The White House with its embellished columns and iconic fountain seemed like a symbol of an unjust institution just hours after Trump’s inauguration–nothing compared to how it felt the day prior when we said goodbye to President Obama’s dignified home. While this speaks to our personal biases, most people would agree that the energy has shifted in Washington.
Thursday evening we saw an end of an era as President Obama spent his last night in the White House. As we came upon the crowded tourist spot, we saw a mix of people chanting. Many people held signs expressing heartfelt goodbyes, optimism for the incoming President, and worries about contentious political issues brought up during the election. One person held a sign quoting the late conservative President Reagan, “Preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it’s common sense.” Next to a note of thanks to President Obama, another woman sobbed uncontrollably as she held onto the fence, and a third person victoriously shouted bye as they anticipated tomorrow’s inauguration. Cops demanded that everyone leave, “This is a closed area for inauguration. Exit the area now.” This group is one of the last to gaze upon President Obama’s White House.
Walking the streets on inauguration day, we wore anti-Trump stickers declaring, “No Trump/Pence, No Fascist USA.” On every street corner, merchants sold inauguration shirts, scarves, hats, and clear drawstrings backpacks that abided by the event’s security policies. Many of these characters nodded to us in support or exclaimed their agreement with our anti-Trump accessories as we walked by. While exploring the city, and navigating through a sea of red hats, we found ourselves marching in a Disrupt J2O protest. Our bodies stopped traffic in the streets throughout the Capitol Hill Historic District when we faced the Capitol building. The entire protest collectively fell to the streets in a die-in before rising in empowerment. Many shouts became one voice as people chanted, “Rise up for the people of the world, for the people of the world rise up!” To our shock and initial hesitation, the protest marched onto the highway. Blocking traffic, there was an equal amount of motorists showing support and annoyance with us. One man even physically left his car to join us in chanting.
As the day went on, many reports reached us of protester and police violence. The windows of banks and Starbucks were smashed, and its perpetrators were disciplined through arrests, pepper spray and tear gas. Reporters and worried text messages from family members mistakenly assumed the vandals were anti-Trump protesters proving their disdain, but these demonstrations were actually performed by anti-capitalists.
We witnessed one of these destructive presentations in Franklin Square; we were drawn to the square after hearing a protest punk concert that made itself the soundtrack to downtown D.C. Here, we warmed ourselves from the cold winter air as an unidentified but organized group of people burned a Washington Post newspaper dispenser in front of the main office. As riot police began to surround the area, we separated ourselves from the main crowd, but remained within distance of both the protestors and the taskforce opposing them. A new performance caught the attention of protesters and bystanders–firefighters extinguishing the symbolic flames attacking mainstream media.
The situation provoked tension that seemed to affect everyone in the vicinity. One of the protestors quickly shed all of his clothes in the freezing weather. When we asked why he did this, he shared, “If you see riot cops coming, take off your clothes and sit down.
Feeling the spirit of the crowd, we wanted hear their perspectives on the history being made.
A man from D.C. who we heard saying, “I fucking hate Trump supporters,” commented, “I am here to protest the inauguration. It was a total shit show and he is a fake president. He ran on a fake platform. Everything he has done in his life involved corruption. This man has no business being in power of anything and I don’t understand how he was able to convince enough people to vote for him, to make him president. It makes me think we need to rethink our education system in this country because obviously we are not teaching civics and history enough.”
A Salve Regina University student from Rhode Island who was standing by the fire said, “Well, I’m here because I’m a woman and I’m afraid the new administration is going to take away the rights of women and LGBTQ people. I didn’t know how they were going to do that, but somehow it seems to already be happening. Seeing all these people here, especially young people, who really want to be active in the community and active in the nation and the world is something I need to be a part of. Tomorrow, I’m participating in the march, which is really important. So far, the things I’ve seen… I don’t really have words. I saw an old woman who was praying get pushed over and pepper sprayed by a policeman. I don’t know why that happened. There were tons of other people surrounding her and helping her get to safety. That’s why everyone is here. For those people that need us.”
