Military trucks, riot police, a sea of red hats and perhaps millions of people full of adrenaline. At first glance, an average American may not associate any of these words with any relatable experience. However, not only do they represent a recent American experience, but arguably the most important part of the American political system, the peaceful transfer of power. I was blessed to have been invited and able to attend this ceremony and all the festivities that came with it on January 20.
During the week of the inauguration, D.C. represented a little taste of chaos considering the amount of people and the lack of usable transportation. I had been invited to a ball on Thursday night, only to arrive three hours late. The metro happened to be seriously delayed and while Uber was readily available, I found that my 10-minute commute turned into an hour and a half commute due to the amount of roads shut down and passageways blocked in preparation for the inauguration.
At the ball I got a taste of what the week would turn out to be. While waiting in line to enter the venue, I struck up a conversation with a police officer nearby. Curious as to why multiple patrols were camped at downtown D.C. that had multiple patrols camped – including our venue – I asked him what was going on. The surprisingly mild-mannered and friendly police officer responded with the notion that there had been threats towards all the Republican balls and that they were here to ensure safety. Safe is exactly how I felt in that moment; there was no apparent danger and no sign of even peaceful protestors, but this may have just been at the ball I was invited. Over the course of that Thursday and Friday there were some 20-30 different balls that may have had vastly different circumstances.
A late Thursday night was followed by an early Friday morning. We were told that the earlier you could get there, the better, due to not only the lines and crowds of people that we would face, but also the traffic on the way to get there. Between the inauguration crowd, the protestors and the poor residents of the D.C. metro area, transportation was horrific. Luckily, due to an early start we were able to get to the national mall with much time to spare. Exiting the metro station, I caught the first glimpse of what my day would turn out to look like. Military trucks and police cars were used liberally to block intersections off for the swarm of pedestrians pouring out of the metro station. I also caught my first glimpse of the peaceful protestors on my walk to our entrance. I must say, seeing all of the civic action at work – though I found most of the arguments made by the protestors disagreeable – I was impressed with how blessed we are to live in a nation in which the government is designed to allow us to exercise disagreement with those in authority, even at a ceremony such as the inauguration.
Protests were plentiful, and causes were as well. I saw everything from the feminist and LGBTQ communities, to Pro-Palestinian protestors, to Black Lives Matter. When I got to my entrance, however, I began to see the less-than-peaceful protestors. My entrance was completely blocked by a crowd a lot more aggravated than the previous ones I had just encountered. I was a little unclear as to what this protest was about other than just to protest the inauguration. To get to the checkpoint, we had to find the soldier and show him our tickets. He lead us behind the wallset up by riot police – two rows of them to be exact. Strangely, when we were past that perimeter, things seemed to quiet down pretty quickly and we flew past security – which was strange considering it was run by the TSA.
The ceremony was incredible. Obama, Clinton and Pelosi were all in attendance as well as all of the Republican heroes. Sen. Chuck Schumer even had a spot in the program. Everything was relatively civil with the exception of the whistles blown during President Trump’s oath. The national mall was packed, despite the premature photo released by the news media, and excitement was apparent. Franklin Graham even closed out the ceremony with a great message. My most memorable experience, however, were the events that followed. As a flood of red hats poured out of the exit that I trekked, the protestors who had blocked the entrance now blocked the exits, slowing things down. This experience, due to its peaceful nature, reminded me of a church camp cheering battle. The kind where the blue team shouts the cheers with joy to which the red team will retaliate with joyful shouts maybe just a bit louder. Similarly, protestors shouted a cheer I couldn’t quite make out, and in response the sea of red hats cheered “USA” for a good period of time. Many police officers were present to ensure nothing got out of line, however, they served a larger purpose in assisting tourists and giving directions. All of the officers were aware of potential danger, yet none seemed rattled when addressing the tourists.
After navigating out of the traffic jam, me and a friend begin to make our way to the parade seating we had along Pennsylvania avenue. In this two mile walk, I saw amazing episodes. First, I witnessed clearly politically apathetic vendors utilizing the glories of capitalism in vending their Trump apparel and “Make America Great Again” hats. Then I witnessed some very explicit apparel worn by protestors saying things that I would rather not repeat. Next, though I was captivated by being in the middle of protesting, I found myself caught in the middle of one I would have rather not been in. Me, my friend and two other guys in red hats found ourselves being pushed, kicked, cursed at and blocked from crossing the street by a rather violent protest. We elected to go around after spending a little bit of time in the fray only to find out that five to 10 minutes after, this same intersection was the one in which the protestors began to knock out windows. Luckily, we safely made it to a beautiful parade.
All in all, this was an experience that I would not trade. However, after some reflection, I realized the true winner of the weekend was not necessarily President Trump, although his speech and demeanor was one to be recognized, or the protestors, although they did leave a lasting impression. The true winners of the weekend were the service men and women who kept atrocities and violence to a minimum while wearing a smile and providing critical directions and support to tourists.