By Shaylyn MacKinnon
A week ago I was waiting in line at the Rayburn Congressional Office Building with my father and brother to go to the office of our state representative, Joe Courtney, to pick up our tickets for the inauguration of Donald J. Trump. For anyone who knows me, I most certainly did not vote for Mr. Trump. I do not agree with his stance on a gross number of social views, foreign policy positions, and overall find his misogynistic, racist, and hateful remarks appalling. I think it’s disgusting that we as a nation elected a man who is quoted saying things like “Grab them by the pussy” and uses his personal Twitter to attack union leaders, fellow politicians, businesses, world leaders, comedic television programs, and an embarrassingly long list of other people.
But I digress. I’m not writing this to question or critique the events and mindsets that led to the outcome of the 2016 election. Instead, I’d like to explain what I witnessed during my 24 hours in D.C. for President Trump’s inauguration. I want to share my experience at this important event in history, because we really don’t know where it is going from here.
I arrived in Washington D.C. after a four-hour drive with my brother and father around 4:00pm last Thursday. We parked on a street with questionable parking limits, making an offhand wish that we didn’t get towed in the hour it would take us to pick up our tickets from Courtney’s office (spoiler alert: we came back to see an officer putting a ticket on our car, which, if we had arrived just 5 minutes later, would have been towed). Once we made the hike to the Congressional Office Building, my brother and father, with a vantage point several inches above my own, groaned at the length of the line to get through security. Making our way up the sidewalk red Make America Great Again™ hats were in abundance, contrasting rather nicely with a few large cowboy hats. Attire of those in line ranged from jeans and t-shirts to long fur coats with nice heels. My father, under his quarter zip, was sporting his 2008 Obama shirt, though he uncharacteristically chose to keep this to himself until we were in the heated building…an hour later. During our time in line, I had the privilege to overhear (eavesdrop on) the conversation of a woman and a married couple directly in front of me. The single woman, middle aged with kids in Austin, Texas, told the married couple from Richmond, Virginia, about a conversation she had with some young women in D.C. for the Women’s March on Saturday. “You need a mother figure. Go home,” the Austin woman claimed to have said. In response the woman from Texas in line with her husband said there were protesters on their plane who were “really pleasant girls”, though, she added, “I did consider getting a Hillary shirt to protect myself on Saturday in case I go to get some coffee, you know.” I pretended to text as I took notes on their conversation, and I was surprised by the hint of fear this stranger expressed at the idea of walking through the Women’s March as a Trump supporter. As a non-confrontational liberal, I forget sometimes about the radicals in the world on all ends of the political spectrum, and I’m absolutely guilty of associating violence with Trump’s followers more than I do with people of my own political alignment, though the next day would be sure to remind me that this wasn’t always the case.
Once we were inside, my father stripped his sweatshirt and revealed his nod at Obama, which was immediately met with wary eyes from a few men dressed in MAGA apparel. After we picked up the tickets and had a quick exploration of the building, we made our way to the exit. Before we could get out the door, a woman approached my father with a…displeased look. “Hate to see that,” she muttered as she brushed past his shoulder. A young black boy only a few feet behind us heard the exchange and immediately removed himself from the woman’s path, pressing behind his mother into the wall to avoid any contact with the stranger. A man saw the exchange and came to us saying, “Did you see that little boy after she said that to you?” He made another quick comment welcoming us to Trump’s America and continued on his way. I don’t really know if “welcome” is the best word to associate with it all, but that’s what we’re working with.
It wasn’t all negativity toward the Obama shirt, though. In fact, walking back to the car my dad received a fist bump from a young woman dressed for a meeting, and a few others showing their own love for Obama with hats, scarves, and shirts. In fact, there were many Obama supporters showing their appreciation for him on his last night in office. Of course, by the time we were exploring the city we had stopped at our hotel and changed into a sort of…visual protest.
This consisted of my father and brother wearing some nice old Soviet Russian hats and shirts and myself walking around in a FREE PUSSY RIOT! tee. For those of you who may not know who Pussy Riot is, they’re a feminist Russian punk group that gained a large Western following a few years ago after three members were imprisoned for their unannounced protest performances. These outfits were a nod at recent allegations of Trump’s involvement with Russia behind the scenes of his campaign, and my father carried a “Pee Pee DVD” prop for the Saturday Night Live skit (I recommend it). Within just a few feet of our hotel a man did a double take at our outfits and laughed out, “That’s funny.” Walking in the general direction of the White House we happened upon a woman wearing a THANK YOU OBAMA t-shirt who gave us directions to a demonstration of people showing their thanks for President Obama as a final farewell. My father was a hit when we arrived, many people asked him for pictures with the Pee Pee DVD. Of course not everyone appreciated our attempt to find humor in the situation, as one man scolded my father for mocking the possible Russian relations, and another described the Golden Showers rumors as “irrelevant” but conceded to the humor of it all. Because, honestly, that’s all we were trying to do the night before the inauguration: find like-minded people, poke a little fun at Trump, and come to terms with the changes that were inevitably upon us. And then the Dubliner happened.