When we asked a member of the military his opinion on all of this, he reported back, “We’re just here to support the task force, that’s all. We’re just here to support the police.”
Lisa, a D.C. resident, was unhappy with this particular protest. She explained, “I live in the city. No offense, but it annoys me that people are going to break stuff and be disruptive where I work and where I live. I mean they busted out windows, and I understand that they may have reasonable grounds for protesting, but when you start busting up property and being difficult, it’s not helpful. And, as a local resident, we welcome everybody into town, but if you’re going to tear up our city, you know, please don’t come.”
A Trump supporter who found himself caught in the middle of the action responded with, “The system probably could be cleaned up, but everything in life could be… My biggest thing, what I’ll tell you guys is give him one year. And you gotta remember, no matter if you like him or hate him, he ran as a Republican and the whole Republican party hates him. Nobody likes the guy. Let him go for a year, and if he burns the whole damn thing down, guess what, we can just rebuild… Everyone just needs to calm down.”
Charlie, an independent journalist who supports the protests, expressed, “I’m for any form of peaceful protesting, no matter what it is. If there’s a legitimate cause for people protesting, and they’re going about it in a peaceful manner with an agenda of things they want to solve, then I think that they should be listened to. I think a lot of people look at protests and like to demonize things, but no one wants to listen to what they might be protesting about because maybe there’s some legitimacy to what they’re saying and what they’re upset about.”
An older couple from Savannah, Georgia came to the eventful weekend with a powerful message, “We’re here for the inauguration to get our message out about peace in Standing Rock. We went to the Occupy the Inauguration protest at MLK park and marched down here… We want the wars to end, we want the killing to end. We’ve been in endless war for, what do we figure, 17 years? 16 years? And even before that. I mean, we go back to Vietnam. It’s the same war continuing. It’s war for profit, war for oil, and it’s gotta end. And this is the war at home–the pipelines. We’re for clean water, we have to protect the water. Standing Rock is the most important direct action right now.”
As the crowd began to dissipate, we gallivanted through D.C. until we discovered our next destination– the line to inaugural balls. An older woman walking by casually screamed at the throngs of women, “Grope, grope! Grope, grope! Grope, grope!”
Staring judgmentally at the homogenous line of people, we were accompanied by a nuclear family engaged in a demonstration against the lavishly draped Trump supporters. The father had a kind smile on his face as he held a professionally made sign of Trump with the word, “CONMAN,” on it. The mother had her arm wrapped around her younger daughter, while her eldest stood above the attendees yelling from a grassy stoop, “Who here believes in climate change? Who here believes in gay rights?”
Most people did not engage with them. One young young boy, about the age of twelve, stuck his hand up in the air only for his mother to take it down quickly. In response to the climate change question, one woman snickered to her friend, “It’s called weather.”
The mother of the family, Cynthia, spoke with us about her reasons for joining the protests that night, “We’re from New York City, so we know Trump. We came here to protest because we just feel he will be the worst president to ever be elected. My husband was practically sick about the election. Everyone’s trying to be positive because what else do you have. There have been some rude remarks because we’ve been here for over an hour. We were with a larger group of protesters, but we decided to stay here because we didn’t want to preach to the choir. But yeah, we were with this small group and this huge group of police officers came… it seemed pretty extravagant to me. There were people getting tear gassed. My oldest daughter was right next to people with white on their face, which I didn’t know then, but it is from the tear gas.”
Her younger daughter spoke up then, “We were in some of the bigger riots and it got a little out of hand. They were knocking Trump stuff over and other people in the march would go clean up after them, but that’s just not the way to do it. “
Cynthia spoke again, “His inaugural speech was really scary. I thought it was offensive to a lot of countries listening. I just hope that they realize that this is the most unpopular president ever elected and this does not represent the American people.”
