Thursday, January 19
The shopping concourse at Washington’s Union Station looks like a scene from Blade Runner: hordes of travelers, the garish lights of fast-food outlets, and men in camouflage with dogs guarding closed-off exits. It’s our first glimpse of a city in semi-lockdown, the center of government walled behind high metal fences, checkpoints, and barricades. Women in evening gowns and men in black bow ties pick their way through the crowd, stony-faced and faintly disgusted.
On the Metro we sit across from a very different couple. Their Trump baseball caps—his camouflage, hers red, worn backwards—still have price tags dangling. So do their wheelie suitcases. He’s in jeans and a worn leather belt; she wears a beige cable sweater stretched over her belly and a left boot split at the front so her bare toes are visible. They look like country people, weathered and calm. On the partition next to them a sticker shouts, “NO! Stop Trump/Pence. No fascist USA.”
Without speaking, Zoe and I both start jotting down notes: a moment of mother-daughter synergy, and a mark of our distance from the couple opposite. At a country barbecue we’d chink beer bottles, listen to them, swap stories. But here it feels impossible. The city is occupied by different worlds that slip past, mistrust, confront each other. The one thing they can’t have is a conversation. This is as true of the two wings of Trump’s supporters—the glitzy rich in their finery and the white working class who’ve come to “take back” their capital—as it is of “us” and “them.”
Friday, January 20
The streets are eerily empty; helicopters whir overhead. On Dupont Circle the statues round the fountain sport red sashes that read “Resist.” We pass a souvenir shop selling Obama T-shirts beside the scarlet Trump ones, a bookshop with Carol Anderson’s White Rage prominent in the window. Further in, armored cars wait in the side streets.
We hit the black perimeter fence a little before noon. It’s raining a bit (despite what Trump said) and the sound of a distant choir swims through heavy air. Small knots of people pass each other in silence, some in red Trump caps, some carrying signs: “Not my president,” “Don’t touch my pussy or the White House kitchen garden.” At noon, as the faraway cheer goes up, a middle-aged man across the street bows his head over his placard: “Thank you President Obama. Yes We Can.” Apart from a few people selling Trump souvenirs, there’s barely a black or brown face to be seen. Zoe points out, “It’s because people don’t feel safe.”
But then we find the #DisruptJ20 protest, dedicated to shutting down the inauguration: “If Trump is to be inaugurated at all, let it happen behind closed doors, showing the true face of the security state Trump will preside over.” They’re the ones who clashed with police outside the Alt-Right DeploraBall; who got up early to blockade the entrances to the militarized perimeter in the name of Black Lives, Climate Justice, Feminism, Queer Resistance, Labor; who took to the streets and stayed there. We fall into their march behind two giant photos of raised fists: “Ungovernable Anti-Fascist.” We shout. We may not be achieving much, but the sense of threat and oppression temporarily lifts. And that’s important too.