Now, my father attended President Obama’s inauguration four years ago with my older sister, and the two ate in the high profile bar/restaurant the Dubliner. Wanting to start a new tradition, he decided to take us there for the same experience. And it was great. We walked in, got a table when it opened up, ordered some food, and listened to an impressive solo Irish artist play his guitar and sing the way only an Irishman can. At one point during the dinner a man came over to the table to comment on our outfits and take a picture to send to his son because “he would just love this.” It was a nice, relaxing time after a long day of driving and a 50-minute walk to get there. However, and I’m sure this had to happen at one point because not everyone can take a joke, after we had already paid the bill and were within minutes of leaving, two middle age men approached our table.
The only people who had approached our little trio all night up to this point had done so to compliment our outfits, or maybe say, civilly, why it wasn’t necessarily as funny as we thought it was. So naturally when these men came over, I assumed they were going to say something similar. Instead, the first man who approached looked down at my shirt and read it for a few seconds. Waiting for him to comment, I sat there smiling. When he looked up at me, he looked me in the eyes and said, with so much venom my face immediately flared red, “That’s disgusting.”
Now I know I said this earlier, but I really do not like confrontation. As much as my father and brother loved the attention our outfits received, I cringed a little bit whenever someone so much as complimented them. So to have a stranger, a man likely in his fifties, look me in the eyes and tell me my shirt was disgusting, very much implying that I was disgusting for wearing it, well, I froze. My father did not.
No no no. He was not going to let someone say something like that to his 19-year-old daughter. He shot up like a rocket, as my brother leaned toward me to ask if he too should intervene. Not that my father would ever actually get in a physical fight (he’s the definition of someone’s who’s “all talk”), but the host and waitstaff were quick to appear and force the two men who came up to us out of the building, telling my father he was fine and could simply sit back down.
Okay. I get it. Our outfits were provocative. That’s what we were going for. My father wanted the attention to get people thinking about it, to remind people who they elected. But this man wasn’t referring to my father and brother in their Soviet gear. He was offended by the word ‘pussy’ front and center on my shirt. He didn’t know who the group was, he didn’t get the reference. This man said the word was disgusting, and that he was offended by it. Well, you know what? I was offended by that recording of Donald Trump saying that to get women he simply has to “grab them by the pussy.” Donald Trump. The now President of the United States of America. Of course he’s allowed to say this in an interview, claim it as ‘locker room talk’, and win the presidency. I wear it as the name of a feminist punk group on a t-shirt, and, well, that happens. I was quiet on the walk back to the hotel. My jacket zipped up all the way to the top.
The morning of the inauguration I opted out of doing another visual protest. Instead, my dad simply put on his Bernie Sanders tee and we headed out just after 8am. The walk to the Capitol building was…colorful. Everywhere you looked there were Trump supporters heading to the inauguration in their bright red MAGA caps and protesters filling the side streets and main roads closed down for the day’s events. I overheard one man asking another, “Are you going to the demonstration or the celebration?” A question that I felt really summed up the streets of D.C. on the 20th.
Vendors were present at every corner, yelling at passersby, “Don’t be a democrat, buy a Trump hat! Eight year guarantee!” A young boy a few steps ahead looked up at his mother, “If there are Trump pants we’re buying them.”
After two hours of walking around blocked streets and protesters, we finally arrived at our assigned Orange Entrance at the Capitol. Security was shockingly lacking. We barely flashed our tickets, walked through metal detectors, and we were in. When they opened the gate to our standing area, a mob of people flooded through a small opening and all but sprinted to get the best viewing the Orange Section had to offer, which wasn’t all that much. Our limited visibility only lasted about 10 minutes, because within that time so many attendees disregarded the two military personnel checking tickets for the neighboring Green Section that the guards simply walked away, presumably with orders to check tickets elsewhere. So we cut through the Green Section…and then kept cutting through sections until we were within a football field’s length of the podium where Trump was scheduled to come out in 45 minutes.
In the beginning it was very civil. Supporters were excited to see the man they voted for take his oath as their new President. We stood next to a man who worked on the Trump Transition Team, listened to two college students joke about wanting to find Ken Bone in the crowd. It was almost possible to forget exactly who was becoming president because being there, in the shadow of the Capitol building, was just so awe-inspiring.
Then the major political leaders and their families started arriving. Our enthusiastic cheers for Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and the Obamas earned us a few looks, but I personally had never pictured myself being so close to all three at the same time (or anytime) in my life so I couldn’t really find it in myself to care. When the speeches began, it was everything you saw watching the inauguration from home. Excluding the chanting and the booing.
