by Tanisha Jemma Rose Spratt | University of Cambridge, PhD student, Sociology
This is part of an ongoing series on Impressions of Post-Election America.
When I left for Washington, D.C to begin my fieldwork in early January, I had every intention of attending the inauguration. Having stayed up all night in the UK in anticipation of the election results on November 8th, I believed that watching Donald Trump become the next president of the United States was something that I had to witness for myself in order to believe. During the period between the election and the inauguration, I was in a state of disbelief. Much like my current attitude towards Brexit, I found that I was able to trick myself into believing that it might not happen because it hadn’t yet actually happened. Witnessing the inauguration would, I thought, snap me out of this fantasy and force me to look at what is really going on in the United States right now. I tried to look at it objectively as a significant moment in history that I would be able to witness, record, and retell, and I felt that I was somehow obliged to do this as a temporary resident of Washington, D.C.
“I also felt obligated as I am, technically, an American citizen.”
I also felt obligated as I am, technically, an American citizen. Although I was born and raised in the UK, my father is from Chicago and, because of this, I was able to claim full US and UK citizenship at an early age. Yet as the day drew nearer and I watched as preparations were being made in the city for the event, I grew disenchanted with the idea of attending. I spoke to people in coffee shops, on the metro, and in other public places and came to realize that an inauguration is traditionally seen as a celebration in the US, and I, along with millions of other Americans, didn’t see anything to celebrate. I decided not to go.
So I joined the Women’s March the day after instead.
I woke up early that morning having arranged to meet a friend on Independence Avenue at 9:30am in preparation for the pre-march rally that was due to begin at 10am. I lived as a “non-degree seeking student”on the campus of a historically black university located in the heart of the city, an institution known for its political astuteness and activism. Knowing this, I anticipated that on the short walk to the metro from my apartment I would be accompanied by a vast number of students geared up for the event. I walked to the metro unaccompanied, however, and I did not see any fellow protestors until I arrived to the metro. These protestors were not students from the university, but mostly young, energetic white women from the surrounding area. As I boarded the crammed metro train I saw that the majority of the people inside had made signs to display throughout the day. I sat next to a woman who I later discovered taught fifth grade at a local school, and who had asked her students to make a sign showing their concerns about current events and their hopes for the future.
When I arrived at the metro station closest to the event, I was overwhelmed by the number of people who had shown up early for it. Crowds poured out of the station in the hundreds, making it difficult for me to locate where I was on Independence Avenue and impossible for me to find my friend. I followed the current of the crowd towards the outskirts of the stage where speeches were already underway from the empowered feminists who had organized the event. The mood at the rally was light but determined, and although people were clearly angry there was also feeling of community and uplift emanating from the audience that I hadn’t anticipated. Although I was initially on my own I made friends quickly and keenly discussed their specific fears and concerns about the newly instated Trump administration. Many of the women that I spoke to expressed their concerns about the misogynistic rhetoric used by Trump during his campaign and their genuine belief that he is a dangerous sexual predator. It was clear that numerous other women and men who, later, joined the rally with explicit and provocative anti-Trump signs also shared this belief.
After the rally, we proceeded to march from Independence Avenue to the White House, all the time chanting phrases, such as “Hey, ho, Donald Trump has got to go!” and “Not my president!”. Police officers and members of the armed forces were stationed at different points along the route. Far from being hostile, they often smiled at us in encouragement and directed us along the laid out route when we looked lost. At one point I marched alongside an armed soldier who expressed his good mood by chatting informally with the crowd whilst being “thank[ed] for [his] service” by passers by. Because of its length and slow pace the march was exhausting, yet the crowd was consistently energized by celebrity performances and random impassioned speeches from organizers and high profile guests. There was a consistent mood of uplift and positivity throughout the march, and many of the people I spoke to said that they felt good about being part of a movement that was actively resisting Trump and his political agenda. It made them feel like they were channeling their anger and worries in a productive way, rather than violently protesting and looting as others had done in the city leading up to the inauguration. The march was, for many, a family event that provided parents with a safe space to bring along their children and elderly relatives to express their awareness of the dangers of a Trump presidency.
“The march was, for many, a family event that provided parents with a safe space to bring along their children and elderly relatives to express their awareness of the dangers of a Trump presidency.”
Since the Women’s March, Trump has implemented a “Muslim ban” which has spurred further resistance and political mobilization in the city and at local airports. This ban, preventing the entry of citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries into the United States, has caused a great deal of disruption and concern in and around the Washington, D.C area. I spoke to several people in its wake and many expressed their disgust and outrage at this overtly racist policy. It signifies, many argued, the very antithesis of what the United States stands for as a nation “founded by immigrants.” Undoubtedly this opinion does not accurately reflect the opinion of many Americans residing in more conservative parts of the country (Washington, D.C is overwhelmingly liberal), but it demonstrates a keen awareness amongst D.C residents of the dangers that a Trump administration poses to the fabric of American society and culture.
One positive outcome of the implementation of this policy is that it has inspired even greater political mobilization in the city. There has been at least one sizeable protest every weekend here since Trump’s inauguration, and there are rumors that this will continue until he is somehow impeached. From what I’ve seen and heard since I arrived here, this seems highly likely.
Cover image by Jacqueline Larma/Associated Press