ve also been taught to care for themselves first,” Holley says.

How to Stay Safe

When her younger children are attending, Holley will choose protests that are during daylight hours. She teaches her children to have multiple exit routes, and she also chooses protests that are easier to exit. For example, a Washington Park protest is likely safer than one at the courthouse, which is more confined, she says.

Despite her precautions, Holley and her family have been exposed to tear gas while protesting, so she teaches her children how to properly use goggles and wash their eyes out.

Using a permanent marker, Holley writes her and her husband’s phone numbers on her children’s abdomens, where it’s less likely to smear off due to sweat or sunscreen. She also teaches her children to stick to the edges of a crowd and dresses them in brightly colored T-shirts.

She also changes the screen savers on their phones to a message that says Call my mom in an emergency, with Holley’s name and number and her doctor’s phone number. She turns on the location-tracking setting, and she doesn’t let her children use their phones while protesting so they can be more alert to their surroundings.

A Teaching Moment

The lessons Holley teaches her children vary based on their age. For example, she recently focused on protest chants for her 3-year-old. “He thinks putting your hands up in the air is cute, and at the protest, he’d giggle and put his hands up,” she says. But when the group would chant Hands up, don’t shoot, she says he’d be confused by the second half, because he’s been taught that guns are bad.

“I had to teach them that saying I can’t breathe is serious. You don’t joke about that. You don’t ever use that in a funny way,” Holley says. “There are a lot of conversations that are just going to have to be had continuously as he grows up. When someone says Hands up, don’t shoot, we don’t laugh. We’ve gotten that point through to him so far.”

The lessons for her 13-year-old, meanwhile, are more intense. At a recent protest at Washington Park, one of the featured speakers was Audrey DuBose, whose son Samuel DuBose was shot and killed by University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing in 2015.

“That was really hard for all of us,” Holley says. “We had to have a very serious conversation afterwards as to what would happen if somebody hurt her stepdad or her dad [who are both black]. It was the first real time she associated [racial violence] with something happening to her own parents or to her siblings.”

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