Friday, January 20th was a surreal day for me. It began by watching the inauguration, which as a whole felt like a funeral. No one, including Trump's family, seemed genuinely happy about the occasion. I began to think that the Missouri State Choral's performance of 'Now We Belong' might be inspired by the book of Lamentations, with its dissonant chords and lyrics, "Keep faith, keep watch. Take heart, take courage." Perhaps the somber music and grey skies, in addition to the fact that many inauguration attendees were visitors in "enemy territory," set this mood. To assure myself this was not the norm, I re-watched parts of Obama's inaugurations. The joyous mood of both of these lay in stark contrast to Trump's inauguration.
Later, I ventured out to see the protests at McPherson Square. A large amount of the rhetoric on Friday was aimed at denouncing Trump as a president (#notmypresident), while a smaller percentage addressed specific political issues they wanted to change. Although some signage was explicit and a few characters tried to get the crowd riled up, protests were largely peaceful.
However, blocks away an anarchist group was busy smashing windows of mom-and-pop stores and filling their bags with bricks to throw at the police. For the first time, I heard tear gas going off, and for a moment the crowd paused in fear that it had been a bomb. A crowd of protesters, who had been near the incident, came sprinting towards us to escape, increasing panic momentarily. This anarchist group claims to not want the media to cover their destruction, but I believe that one of their motives is indeed to cause panic and anger— to detract from the message of the peaceful protests.
I decided to visit the inauguration site later that evening, to observe those attending the festivities. I wanted to see what people were dressed like, how they talked, and what mood they were in. While observing the end of the parade, I was hit by the uncanny realization that the Trump supporters were all traveling in isolated pods of families or friends. Apart from the occasional "Nice hat" or "Nice Ralph Lauren coat," I observed little interaction between these pods— these islands. As supporters jostled to exit the inauguration gates and get in line at the nearest Starbucks or Five Guys, I saw hands come up to protect their own, and gently push others away. The inauguration attendees also consisted of two main groups of people: the rich and the rural middle class— As the pea coats and fur hats went their separate way from the plaid-clad steel-toes, I wondered if the two groups felt like any further interaction would overstep the boundaries of their portable white picket fences.
Returning to McPherson Square, I found that the protest had turned into a make-shift Hash Bash, with riot police protecting the perimeter and a rougher crowd than I had seen earlier in the day. Weed, trash, graffiti projects, and a concert protesting the arms race filled the square. I was disappointed in the day's observations, and turned to leave— but was caught off guard at the character walking aggressively towards me. Wispy bleached hair framed raccoon eyes, glittering red from the reflection of a traffic light. I had spent a large part of the day trying to break down some of the stereotypes I had of Trump supporters, and I was a little dismayed to see someone that fit my stereotype so well. She started yelling— not at me but at a girl walking down the sidewalk behind me.
Her target was an African American girl leaving McPherson Square: "F*** you, blackie. You lost, get in line," she shouted, amongst other unmentionables. The surging crowd carried me into the conflict, and the victim retaliated, ending in the phrase, "Someone never loved you enough." This was the lowest point in my day of searching to understand Trump supporters flooding D.C, and I was more than a little confused at this girl's sudden apparition. Despite attempts for positive protests made throughout the day, aggressive actions and negative language overshadowed my evening.
The Women's March the following day brought back a level of hope to me. My first interaction at the march was with Ronan, an eight-year-old who had found a high vantage point in the National Mall, and was leading marchers in the chant, "Show me what a feminist looks like — This is what a feminist looks like!" Several college-aged girls came to shake his hand, saying that he gave them hope in the future generation or that he should consider being president some day. For his age, Ronan was well spoken when explaining his views during several press interviews, and I think this is reflective of the conversations with his family at home (his mother and sister stood nearby). As he grows older, I hope that he continues to develop a nuanced understanding of these issues.
Standing on the vantage point next to Ronan, I looked down to see another a small girl (6-7 years old) trying to climb up. I gave her a hand, and she scrambled up to look down at the crowd while eating a bag of Cheetos her mother handed her. She said little, but her lips were moving as she spelled out messages on the sea of signs.
I hope this event is seared into this little girl's memory, and that she will ask questions about it as she grows up. When I was growing up, I never got "the talk," and I spent a long time figuring out things through word of mouth and media; high school sex-ed consisted of cutting out paper hearts and tearing them apart to illustrate the permanent damage of bad relationships. It didn't even occur to me then that we could have been talking about women's reproductive rights. I believe this march broke down an awkward silence for many women, and also allowed men to show support for the ladies in their lives.
This weekend was full of highs and lows, serious and playful moments. Images of vivid splashes of red lipstick, moody grey skies reflecting in marchers' searching eyes, and an atmosphere of hope stick in my mind's eye; the main thing I will remember from this historic march is the extreme beauty, strength, and kindness in each of the marchers present.