It has taken me several days to gather my thoughts regarding Trump's inauguration and the Women's March. I had managed a last-minute slot on a bus headed south from Syracuse, NY, down to D.C. We rolled out just after midnight on Friday morning, packing a change of clothes, snacks, some cash and a pillow. The ride down was filled with protest songs, words of inspiration, and a general feeling of excitement. I would fall asleep to silence, only to wake up moments later to someone yelling over the microphone, DONALD TRUMP HAS GOT TO GO! It was clear there were no republicans among us. Despite being tired, we were all excited to wave our signs and show the world that we were not part of the crazy nationalist movement that took the America by surprise in November. We were itching to show the world that we didn't vote for Trump.
Leaving our bags at the house we where we were staying, my friends and I called an Uber and headed into the city. Rather than the hours of traffic we were expecting, we were met with the calmest roads I have ever seen in D.C. We got out a few blocks away from the mall, still wanting to play it safe. The closer we got, the more we realized that the huge crowds weren't there, and they weren't coming. At least not to the inauguration. Even arriving late, we were able to move through security in a matter of minutes and walk out into the Mall just as Trump was beginning his speech.
We saw people holding their signs protesting, some were wearing all black, some waved American flags. Many wore their red hats sporting Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again". Almost all were silent as our new commander in chief was being sworn in. He spoke of a tattered America. One left tagging behind the rest of the world. Yes, he spoke of the, "carnage," that he claimed had broken the once great America. He promised to put "America first". He spoke of a country that I couldn't see and knew nothing about. Yet as I looked around, shocked by what I was hearing, the nods and solemn stares of many around me told me that he wasn't the only one who saw it. For those who saw the America Trump spoke of, he gave them hope.
We left the Mall shortly after the speech was over, wondering the streets and moving from group to group, getting a feel for the rest of the crowd. We heard Trump supporters yelling at democrats, democrats yelling back. We saw signs promoting Christianity, letting us know that Jesus loves us despite our sins. In case you didn't hear, Vermin Supreme was there. We saw him too.
We had found our way to Franklin Square, where soon after our first encounter with Vermin Supreme, we heard yelling. Turning to see what the commotion was, we saw the smoke. As lines of people were taking selfies with Vermin, Trash cans had been pulled off sidewalks into the streets and lit on fire. The anarchists wore masks covering their faces. After minor success lighting one can, and only smoke from a second, the anarchists turned their sights on a parked limo. Someone to our right rolled a random tire up the street toward the gathering crowd. I had no idea where they had gotten it, but my guess was they either intended to stand on it or burn it. A plume of black smoke began to rise from the other side of the crowd as the flames rose.
As I stared in shock, I thought, "Is this all because of Trump?" Turning down the street to put some distance between ourselves and the fire, I got my answer. The rest of the anarchists had shown up dressed in black with a large banner reading, "Against White Supremacy & Patriarchy. Total Liberation From Domination. Against the State and Capitalism."
Minutes later, we decided we had seen enough and began walking away. Seconds after we turned to leave, we heard the concussion grenades go off in the square as the police rushed in to gain control. We darted between the scattering members of the crowd away from the chaos. Knowing the event would soon reach my mother's television set back home, I texted her saying I was O.K.
Lucky not to be one of the many people tear-gassed or arrested in the square, we continued our wandering and moved on to the next group we saw just a few blocks away. Here the story was decidedly different. There were protesters with signs and slogans. There were Trump supporters with signs and red hats, but here, there was no violence. Here there was conversation and concern. There was anger but checked with understanding.
After our short visit, we finally decided we had had enough adventure for one day and headed home for the evening. The next day would prove to be just as eventful, but with the kind of crowds Trump was hoping would come to see him.
We left the house on Saturday by seven thirty, hoping to get to the site of the Women's March before the crowds got out of control. We arrived just in time, wading our way past the streams of people flowing toward the intersection of third and Independence streets. We hurried to find our spot and get as close as we could. Our punctuality was rewarded with a spot less than two blocks of the stage. We would stand in that spot for the next four and a half hours. We watched the streets fill in behind us as waves of women and a few men came rushing in. They had flown, bused, rode in trains, drove, and walked from all over the city and country to take part in the event that many had said was doomed to fail. They came to prove them all wrong.
Speakers had flown in from around the country as well. We would here from famous singers, actresses, and comedians such as Amy Schumer, Madonna, Alicia Keys and Scarlet Johansson. They spoke about their anger with Trump, their commitment to fight discrimination, and even suggested they had thought about blowing up the White House (Madonna). Michael Moore marveled at the number of people who had shown up and gave us all homework to call our senators and congressmen and women. The best speakers were ones I had never heard of before. A little Hispanic girl sang to us in both Spanish and English. An elderly man named Charlie got us fired up, told jokes, and made us laugh. The lesser known hosts told us stories of unity that reassured us of why we came. As I looked around at all the faces and pussy hats, all the signs with scribbled messages about Trump, reproductive rights, Black Lives Matter, and immigration as well as any number of other issues, I realized that what had begun as a march for women, had become something much bigger.
The faces of those around me said more than any of their signs could. It is my belief that we all went to remind each other that we're not alone. I believe we traveled to let the world know, to let America know, to show ourselves that we are finally ready to stand together with our friends and families; to remind ourselves of the America we see.
But what struck me more than anything was how many of those faces looked just like those at the inauguration. That same solemn stare showed up when our vision of America was said to be threatened. The same smiles showed when we were told that we would put the America we saw first. What isn't clear is what will happen when these two visions of America clash. What I hope we all remember regardless of what vision we see is that in the end, we are all fighting for America. In the end, we're all fighting for what we think is best for ourselves, our children, and their children.