By: Alicia Cashman
Driving into DC, the night before the inauguration, was a breeze. There were no road closures on the way to the city, making it easy to see the capital from a distance. Once we arrived at our friend’s apartment, we discussed generalities of life and as WestWorld played on TV in the background. Suddenly a motorcade flew by. The blue lights, limousines, and security escorts brought excitement to the night. It officially had begun.
The next day I took off by myself for the inauguration. On the way, I met some Harley riders in an open lot. They were part of a brigade and all sporting Trump paraphernalia. “We are on the Trump Train,” they announced. Turning the corner, I was suddenly engulfed by a protest march. They seemed to be mostly students, but some were women and men of various ages, championing a garden variety of causes. Signs in support of Hillary, Free Palestine, Black Lives Matter, feminist causes, anti-Russia, pro-socialism and even a few communist slogans embraced the march. The one unifier was Trump. My favorite eavesdropping moment was listening to guys in black clothing and bandanas over their faces, who referred to themselves as “comrades.” My heart raced: was this the new people’s worker and class warfare infantry? Do they follow Marxist-Leninism or was this an offshoot? Either way, it was fascinating.
I ran into T-Mobile to buy a charger for my phone. The Russian staff member was so excited Trump was elected. In her Russian accent, she described the joy and relief felt in Russia after Trump’s election. Things are going to get better was the vibe. Her perspective was fascinating. Did Hillary offend Russia to the point that an entire country was now in favor of Trump? Okay, I’m sure that’s a stretch, but my mind couldn’t help but wonder. I suddenly imagined I was in Moscow, the coldness from the outdoors creating a sort of Dostoevsky feel. Her face was serious as she handed me my charger. Her eyes were intent. This is her president.
I burst into the brisk outdoors only to be swallowed by the marchers again. “I could be one,” I thought. I felt the urge to chant “Trump is not my president,” but walking offered me some solidarity with this crowd. We warmed each other with our body heat and proceeded to the closest nearby entrance. Suddenly the Trump supporters, viewers, and protesters merged into a sort of bottleneck. As we slowly and methodically began to enter the National Mall, the protesters and supporters melded together into a single group. It was a bit like a bazaar, not in cause but in display. I would not have been surprised if a man showed up in a top hat selling remedies and tonic. A dance group of young African American boys wearing Trump hats danced for the crowd. It was festive and friendly. Supporters were chatting with protesters. There were many young Trump supporters, some of whom had played in their high school band for the inaugural festivities the night before. They had brought with them a blue Trump flag but did not display it – perhaps out of respect for those opposed to this presidency, or perhaps to avoid controversy. I started conversing with protesters and introduced them to Trump supporters. What happened was short of a miracle. They were laughing and talking. They showed each other their signs. I even began a Facebook live stream to record the interactions, in awe of the unthinkable display of civility and cordiality between foes.
To my left was a protestor with a professional sign referencing the alleged connection between Putin and Trump. A man in a black derby and wool coat with a Trump pin on the lapel walked up to her and thanked her for coming. I thought, what the H is going on here? It was like a surreal painting. He agreed with her thoughts on Russia and thanked her again.
As we kept moving through the line, the crowd lost its momentum. By the time we entered, it had fizzled out completely, as protestors and supporters sectioned off to their respective areas. I found a group of pro-Trump African Americans from Delaware. They were excited to be there in support of the new president. I asked if they felt pressure to vote for Hillary from friends and peers. Emphatically, they told me that they did. One member of the group said he began researching the news and found Hillary ideas were not aligned with his philosophy and that after much research he chose to vote Republican. We had a great time chatting about the election and what could be in store in the upcoming years.
I’m glad I went to the inauguration, for I witnessed a coming together of Americans with different opinions and watched something I had never experienced nor expected. Although there was some unrest, overall I witnessed civility, joy, frustration, and compromise comes together and offers hope and potential for working together as we enter uncharted waters.
The next day at the NYC march