A small crowd gathered, a man gave a speech, an editor was sad
by Reyna Wang
As Donald Trump is one of the most polarizing American political figures, to say the least, it was no surprise that his inauguration was greeted with protests throughout the country and across the globe. In Washington, D.C., the parade route was flooded with tens of thousands of protesters, many of whom had travelled great distances to show their disapproval of the 45th President of the United States. It was reported that in certain parts of the crowd, protesters far outnumbered those who came to support Trump. Though the vast majority of protesters were peacefully protesting groups, their media coverage was overshadowed by that of the Black Bloc anarchists, who smashed the windows of a Bank of America, a Starbucks, and a limousine to protest fascism and capitalism. The police responded to these protesters, as well as others who threw rocks and bricks at officers along the parade route, by using tear gas, pepper spray, and flash grenades to dispel groups of protesters at large, affecting many peaceful protesters in the process.
The largest peaceful protest that took place in Washington on Inauguration Day was also the most underrepresented. This was a mass protest organized by ANSWER – Act Now to Stop War and End Racism – Coalition at the U.S. Navy Memorial, where thousands gathered to “inaugurate the resistance” to Trump’s ultra-reactionary agenda. This was the only permitted anti-Trump demonstration along the inaugural parade route, as obtaining permits for mass assembly protests during and after Inauguration Day wasn’t easy. Though around double the number of organizations applied for permits, few received them, leading some to speculate that the National Park Service’s “omnibus blocking permits” in Washington’s historical spaces were an unconstitutional violation of freedom to assemble and petition, and a deliberate effort to silence dissent on behalf of Trump’s Presidential Inaugural Committee, though the NPS has stated that they applied for the sweeping permits a year in advance, long before the election, and that doing so on behalf of the PIC is a customary practice. The NPS originally denied ANSWER Coalition’s permit requests, but after ANSWER held a press conference on December 7th with attorneys from the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund to expose this alleged suppression of First Amendment rights, the organization was finally able to secure a permit to protest at the Navy Memorial.
Just a few days before what they anticipated would be one of their most visible demonstrations ever, ANSWER Coalition was notified of another major government restriction. Several credentialed media sources, including a major national television news network, reported that though they were credentialed for access the parade checkpoints, the Secret Service had denied them access to certain areas, including the Navy Memorial. Reporters said that they were even banned from recording footage of or interviewing people in the Navy Memorial area from the along the parade route, rendering them completely unable to cover the largest inaugural protest in Washington. Indeed, on Inauguration Day, though some foreign or independent media organizations were able to cover the demonstration, no mainstream media were present. It is strongly suspected that this limitation on the freedom of press was an act of political discrimination, intended to prevent media coverage of massive organized opposition to Trump, the incoming administration, and their agenda.
Despite these legal setbacks, the protest had an enormous turnout. This was apparent from the minute my group from East Harlem arrived at the checkpoint outside of the Navy Memorial around 6 a.m., where hundreds of people from all over the country were already lined up in front of us. Some came as individuals, others with their friends and families, and others with organizations that stood for a multitude of causes, such as LGBTQ+ rights, animal rights, and universal access to health care. One protester even arrived with two llamas for some inexplicable reason. Bur despite the diversity of the crowd outside of the checkpoint, it was clearly overwhelmingly anti-Trump, save for a few red trucker hats spotted here and there.
The checkpoints were very slow in allowing people to enter the demonstration space, and we waited four hours to get in. However, thousands of protesters stretching two blocks down 7th St. were still stuck behind the checkpoint as Trump’s motorcade passed the Navy Memorial around 4 p.m., and some reported that other checkpoints moved considerably faster. Given past limitations on this protest imposed by government structures, many were suspicious that the slow pace of the checkpoint used predominately by protesters was another deliberate government attempt to stifle and conceal political dissent around the inauguration.
Thousands of people who did make it into the Navy Memorial stood bearing yellow ANSWER Coalition that stated “inaugurate the resistance,” “stand with immigrants,” and “say no to fascism,” and others wielded homemade signs with messages like “Black Lives Matter” and “dykes against demagogues” or depicting Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin as lovers. At the center of the plaza stood a 28-foot-long stage, on which leaders of grassroots movements representing immigrant rights, labor justice, environmental justice, opposition to war, women’s rights, racial equality, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ equity, and more spoke about the importance of mobilizing to resist Trump and his administration. Musicians, dancers, and DJs also performed throughout the demonstration, conveying the spirit of resistance through artistic means and keeping the protest energized.
As the sound system set up by the NPS began to air the inaugural ceremony and Trump was to give his inaugural address, ANSWER Coalition hoped to drown out his message with their own program, which continued through the address. The simultaneously proceeding voices resulted in an eerie sonic dissonance that paralleled the frightening dissonance of political ideology in America today. As we heard Trump say “When you open your hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice” from the Capitol, we also heard a black woman from the stage speak about the prejudice that has been woven into the fabric of our country since it was founded, and that continues to oppress her people today. During the National Anthem, many kneeled, emulating Colin Kaepernick’s protest against the oppression of people of color.
Even if the world didn’t get to see it, ANSWER Coalition’s protest at the inauguration, along with all of the other protests that erupted on Inauguration Day and the days following, served as a monumental demonstration of the power of the people, their capacity for solidarity, and their desire for equality, justice, and peace, which Donald Trump does not stand for. An unprecedented number of people went to great lengths show their opposition of a government that they believe fails to protect and provide for all of its people, and that fails to respect the dignity of every person around the world. And if ANSWER’s legal-obstacle-ridden struggle to hold a publicized large scale protest can tell us anything, it is that freedom of speech will be at more risk than ever during the Trump presidency, and that people need to continue to come together like they did at Inauguration Day and at the Women’s March if we are to resist its oppressive policies.