Jordan Uhl was swamped. The idea he had floated on Twitter last month for a modest demonstration had transformed into the highly publicized March for Truth, and in weeks, thousands of people were expected to descend on the nation’s capital.
His notion had become a full-fledged protest, and with it came logistics he had never considered: a stage, speakers, portable toilets, stage marshals, permits and more.
He had no idea how to plan a demonstration, let alone pull off a major event with satellite marches throughout the country.
But, he said, he received a divine Facebook message from a little-known group called the D.C. Local Ambassadors that said it would plan the entire demonstration for him — free.
D.C. Local Ambassadors formed after the Women's March on Washington to aid progressive activists who were planning protests in the nation's capital. Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the National Park Service — which handles permitting for demonstrations on federal land — said as of late May the agency had fielded 25 percent more permit requests this year than at the same time last year.
As more progressive activists emerge in Washington during the Trump presidency, D.C. Local Ambassadors was established to help novices plan their protests.
The group, comprised of mostly women, all volunteers who live in the Washington region, handled nearly all of the logistics for the March for Truth, training and providing volunteers to ensure everything went smoothly on June 3, the day of the protest.
“It was just a lifesaver,” Uhl said. “They coordinated everything that I was losing sleep over and stressing out about.”
Laura Sanders, one of the founding members of the group who recently left her job in international development at USAID, said she and three other founders first worked together while volunteering for the Women’s March on Washington in January. As local residents, their jobs were to ensure protesters visiting from out of town found their way to Metro stations and buses. They also were on the ground on the day of the march, communicating any issues with the proper officials.
After the historic march, Sanders and the group wanted to remain involved in the city’s robust activism scene and quickly discovered a void: There were no comprehensive resources for people to figure out how to plan a protest that projects the intended message while also adhering to federal and city guidelines.
“We were really surprised that there really isn’t anything out there telling you things like how big of a stage you need and how you estimate crowd sizes,” said Sanders, 39. “We are trying to see how we can make protesting in D.C. the most accessible for the biggest number of people.”
The group has about 15 core members and 800 people on its mailing list. At the March for Truth, it provided about 100 volunteers wearing red vests throughout the day. D.C. Local Ambassadors trained the volunteers in de-escalation techniques and crowd-control protocols.
“Supporting marches with volunteers is one of the main reasons we exist,” said Megan Mamula, 37, a D.C. resident whose background is also in international development.
The group is still honing its mission, and still learning the ins-and-outs of what it takes to plan an effective protest. They want to be able to provide anything a group needs to plan a successful protest. If an organizer needs volunteers, they hope to provide them. If the organizer wants someone to take the lead on logistics, then the D.C. Local Ambassadors say they want to step in and do that, too.
Eventually, they want to publish a guide on how to plan a protest in Washington that will help people navigate government agencies and other logistics.
“We have this local expertise, and this skill set that we can offer,” said Kelley Gallagher, a 38-year-old federal government worker who lives in the District.
Members range in age from mid-20s to late 60s. They have no funding, and use the budget of the demonstration they are working on to help plan it free of charge.
They meet weekly and say they are working on a few marches that are in the nascent planning stages, including one focused on health care.
Most of the members said they have always been politically engaged but had little experience in activism before the Women’s March.
Uhl, the organizer of the March for Truth, said the volunteers have shown they can throw a well-organized, legally sound protest.
“It would have been a disaster without them,” he said.