The power of protest and pool noodles

Trainees learn how to be safe and lawful in non-violent protest


Photo by Clara Neupert

A trainee endures 60 seconds of being repeatedly hit with a pool noodle to test her patience.

When the first pool noodle struck the student, she jumped as the colorful foam tube made repetitive thud-thud sounds on her back.

After a minute, she uncurled herself, straightened her shirt and rose without so much as a scratch. She was silent, but her face revealed that she was deep in thought.

Rohingya in Myanmar. Arab Spring. Stonewall. Kent State. Freedom Riders. Those who partook  in the pool noodle demonstration discussed moments in history — moments filled with adversity and perseverance.

If you cannot withstand being beaten with pool noodles for 60 seconds, said Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, a history professor at UW-Eau Claire, you will not be able to face anyone who will combat you at a peaceful protest turned violent.

Last Thursday, the UW-Eau Claire College Democrats invited Ducksworth-Lawton to provide student-sponsored, non-violent protest training for students, faculty and Eau Claire community members. The training took place from 5-7 p.m. in Ojibwe Room A in W.R. Davies Student Center.

Ducksworth-Lawton is also the vice president of Uniting Bridges of Eau Claire, a charitable organization for civil rights, social action and advocacy. She has experience being an activist for gay rights and marriage equality. Today, she is a civil rights and military historian.

“We want our students to be lawful, to be peaceful, to be disciplined and to know how to effectively make their voices heard,” Ducksworth-Lawton said.

Reed White, vice chair of UW-Eau Claire College Democrats and the Northwest regional director of the College Democrats of Wisconsin, helped put the event together.

“We want people to be able to protest, to be able to march, if that’s what’s necessary to do,” said White.

Ducksworth-Lawton conducted the training with the help of pool noodles, a slide show and constructive conversation.

Lt. Jay Dobson, from the Eau Claire campus police force, and Chief Gerald Staniszewski, from the city of Eau Claire police force, were also present. They outlined the campus and city laws that preside over the act of protest.

Despite the playful appearance of the pool noodle exercise, the training was somber and safety-oriented.

“I do not teach protest as a fun activity … I teach it as a very serious activity,” said Ducksworth-Lawton. “Protesting is powerful in moving our country toward that ideal of having inalienable rights for all.”

People in attendance did feel the prospect of power in protest. They listened attentively and didn’t hesitate to join the discussion and the demonstration.

“I think it’s important that a group of us (can) get together and show that we know what’s going on in the world,” said Jake McGuire, chair of UW-Eau Claire College Democrats and Communications Director for the College Democrats of Wisconsin. “We have these opinions, we can talk about them, and we can do it without causing a riot.”  

The following graphs are some important points regarding protesting said by Ducksworth-Lawton at the training.

On campus, she said, the area for a potential protest must be reserved and a permit must be obtained to use a sound amplifier. Because it disrupts class, no protesting is permitted inside campus buildings. For safety reasons, signs with sticks attached are not to be used.

If you are planning to protest in a park, you must first fill out an online application for an event permit. Remember to keep sidewalks and streets clear while marching. Ducksworth-Lawton told trainees to be aware of the possibility of weapons present.

Wherever you protest, stay non-violent, Ducksworth-Lawton said. Never make physical contact in disagreement and stay safe in numbers. Have lawyers and law enforcement on your side.

Above all, Ducksworth-Lawton said, “protest to change hearts and minds.”  

More information about the code of conduct on Wisconsin university grounds can be found here.  

Read over Eau Claire’s Code of Ordinances about marches and public assemblies in Chapter V, section 9.60.