I’m standing off to the side, watching a standoff between police and protestors. My shirt is dripping with sweat, and my arm hurts from the bottles of water. I’ve been carrying them for the last two miles. One of the police officers stares at me, and I know he’s committing me to memory.
I walk up to one group of protestors. They’re standing in a tight ball, expressions angry and fearful. I hand them water. “Here,” I say. “You look thirsty.” They take the water, and for a moment the tension eases. They look at the word, hand-lettered on my shirt – “CareBear.”
“Thank you,” one says. The relief in the air is palpable.
I nod and look over at my partner, G. G is over next to another group, handing them water as well. We’re doing well, on mission, and so are the other CareBears in the crowd. Our mission is to help protestors, but also de escalate.
CareBears go where they’re needed, bringing food, first aid supplies, water, and deescalation tactics. Protest is perhaps the most holy of civil rights; I’m here, along with other CareBears, to help support it. We go from the most vanilla of protests to where the fire is hottest, toting supplies and relief along the way. I’ve learned that sometimes the simplest of tactics, like handing someone a bottle of water, can break the spell of fear and anger and bring them to a place of peace. It’s a distraction; it’s a chance to regain equilibrium. Calm people react better than scared and angry ones.
Why It Matters
CareBear training, along with deescalation training, is provided through the DC DMV De-escalation Collective. “From experience, we know that communities using their resources to meet people’s needs is what truly creates safety. De-escalation skills and practices equip us to create moments of calm in tense situations, in which people can make choices to resolve conflicts and increase safety. We believe strongly that communities can (and already do) cultivate these skills to solve conflicts and mitigate harms, and are committed to building resources to share those skills,” their Facebook page reads.
While the organization doesn’t publicize the number of people trained, it’s having a real impact. Organizations such as SURJ Northern Virginia (Standing Up for Racial Justice) have announced sessions and encouraged members to attend. With protests in Washington, DC topping 107,000 attendees, according to the New York Times, it’s needed.
CareBears emphasize community safety: “who keeps us safe? We keep us safe!” It’s an organizational method that others can adopt. When there are people to keep the people safe, protests as a whole are safer.