The season finale of America was everything I expected and more – by 7pm on inauguration day I had been caught in a full scale riot, I was famished after being on the go for 13 hours straight, I was totally exhausted physically, emotionally, and mentally – and yet I thought I couldn’t have gotten any luckier than I did. Over the course of that day I had agreed with and disagreed with everyone in attendance at least five times. I saw the best in those I politically rival and the worst of those who share my own ideology. I saw how the media can twist things and just how quick people are to gobble it up. But looking back at it, the reason I was so lucky is because I truly got to have the full American experience. So this is January 20th, 2017 through my eyes and why I’ll never forget it.
Let me give you some of my background to give you a better understanding on my perspective before we go down this rabbit hole together. I was born during the Reagan years but the first president I remember was Bill Clinton. My parents were able to become home owners under his tenure, and I just remember a general sense of prosperity during this time regardless of what you may think of his personal activities. My step-father of whom I had lived with practically my entire life was a die hard conservative and my mother a die hard liberal. This meant I always heard both sides of everything, but I ended up becoming a Democrat.
My first vote for president was for John Kerry. I volunteered for Obama’s campaign in 2008 after reading his books. I attended the DNC in Charlotte in 2012 – forcing my little brother and sister to go because I told them they may never see another Democrat convention in NC in their lifetime. I was a major Bernie Sanders supporter, and though the discrepancies of the DNC had me very discouraged I ended up falling in line to support Hillary Clinton. I do not like Donald Trump, and haven’t since his birther quest. However I wanted to go to this event with as much of an open mind as possible to see things objectively while trying not to allow my personal bias to influence my actions.
The morning of the inauguration I arrived at Greenbelt station to take the Metro to DC at 6am. As I boarded I was accompanied by a large number of Trump supporters who were gleeful when speaking of the days coming events. I just sat back and grinned while listening to some of the ongoing conversations until we reached the next stop, that’s when it all changed. Protesters began to flood the train and an instant level of tension swept the atmosphere. From this point forward I was subjected to watching these two groups snarl at one another while pointing and mumbling remarks that were what I will call ‘less than respectful’ under their breath. This set the tone for the day. It was as if something crazy could have gone down at any second so when we arrived at the Gallery station I was relieved to get off the train and begin what I knew would be a long afternoon.
I followed the crowd and walked to my first security checkpoint of the event which was being ran by TSA. It seemed surprisingly quiet at first, nothing more than private conversations but then protesters started pulling out signs and yelling various chants. I heard “Hey ho! Hey ho! Donald Trump has got to go,” along with “No Trump! No KKK no facist USA!” more than anything else. Whenever these chants occurred the gate didn’t have as many Trump supporters so most of them just rolled their eyes and looked irritated while a few of them spoke up. I realized I was at a ‘protest gate’ rather quickly.
At first I was pleasantly surprised, the overwhelming amount of people ready to protest Trump made me feel like I was apart of something bigger than myself. I enjoyed seeing the signs, hearing the conversations, and just being a part of this event I knew would have a significant place in history. Almost three hours have gone by just waiting to enter the 1st checkpoint and the line became stagnant. Protesters ended up making a human wall to deny everyone entry because they couldn’t take their signs inside – which was immediately met with the Secret Service completely shutting the gate down. I thought, “Are you kidding me?!”
I am totally in support of protesting (as I have done so before) but this had me infuriated. When a protest starts affecting innocent people directly who are just trying to go about their own business that’s when you take it too far. I was seriously in doubt of being able to get in and cover the inauguration properly which was my entire purpose for being present. I agreed with their message but disagreed with their method. These protesters may have cost me the opportunity to fulfill my obligations to Center of the Aisle and the people who follow us and knew we would be in attendance. Now I had to go find another gate and had to wait all the way in the back of a new line. I just hoped I could still arrive on time.
I arrive at my second inauguration checkpoint around 9:30am irritated and upset with how things had gone up to this point. The line was moving rather quickly so I thought it wouldn’t be that bad. It took a whole 60 seconds to realize I was at a ‘pro-Trump’ gate this time which made me feel better about getting through. I immediately thought “let me look at the shoes they’re wearing” because my intent was to make a meme saying “all these Trump voters, not one pair of work boots.” However to my surprise I noticed a substantial amount of them purposely wore work boots, even with formal attire, to make a statement which I found impressive.
As I chatted with these people I never once revealed my own political affiliations. I just picked their brains to see how they felt about everything and to get a sound understanding of what this day meant to them. I heard a lot of “we finally got our country back” along with various other concerns that I actually shared with them though I may not have seen eye to eye with them on their solutions. We had a lot of similarities to my surprise, and I actually enjoyed my time there chatting with them. I met one man dressed as Ben Franklin (whig and all) who told me he dressed this way because “the great state of Pennsylvania delivered the election to Trump.”
Then I met a man who said he was from Shallote, North Carolina – a fellow North Carolinian. How many of you seen this being spread around social media:
He thought this was an actual thing and rode his motorcycle from NC all the way to DC to be a part of it, unfortunately he was a victim of ‘fake news’ on social media which is an epidemic these days. He told me he slept on the concrete floor in Union station and woke up to come to the inauguration. Whether I agreed with him on political philosophy or not, that was extremely admirable. To ride that far by motorcycle just to sleep on the concrete and then come to see your guy sworn in – that is patriotic. I realized how much this moment really meant to the people in this line.