If you’ve ever been to a concert in a stadium, you’ve experienced that slow-building chant that begins when the lights turn off and the band prepares to get on stage. The waves of cheers at Trump’s inauguration were similar, but with so much more power behind them due to the sheer number of supporters. But when Democrat Chuck Schumer took the stage the boos weren’t slow crawling. In fact, they began immediately at his mention of sexual orientation and gender identity. My father looked around as the booing began in our section, and said, “This is scary.” As Senator Schumer began to read the letter of a Civil War soldier to his wife, the crowds drowned it out by chanting Trump’s name. Witnessing hundreds of people chant over the letter of a soldier to his wife was equally horrifying and disgusting. It was like a scene from a dystopian movie. These people weren’t booing the content. They weren’t even listening to the content. They were booing the speaker solely because he was the only Democrat and that made everything he said invalid to them.
While Schumer was spoken over by hundreds of people, Trump received the same treatment from two people standing 10 feet to my left. The moment Trump began to repeat the oath for his presidency, a man and woman stood and began blowing whistles, holding “Not My President” signs high above their heads, and yelling it when the whistles were forcefully removed from their mouths by security as quickly as their demonstration began. Security dragged the protesters away through an angry crowd of Trump supporters, though the crowd simply yelled their complaints, letting the police take care of the rest. I missed President Trump’s entire swearing in ceremony, distracted by the scene unfolding before me.
The rest of the inauguration went by without any other glitches. Trump’s speech was morbid and extended no warm wishes to the Democratic Party, minority groups, or any of the other people he polarized during his campaign, but no one really expected him to change his tone now.
Following the inauguration, the streets were filled with a more tension than the morning had shown, as protesters let it sink in that Trump was officially their president and supporters realized the protesters still could not accept it. Minor confrontations were around every corner with opposing viewpoints antagonizing one another. When we reached Chinatown we heard what sounded like a bomb go off just a few blocks away. Only when we reached the street did we discover it was a flash-bomb set off by police officers trying to break up a “protest” turned violent by self-identifying anarchists. I walked close to the police to try and understand what had happened, and at their feet were rocks and broken cement thrown by the violent protesters dressed in black. As teargas was thrown, my father and brother began pushing me back toward the corner of the street to avoid what was blown downwind toward us. What I’ve learned from this experience is that maybe my father, brother and I shouldn’t be allowed to go to things like this, because immediately we went back down the street, keeping close to the building on our right, and began filming what we saw. More rocks were thrown by “protesters”, and the police retaliated with a short series of flash-bombs and teargas, though whether or not this was effectively dispersing the crowd was unclear from my vantage point. If anything, the violence just brought more and more onlookers to the scene. Inching back toward the end of the street away from the conflict, I witnessed two men in MAGA caps and a small group of protesters arguing, swearing at each other, and the sheer hatred I filmed on that small street in D.C. was the breaking point for me. And my phone. It died just after the helicopter began flying circles above the block. Since my phone had been the last one standing at this point, we took it as a sign to find a way back to our hotel without stumbling on more scenes of teargas and violence.
Along the way my brother had to ask us to stop because he was beginning to feel nauseous. He had been the closest to the teargas out of our trio and was feeling the effects of it. After we continued walking, we stumbled upon someone else who had been hit with teargas directly using a solution provided by volunteer paramedics to clear his eyes and face. The man began explaining what he could about the situation that seemed to be getting increasingly worse, and mentioned that he overheard a four-year-old boy had been hit. When we finally arrived back at the hotel my father explained the situation to the receptionist so that we could extend our stay an hour longer to shower before we left the city to return to New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maine respectively. The first thing I did once we were off of the streets and inside was plug in my phone to call my mother in case she was keeping up with the news so she knew that “No, Dad wasn’t arrested in a protest. Yes, we got back safely.” I didn’t exactly mention the teargas. The first thing my brother did was take a shower, a scream following just a few minutes later as teargas fell into his eyes. Again, I did NOT tell my mother about the teargas. We collectively decided to not send her any videos. My father and brother were going to explain the day to her first rather than start with that part.
Looking back at the last 24 hours since I had arrived in D.C., I found it hard to put my thoughts into words. So I didn’t. I was mostly silent for the drive back to Drew, and when I got back to campus, I avoided going to my dorm because I wasn’t really done digesting it all. I’d never witnessed so many instances of hate between strangers. I’d never seen a protest turned violent. A line of police refusing to break formation even as cement was thrown at their heads.
This is my attempt at talking about what I saw. This is a 19-year-old girl’s account of Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration.
Shaylyn is a sophomore English, International Relations and Spanish triple major with a Linguistics minor.