With hours to kill before joining up with Disrupt J20, we hit A Baked Joint for some espresso, then Busboys and Poets, 5th and K, for breakfast. Paris, our server, couldn’t have been cooler. She made sure we knew about the free protest posters then let us hang out long after we paid.
I watched inaugural happenings on the television over the bar. CNN. Scrolling the bottom of the screen was “Breaking News: Donald Trump wrote his own inaugural address.” And later, “Breaking News: Obama leaving Oval Office for the final time,” and, “Obamas waiting for Trump and Pence at the White House.” Like water leaving a tub. An emptying. Silverware on plates, rubber bands snapping rolled posters, a collective reluctance and disbelief. We knew it was coming. Today it finally would.
We ordered a breakfast dessert. A vegan chocolate chip cookie with starfruit garnish. A singular blueberry on top. Paris delivered it warmed up. We ate it with a knife and fork.
Streets were lined with military trucks. Soldiers and hawkers slung memorable junk awash with the elect’s smug face and name. Winter beanies and scarves were selling fast. Cold day, rain expected. One vendor’s pitch, “Buy five hats, get a free Ralph Lauren dress.” Unbranded ponchos were also a hit. Five bucks to stay dry is a good deal. I’d bought one back home, yet regretted its color. Orange. I prayed the rain would stay at a drizzle. It mostly did.
Bumped into one of the owners of Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge – our good friend Paul. We figured he’d be the first of many Carrboro locals we’d run into over the next two days. Turns out he was the only one we saw. But I know they were out there in the sea of people.
We grouped up at the Ellipse near Union Station to participate in a bold mobilization against the inauguration of America’s new president. We peacefully chanted and cheered as we took over major intersections, blocked traffic, and eventually made our way onto Interstate 695 at the 3rd Street entrance.
“No Trump, no KKK no fascist USA!”
“Tell me what democracy looks like — this is what democracy looks like!”
“Whose streets? Our streets!”
On the freeway, we blocked both directions of traffic, then marched westbound for another mile to 9th Street towards L’Enfant Plaza. Hovering choppers circled, the side door open. I worried about tear gas. Some drivers, belligerent, exited vehicles to confront the crowd. Some threw punches. Others high-fived and thanked us. Truck drivers blew their ground-shaking horns in a show of support. Police blocked traffic, leaned on their cars with arms crossed. A pedestrian bridge loaded with people who waved opposing banners. Shook red hats and fists.
We carried homemade signs. Katie’s said, “Trump is not nice.” Mine, “White male against Trump.” Someone in the crowd walked past me and sarcastically said, “Too bad there weren’t more of you.” I never knew who said it. And like a nightmare, I can still hear his voice in a whisper.
Then a black woman walked past, turned around, stopped to thanked me. She said the same thing as the man, “I only wish more of you felt that way.” Best I could say in return was, “me too.”
A group of five white young men, maybe 25 years old, khakis and oxfords, smooth-faced and red-cheeked, shouted epithets and eschewed our voices while we chanted, “Black lives matter!” A similar looking man in a suit wearing a white supremacist frog on his lapel. Grown white women, my mother’s age, my aunt’s age, my neighbor’s age, screamed at us. Veins in their foreheads. Spittle. Called us “idiots” and “losers”. Shook their fingers and erased us with the palms of their hands. “You’re what’s wrong with this country! You and you and you!” Pointed at us. Made eye contact.
Near the Capitol, just about the time of the swearing in, police arrived in riot gear. Formed-up like stormtroopers. Robots. Cronies. We marched past. Lots of folks took video. I could see my body reflected, though warped, in their shatterproof masks. Our voices louder and louder.
“Trump and Pence are illegitimate, Trump and Pence are fascists!”
“We want a leader, not a creepy Tweeter!”
Two hours or so later, maybe longer, hoarse from chanting, we ended at McPherson Square where some celebrities, including Michael Moore, pumped up the crowd as more helicopters swarmed, making it difficult to hear.
Disrupt J20 had set up tents where folks could get warm, grab some free food (veggie and hummus “burritos” and bananas, among plenty of other options), make more signs, and learn about the participating organizations.
Can you imagine how good it feels when people are actually taking care of each other? That’s how it felt.
Fed and hydrated, Katie and I walked around the block, upstream against the crowd exiting the inaugural activities on the Mall. We carried our signs. Most of the red hats shook their heads and nudged each other. Some seemed shocked that we’d have the nerve to infringe upon their party. Exaggerated their dismay.
Then another group of men. Also white. 30-something and well-dressed. Handsome, maybe. Looked at my sign and laughed hysterically. Then read it, like a question, loud enough for me to hear. “White males against Trump? Are you kidding me?” As we passed they started screaming, “Fuck you! Fuck you man!” You don’t do that unless you want to fight. Takes a lot of guts to tell another person, another man no less, to fuck off.
We walked. Regrouped with the protest crowd. Kept our signs high up until the sun went down.
Back at the hotel, CNN and Fox News was on lobby TVs. Reporting about the ‘violent’ protests. Talking about trash fires and shattered windows at a Starbucks and McDonalds. About injured cops. Arrested demonstrators. Some 200 or more. So-called ‘riots’. Anarchists made the news, and trust me, I believe that’s wildly important. But what didn’t make the news is even more important.
On Friday Katie and I marched peacefully with thousands of other Americans to protest the current state of affairs in the USA. It wasn’t merely an anti-Trump rally, but his inauguration was the impetus. We all arrived to exercise our Constitutional right to assemble and speak out. In doing so, we encountered an angry opposition who desperately wanted to rub our noses in our so-called loss. We were there, as informed citizens, to speak up.
My life, apparently, has been sheltered enough for the day’s minor altercations to be traumatizing. For the most part, I’ve been fortunate enough to exist untouched by human backlash. I’ve moved within in a bubble largely protected by my white skin. I’ve never truly felt like I needed to watch my back. On Friday I was afraid of many fellow Americans. People I might have grown up with. Gone to school with. Worked with. I found myself worried like I might worry about an enemy.
I don’t like feeling this way. I don’t want enemies. And I don’t want the people I love to have enemies, either. I want to understand them more than anything else, but frankly I don’t see that happening.
Though I genuinely believe that love wins, it’s too goddamned late to relax on the luxury of trying to understand all the whys and the hows of America’s current state. Instead, I believe it’s time to take action. To effortfully use my body and voice to disrupt the nation’s wrong-doings.
Especially as a white American male, it’s time for me to pop the comfortable bubble that serves me and folks who look like me. It’s time to wake up and stand strong for what’s right. Why? For the sake of humanity.
It’s time for me to wake up. And then, to stay woke.
One thought on “Stay Woke”
So good. Thanks for writing this, Tom. Stay woke, we will.