The United States of Us

My take on the makings of his-(and her)story

A protest sign, displayed near the White House

Even as a new D.C. resident, I knew to expect the unpleasantries of last weekend. I had every intention of spending much of the inaugural festivities in my apartment, donning noise-canceling headphones, and keeping my mind and my television as far from CNN as I could muster. Candidly, though, I was restless. As the sounds of sirens crept in through the windows, and images of protests started filling my screen on Friday, I realized I wasn’t content to learn about happenings — second-hand.

I decided to venture out into the city streets because I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable with the knowledge that I was getting my reality, through the blue- or red-tinted filters of people on either side of the line. Eager to come to my own conclusions, my boots and I hit the streets. Here’s what I got to see.

Inauguration Day
It was a fairly, almost eerily, quiet day in the city. I walked to the White House, staying ever on the outside of the parade-lining fence. That’s not to say I couldn’t have wandered in, to get a first-hand look, without ever having to wait in a line… but I was primarily interested in observing. What were people saying? How did they treat each other? I saw a peaceful day, featuring some in mild celebration and others in thoughtful hesitation. I didn’t see violence or aggression — just evidence of clear misunderstanding between casts of characters who have lived different lives, and who have very different windows on the world.

This was my window on the White House. Just after taking this photograph, the man asked if I worked for the press. I said that I didn’t, remarking that I liked his hat. We proceeded to talk for ten minutes, and I was grateful for the temporary companionship at a time when I was struggling to process the scene around me. We discussed the ways this election will influence his volunteer work, in Indiana, with a soon-to-be defunded organization that enables individuals with disabilities to attend their health and wellness appointments. After my brief comments about the future of health policy, and how it affects the futures of many people in ways they can’t yet anticipate, he took off his glove and shook my hand. We wished each other luck and expressed unspoken appreciation for having someone to commiserate with, in that moment — while looking through the fence at an otherwise unrecognizable White House.

Protesters gathered near the Capitol to prepare for the Women’s March

Women’s March on Washington
The following morning, the city seemed to explode with activity and presence. Having lived in Manhattan, having visited places like Delhi and Beijing, and having walked through the streets on 2017’s Inauguration Day — I will tell you that I have never experienced a gathering capable of rivaling the March, in either magnitude or spirit. It was completely surreal to watch waves of protesters, as they poured out and planted themselves on every available plot of city territory in eyeshot.

A young girl shares with the world

We were comprised of people from all different races, ethnicities, religions, orientations, and levels of ability. I shared the streets with tenured activists, and children experiencing their first glimpse of civic education. I saw men show up in unanticipated numbers, and I met people who had traveled from around the country (and beyond).

D.C. essentially shut down and livened up, as people crowded into the streets in numbers that significantly challenged the notion of civic ignorance or apathy — and rendered any attempt at constraining movement to a single route, completely impotent.

Just as the crowd swelled beyond the prescribed path, spilling out into the surrounding streets, the crowd’s mission and messages similarly multiplied. The March had, in fact, been oriented around a defined series of unifying and admirable tenets; however, it’s true that many people were driven by diverse and personal motivations.

Many marched to champion agency, equity and access — in health care and coverage

This wasn’t a march to mock the incoming administration, or to solicit a superficial acknowledgement of women’s equality or empowerment. (It was so far from a petition for “free mani/pedis” that I hesitate to dignify that with more than a passing comment.)

People — Democrats and Republicans — showed up in force, demonstrating their desire to be present and participative in important conversations about our country’s future.

Lady Liberty, seen taking in the scene near the White House

The day was peaceful, energized, vibrant, and honest. I witnessed passion, independent of violence. I heard frustration, but also gratitude. I saw many protestors stop to express genuine appreciation, and to shake the hands of law enforcement officers for helping marchers to feel safe and supported. I also noticed a kind, but firmly-worded, post-it note left adjacent to a disparaging and politically-charged bumper sticker. The bumper sticker’s car, which shared the street with well over one million marchers, was otherwise left in peace to observe the day’s events.

If nothing else, the Women’s March served as a powerful reminder that Americans aren’t prepared to be silent when it comes to the protection of our people, the preservation of our rights, and the realization of our dreams.

It made me proud to live in a land, which offers the freedom and right to express beliefs honestly and candidly. It made me proud to live in a country called “home” by millions of brave, diverse people — eager and engaged enough to exercise that right, with conviction.

This account represents one slice of my personal experience, but I recognize that it may not reflect others’ impressions. Please feel free to share additional comments, reflections and reactions — thoughtfully and respectfully.