Then, a woman dressed to the nines came up to a friend wearing a hat saying, “Make America Gay Again,” trying in vain to convince him of Trump’s tolerance of LGBTQ people.
“Neither Trump nor Hillary Clinton supported a constitutional amendment to keep marriage between a man and a woman. Neither of them said that should be done! I’m not assuming you’re homosexual, you’ve got the hat, but it is just a cool saying, but I’m just telling you that Trump supports gay rights. I’ve gotta go though because I have a girlfriend back there!”
The following morning, we reached the train station hoping there would be a large turnout for The Women’s March on Washington, only to find the largest crowd of people we had seen yet. When the metro arrived at our platform, only the second stop on our line, every car was almost completely full. Immediately, we knew that D.C. would be in a state we hadn’t seen before; our train cars just one day prior had been almost empty.
We were not alone in metro attendance observation. Kristal, a young woman in a Bernie Sanders shirt and leopard coat, shared this experience, “We came in yesterday [inauguration day] and the metro was empty. There were only Trump supporters, and not that many of them, not like this at all. We ran into a couple and they told us that when they went into the city the day before and people were literally handing out invitations to the inauguration on the street because they had so many extras and they just wanted a bigger crowd. She took some because her daughter wanted to make an art project, so they went to good use.”
As we squished together on the train, everyone immediately became friendly with the strangers next to them exchanging travel stories, worries about the future, and intimate details of their lives. Every car had reached its maximum capacity, leaving no space for the hundreds of marchers waiting their turn. When two young Trump supporters tried to push their way past the patient marchers, the train riders kicked them out demanding, “Your day was yesterday, today is our day!”
One man sitting next to me on the train talked with everyone, “I’m a veteran and a gay man. I’m not gonna let him take my rights away. I worked too hard for them. I’m here in support of women’s rights, gay rights, human rights, muslim rights, and all rights. I’m happy to be here among friends instead of those who hate. I’m from the bible-belt, I see Trump people everyday. The election day I was surrounded by Trump supporters as I campaigned for local democrats. I wore my ‘Love Trumps Hate’ shirt and people just laughed.”
One woman from Memphis, Tennessee recalled, “At our hotel there was a school full of little kids here for the inauguration. Small children running around with Trump hats! They brainwash the youth, just like the nazis. Train them young to teach them ignorance and hatred.”
Another woman noted, “I live in Boston, so I’m around a lot of like-minded people. When we got of the Amtrak yesterday, that was the first time I was confronted with so many pro-Trump people. I had a visceral reaction.”
On our walk to Independence Avenue and Third Street, the start of the march, we saw hordes of people walking towards and away from the area. With relatively little direction, we wandered around looking for people who seemed to know what they were doing. After seeing an extreme lack of diversity from the past few days, it was beautiful to see so many people who were different ages, sexes, races, and genders all with the same goals. Positivity was rampant, but everyone was clearly carrying the weight of a Trump administration.
The sense of civic duty and solidarity was palpable among strangers. As we eventually made it to the beginning of the march, many people chanted, “March! March! March!” over the speakers as they eagerly waited to start. Soon, it became apparent that the march would not be going as planned. As the crowd dispersed, several huge marches took place on many major streets. Many of the participants seemed to be older people unfamiliar with chants, marches, or protests of any kind. This resulted in participants hesitant to chant and groups of people unable to unify into one succinct voice. Still, their passion united into a meaningful message. Every area of D.C. flooded with signs promoting love over hate, diversity over fear, and freedom over restriction. The pink hatted marchers overwhelmed every corner, creating a wonderfully claustrophobic environment.
The Women’s March on Washington has been covered as a largely successful event, and judging by the turnout, it could not have gone any better. This does not mean, however, that this event will be effective on its own. The Women’s March works best as a call to action, a motivator for people all over the world, and especially in America, to hold their elected officials accountable and to get involved in their local politics. Donald Trump and his party are now (or soon to be) in control of every branch of government. But, as our favorite chant at the march goes, “Welcome to your first day, we will not go away!”