I began to hear chants and drums in the distance and thought “oh God, here comes the protesters to mess this gate up next.” They left a bad taste in my mouth from the previous gate. As soon as the two factions were able to see one another head to head they started trading chants and things once again became intense. The police ended up having to form a wall between the two groups to keep them separated so things wouldn’t further escalate. The man in the Ben Franklin outfit began to roast the protesters which I found myself unable to not laugh at as much of what he said was rather funny. Another moment at the ‘pro-Trump’ gate I found particularly cool was that someone started singing the Star Spangled Banner and it wasn’t long after that the entire audience sang along while protesters marched on the sidewalks.
I finally made it in – the best part was that I still had time to make it to the inauguration as it was only around 10:30am. As I paced up and down Pennsylvania Avenue I quickly realized that I couldn’t cross over to the National Mall. Now I’m upset again. I asked an officer if there was anywhere to cross and he instructed me to go to 10th street and wait for them to open it up there. The line was ridiculously long, it went to the outer gate and wrapped back around inside towards Pennsylvania Avenue. I decided to try a live video to make sure it worked, and managed to get a shot of this enormous line (this is why the 11:04am and 11:12am pics of the National Mall are bogus, no one was there yet).
At about 11:25am they opened it up, way too late. I’ll say this, though pictures may not reflect it, the people were there for the inauguration but the security and logistics were a total nightmare and they ruined their own event. When we got closer to the National Mall there was another ridiculously long line. Why? Because there was another TSA checkpoint. I thought to myself “do they intend on everyone missing this?” I had to go through the metal detectors but immediately afterwards (when they realized they were stopping everyone from attending) they told people to go through with their jackets open and that’s it. When I tell you people were sprinting and running as fast as possible to get there that’s no exaggeration.
I finally arrived right in front of Capitol Hill at 11:46am. I had barely made it (keep in mind I got on the Metro at 6am). My initial reaction was the crowd was rather light, but I knew how ridiculously long the line to get in was. I seen Pence and Trump get sworn in then Trump began to give his speech. My first impression was that he wasn’t saying a whole lot – until he said one thing in particular. He said “we will eradicate radical Islamic terrorism off the face of the planet!” The crowd went nuts where I was at. I had noticed walking in there were some Muslim people on the outskirts holding signs peacefully and not doing much.
After Trump said this the whole demeanor of the audience changed. It shocked me to hear anyone say, in their first speech, that they would eradicate any demographic off the face of the planet. It seemed very extreme to me. They started yelling “get the hell out of our country” and pushing and shoving these people which was instantly repulsive. I felt disgusted that these people would openly treat them like that so I would not allow myself to stay and watch. This led to my immediate departure. At the time I was leaving the audience was substantially bigger than it initially was with people still running in, the time was 12:21pm and I know this because I texted my friend about what was said right then. If the media produces a pic between 12:20 and 12:30, that is the most accurate reflection possible.
To my surprise I had to go through a TSA checkpoint just to leave, and a fourth one to get to the parade area. This was getting ridiculous. I was starved so I was wanting to find a place to eat, no luck. I had been invited to a protest outside the secured zone so I figured I could check that out while also grabbing a bite to eat before coming back to the parade which didn’t start for three hours. I had no clue what I was about to walk in to. So I’m on the phone with another COTA writer Matt Miller explaining to him what all happened. I didn’t go too deep into details because so much had happened and I didn’t want to talk him to death.
As I approached this protest I seen everything was going as one would expect. Then I heard a loud BANG behind me like a bomb went off. There were about 20 or so rioters with black clothes covering their faces throwing what appeared to be broken cinder block pieces at the police. I seen an officer get pelted in the side of the head with one while not paying attention and felt bad instantly. Before you know it there’s tear gas, flash grenades, pepper spray, pretty much anything the police can use to subdue the situation being used abundantly. These rioters were prepared though. Pepper spray? They put on ski goggles. Tear gas? They had duffle bags with gas masks. They relentlessly fought police which caused them to attack any protester in the vicinity. I must admit, it was even difficult for me to tell who was who. I tried to leave the perimeter (I was dressed in formal attire) only to be met by an officer who pushed me back. He asked me “where do you think you’re going?” I just stopped and looked at him upset and confused because I hadn’t done anything to provoke him to put his hands on me. It didn’t take long for another cop to scream at the top of his lungs “get the f*%k back!” which prompted me to do just that.
I felt so bad that these protesters who were properly exercising their 1st amendment right ended up being beaten and arrested due to the negligence of such a small group of people. I finally was able to leave the area, and the line to get back into the inauguration was still about an hour to two hour wait. Luckily I managed to slide in a gate no one was at and catch some live footage of the very end of the inaugural parade. I’ll say this though, when it was all over I had never been so ready to go from anywhere. It was like a nonstop mental roller coaster so when I went to get back on that Metro line at Gallery I had an instant sense of relief.
What I learned though was that we really have a lot more in common than we like to give ourselves credit for. Life is too short for partisanship. I said the next day to someone I know, how do we take the concerns we have and the concerns they have and somehow find that middle ground to appease everyone? Overall I’m glad I went, and I learned so much not only about myself, but about people in general. Instead of fighting we need to discover what it will take to come together and really make things better for our future generations. But before I go, I’d like to leave you with the photo I took at the end of the day to signify how I felt up to that point:
– John Streaker