If you’re not careful, your next day at the beach may be in the middle of a political rally — or worse
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We’re more than halfway through the year, and it’s safe to say most of us badly need a relaxing beach day right now — a socially distanced one, of course.
Only, this is 2020.
And apparently, that means a day at the beach may be anything but. In fact, in some parts of the country, it’s entirely possible your dreamy stretch of sand may be surrounded by an impromptu political rally — or worse.
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This recently happened to my family, and it was more than just distracting and annoying. It was scary. There were thousands of flags flapping along the shore: political flags, confederate flags, flags emblazoned with automatic riffles saying, “come and take it,” and even banners with vulgar messages.
As we sat by the water that morning, one vehicle after another pulled up, flags blazing. By the afternoon, the beach was swarmed. There were engines revving and music blasting from golf carts, ATVs and trucks, with flags flying all over the beach.
I’ve lived in Texas for most of my life, but we rarely vacation on the Gulf Coast. In the age of social distancing and choosing road trips over passport stamps, however, we thought a nearby beach getaway would be perfect. We chose Crystal Beach, outside of Galveston, prepared for the water to be a bit muddy in color thanks to the inflow from the Mississippi River. But we were wholly unprepared for the informal political rally happening all around us.
What we saw was akin to a rally, and there was a very clear message about who was on the beach that day — and it was clearly implied who wasn’t welcome.
With a Texas hat on over my blonde hair, instead of my rainbow-print cap, I could easily blend into the beachscape. But not everyone could so easily pass under the radar. And simply swapping out hats and laying low in a beach tent didn’t make the display any more pleasant or relaxing.
And it’s not just this one beach, or this particular weekend. It’s a phenomenon on a subset of beaches across the country from the Gulf Coast to lakes in the North. These unscheduled but frequent in-your-face displays are transpiring weekend after weekend. And it’s far more than your standard election-year political preferences on display.
Sure, political pennants are a common fixture among these demonstrations. But vulgarity and racism take center stage.
Had this been a sanctioned political event, it would have likely appeared on a local event or visitors center calendar, and travelers could choose to attend or avoid it altogether. But you won’t find this on any official program.
This type of informal rally didn’t align with my personal views. But even if it was an informal rally for a cause or system I believed in, that doesn’t mean I’d want to be in the middle of that sort of situation while on vacation.
So, if sharing your relaxing beach retreat with an informal rally doesn’t sound ideal, here are some tips for avoiding this type of uncomfortable situation before you book that beach house or pack your beach chairs.
Research beach regulations
While there’s no guarantee that a pedestrian-only beach will prevent a rally from occurring, it probably reduces the odds. So, if you’re looking for a peaceful beach getaway, look for beaches that prohibit vehicles.
At a minimum, any gathering would be restricted by what people can carry on foot, and there won’t be vehicles pulling up to your tent revving their engines with dozens of flags on display.
I can’t believe I have to write this in 2020, but here we are.
The Green Book was a guide designed to help Black travelers determine where to stay, eat and play. It was officially retired in the 1960s, during the Civil Rights movement. There’s no longer a definitive source of places that are — and aren’t — welcoming to a diverse mix of travelers.
But it’s well worth your time to search a travel review site such as Tripadvisor for unfortunate keywords, especially if you’re traveling to a destination known for waving the confederate flag. Had I searched Tripadvisor for reviews of Crystal Beach, I would’ve discovered numerous stories describing similar events to what we witnessed, dating back to 2017. A quick Google search could work, too.
Join Facebook travel groups and ask questions
There are groups on Facebook for almost any type of traveler. In fact, TPG has several of its own, such as TPG Women, TPG Family and the main TPG Lounge. But there’s a massive network of groups on the social site dedicated to specific travel interests and needs.
There are Facebook groups for solo travelers, LGBTQ travelers, Black travelers and more. Find a Facebook group for you, and ask that group to share thoughts or experiences about a destination you’re considering. Leave the question open-ended, or specifically ask if you’ll be comfortable visiting that destination.
For the most part, it seems to be mostly locals (or, at least, regular visitors) who take part in these rallies. They know they’ll happen, plan in advance and show up on the weekends.
By the time Monday rolls around, there are not only fewer beachgoers in general, but those who are left are often on vacation — not at the water demonstrating anything more than their suntan.
If your schedule doesn’t allow you to travel during the week, try enjoying the water as early as possible, before the crowds arrive. On Crystal Beach, for example, the beach was pretty calm until late morning, when things got progressively more chaotic and politically charged until sundown.
Depending on the day, sunset may also deliver a slightly calmer atmosphere. (Though on Saturday night specifically, it also brought with it police lights.)
Points and miles may have made beach trips in Bora Bora and the Maldives possible, but I also love my home. Spending time vacationing in East Texas due to coronavirus travel limitations was almost a silver lining in an otherwise dark cloud.
This part of Texas is diverse and full of kind, hard-working people with all types of backgrounds and beliefs. I knew the beaches of Bolivar weren’t going to look exactly like the Caribbean, but I didn’t expect to find a display of intolerance or inhospitality stretching for miles along the shore.
Call me naive (because clearly, I was), but I didn’t know I needed to research if my beach vacation would be spoiled by pervasive political and racist demonstrations. You, however, can avoid making the same mistake. These days, it simply isn’t safe to assume a day at the beach will be, well, just a day at the beach.
All photos by author
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