From The Trenches: What I Saw At The Trump Inauguration And The Women’s March
January 19-January 22, 2017 I found myself in Washington, D.C. during perhaps the strangest political weekend of my lifetime. I saw the city — our nation’s capital — transform throughout the weekend, from a city of eerie citizen unease to angry celebration to joyful and loving protest.
Here is the story of everything I saw:
Thursday night —
My parents, girlfriend, and I ride the escalator up from the metro station into downtown D.C. Immediately, a protest in the street is stopping traffic. “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!” chants greet us as we step off the escalator. Joining the group, we march towards Trump Hotel. These people are frustrated, disillusioned, but hopeful. They are working to organize as a coherent opposition. They hand out sheets with future events and actions. We can get promotional stickers, but only if we donate to the cause. My mother, who is fired up and has been looking for somewhere to direct her intense anger and disappointment from November 8, gets her hands on a sign. She chants so emphatically, she is given a turn with the megaphone.
We arrive a block from Trump Hotel, where police are stationed to keep all pedestrians a block away from the Hotel; apparently lots of important people in alt-right circles have descended on the Hotel this weekend. The protesters are full of energy and fear in this final night before the Trump inauguration and begin to push against the police. Standing off to the side, we observe the conflict and watch, iPhones ready to begin recording, to ensure no foul play. My mother helps a grateful police officer upright his fallen bicycle, and as the tension eases we go on our way.
Our original mission on this night was to see the White House on President Obama’s final night occupying it. We make our way there, joining with a demonstration of about fifty others in love, nostalgia, and languish for the end of everything we have all worked for the last eight years. My eyes well up.
“Thanks for giving us Trump!!” a young man in his early 20s screams at us. He trips.
“You dumb bitch!” he yells at my mom.
Full of confusion, I confront him. “Hey! That’s my mom!”
“Well, she tried to trip me,” he stumbles over his own words.
“You’re being really rude.”
Another man from our demonstration attempts to diffuse and sardonically remarks to the Trump supporter, “Oh sorry man, do you need a safe space???”
The crowd laughs. The Trump supporters slink away, shouting some more at us.
“You people are scum!” is the last I hear before I tune them out.
In our trek back to the metro station, we run into the same protest. This time, they are in a conflict with police guarding the National Press Building. Reading headlines after we return to our hotel, we learn the “Deploraball” for Trump supporters was being held in the National Press Building. Police had ended up using pepper spray and tear gas on the group; it couldn’t have been more than half an hour after we passed through.
The night was eerie, with a feeling of something impending in the air. The combination of anxieties of protesters and Trump supporters descending on the city created an uneasy atmosphere. Tensions seemed to be high for those of all political persuasions. We would happily avoid downtown during the Inauguration.
My girlfriend and I need to take the metro through the Inauguration to meet a friend for coffee. The metro station in Arlington is shockingly empty, but there is still a small sea of red hats that greets us as we descend from the escalator. We board the train, but feel anxious surrounded by this group. Surveying it, we observe it is about 75% men and about 100% white. The red hats make them unmistakably identifiable. We keep quiet. They won, but somehow this group is still angry. So angry.
We ride through the inauguration crowd and the metro virtually empties out after L’Enfant Plaza and the Archives, the two stops closest to the National Mall. We arrive to the coffeehouse. Chatting with our friend to avoid listening to the inauguration, but the coffee shop suddenly turns it up loud. The speaker introduces “President Donald Trump.” Instinctively, I boo out loud and the entire coffee shop joins in. We are among friends.
We get up early to make it to the Women’s March on time. We descend the same escalator as my girlfriend and I had a day earlier to a crowd ten times larger, this time a massive ocean of pink knit pussy hats. The crowd is jubilant. We wait nearly an hour to fit into a metro train, but everyone on the platform is celebrating. I lead a chant of call and response: I call “show me what democracy looks like!” and the crowd responds, “this is what democracy looks like!”
As we arrive downtown and ascend up the escalator to the same place where two nights before there were angry and fearful protesters, today there are only joyful marchers of all ages, shapes, sizes, and colors.
We do not even make it to the National Mall. We glob on to the unfathomably massive crowd a block off of the National Mall; we learn later the entire Mall from the Capitol to the Washington Monument was already full. We stand for hours, listening to speakers, making friends, and occasionally chanting to drown out the hateful, shout-rhetoric from the half dozen Westboro Baptist Church members there to protest the protest.
It is hard to explain the energy of the crowd that day. Every single one of us knew we were part of history (but we didn’t know we were part of the largest protest in U.S. history) and, I think, held that mantle with solemnity, while also recognizing and seizing upon being in a space of celebration and healing. None of us ended that day without having had misty eyes, at the least. My mother says that evening, “This is the first time I’ve felt like myself since the election.”
The attitude of the crowd Saturday provided an exact foil of the crowd on Friday. I get emotional thinking back to this incredible group of millions having endured one of the most bitter losses in American political history, but finding the strength to come together to protest in love and compassion. Oddly, the group of Trump supporters — who should have been the most joyful of all — still had a darkness around them. Anger which was, for many of them, unhinged. The seedy, angry underbelly of many Americans that I experienced en force on Inauguration Day and the day before was frightening. I don’t know what this all means for our country or, more urgently, our democracy, but it sure is unsettling.