I was excited to go cover the inauguration on Friday, at least in the journalistic sense. I grabbed my #Imwithher poster, a Clinton-Gore hat from six inaugurations ago, and two phones for ample picture and note taking. As I stepped out of my door onto O St., however, I realized I had forgotten two things. One, to drink a cup of coffee and two, to wake up.
Once both of those steps were taken, I read the newspaper headlines just to make sure I hadn’t been a coma for 10 weeks. With that scenario disproved by the headlines, I grabbed a “great” cup of coffee and stuffed a half-charged iPhone (Which implies 32 minutes of battery life), four unusable pens and a notepad into my parka. I also attempted a minute of deep breathing techniques in case I ran into, well, lets just say a few too many of those folks donning those infamous red hats.
In truth and in my typically naive fashion, I expected to simply find scattered masses of people engaging in healthy debates about the future of the country, bi-partisan yoga workshops and food truck vendors so swept up by the unprecedented level of national unity and immigration support, they were giving away meals, especially the Mexican vendors.
To add to the anticipation, I heard a fairly large demonstration only two blocks away from my apartment. Since, I also had to go the CVS just across from where the commotion was emanating, I grabbed my “Goodbye Obama” sweathshirt, sweatpants and rushed over to the noise. It was roughly 9 am.
As I approached the throng, surprisingly the dialogue did not appear to be hostile nor even disagreeable. However, as the crowd more clearly entered my field of vision (I may have been the only one who could see clearly), I did a double take. Rather than seeing Trump or Clinton or “#not my president” signs, or anything even remotely political, I saw lets just say, many symbols of a Reggae Fest. My sense of smell confirmed this first impression.
So yes, this was not exactly a political rally. In fact, I am not sure a good chunk of the people even knew it was inauguration day. At least not anymore. They were rallying alright, Cypress Hill style, one puff at a time, for: More munchies, hemp products and the right to get every bystander and cop in a six block radius loopy from second hand smoke.
Frankly I am not sure I have ever seen a more zealous and patient queue, particularly on a Friday at 9 am. My guess is a good chunk of these “activists” wouldn’t have waited more than five minutes on a voting line, but promise them one free joint and discounts on “medicinal” paraphernalia, and they could wait the entire morning. Apparently some of them did.
I wasn’t sure whether to immediately turn around and head to CVS. But I replayed the wisdom of my public affairs professor who always says that the news is usually the opposite of the plans, so I took out my phone and attempted to interview one of the dutiful souls on the queue. As a non-pot smoker, I am not so savvy about the weed hype. In fact, my biggest point of departure is why legalization is so important when its previous illegality never denied anyone access to it. But to better play an objective on the street journalist, I pressed the issue a bit.
Me – ” So what brings you to this rally?”
Bob Marley Jr – “Dude, I’m sure you can figure it out. Look at all the weed”.
Me – “But do you have to go to the other end of the city just to get “weed”? (I felt a little phony just saying the word)
BMJ – “Yea but it’s free”
Me – “But don’t you have a bunch of friends who would give it to you for free?”
BMJ – “Haha.. Yea but I can’t guarantee that. Besides, Trump’s probably going to take all our weed away. The fascists want to take away all our freedoms”.
Me – “Actually I’m not sure Trump has mentioned anything about weed. My guess is that it is not big on his agenda. ”
BMJ _ “Yea just wait. Pence will. He’s one of those uptight Christian guys. Probably thinks hippies are all the devil’s army.
Me – “So how long will you wait on this line?”
BMJ – “As long as I need to. I waited forever for weed to be legal. What’s an hour?”
My weedfest observations could continue indefinitely. But my brain is getting a bit Trumpy just thinking about it. I’ll just relate a little anecdote from waiting in line at CVS to get my TB test read. There were at least half a dozen people waiting to use the bathroom. They were very fidgety. Most had died hair. Others had ripped jeans and multiple earrings. And they kept talking about the line.
Me – So are you here to get a flu shot too? If so, you can sign in at the kiosk over there.”
Them – laughing, more laughing “Nay man, we’re here to make sure it stays legal.”
Me – “You mean weed or the flu shot?”
Them – “What’s the flu shot? Does it protect us against Trump? You getting one?”
Me – “Actually know I’m here to get, ah never mind, nah ( I wanted to seem a bit saintly), not my thing.
“Right on. You’re missing out though”.
Me: (eavesdropping on their conversation):
Them – “Dude, the line is crazy. It goes up the street like three blocks. Think there will be weed left?”
Another dude: ” I dunno. If I were you I would cut the line.”
“Political” activists wait patiently to inhale their deepest sentiments
(Photo courtesy of Donald J Trump – CNN photographer)
“Yea but thats not cool. Could you imagine if I cut in front of someone and I ended up being the last guy to get some?”
“Holy shit, That would be dope, I mean for you. But they would go crazy. That might actually get you deported.”
This is where my weed story ends, well almost ends. Just as I was leaving three girls walked out of a bathroom designed for one person. Before my inner 22 year old jumped to conclusions, I asked one of my informants what she thought was going on.
“Oh they were probably rolling a joint. I think they were in the bathroom earlier. There was so much green stuff on the sink, I almost licked it”.
The smell of clean air, well sort of:
At this point, I felt more compelled than ever to do some real journalism. I heard there was a Dream Act rally going on towards the Mall so I took the metro to Foggy Bottom and started following the crowd from there.
My sense is that there were some people who were genuinely afraid their first amendment rights would be taken away when Trump was sworn in, so they took full advantage of their last few hours. As I started walking around Foggy Bottom, a larger procession of revelers was heading towards the Tidal Basin. I didn’t see any #MAGA hats so I started tagging along, eavesdropping on conversation and trying to get caught up in the democratic spirit. This procession was in fact heading towards to Dreamers gathering so I had guessed right.
This was a fairly PG rally. And low and behold, there were two red hat Trump supporters there who said they didn’t think Trump was going to follow through on his deportation threats but if he did, they would be at the head of the line to protest. My 32 minutes of iPhone battery life expired so I have no pictures from this rally but I’ll share some of the best lines from posters.
“Melania can stay but deport Donald”
“As long as you hump Trump, you can stay”
“Deport hate, protect hope”
“A dream deferred is our future denied”
“Beware of things that go Trump in the night”
“Your wealth was built on our backs. No immigrants = No buildings”
“Note to president Trump – Let he who be without sin cast the first stone”
At about noon, the promise of rain came true. Mind you this was the time that Mr. Trump was taking the oath of office. I’ll leave any possible symbolism to the reader. So I left the Dream Act rally and started heading towards the center of the action. About an hour later, I received warnings from my wife and sister not to go towards 13th and K. At first I had no intention of going to K street but after their warning, I immediately started heading in that direction. Though on the way there, I heard something that sounded like the combo of an Obama campaign rally and a spoken poetry contest so i stopped there first.
My sense is a good chunk of the attendees had also waited on the weed line. I’ll assume that once they realized it was inauguration day, their priorities had shifted somewhat
It was spirited, inclusive and overtly anti-Trump. Given my preppy, shy nature, I felt a little out of place, but I listened.
Te first speaker, lets call her Wanda, had an Afrocentric, 90’s feminist hip hop kind of tone. I will try to recreate what she said using some poetic license:
“We will not let the machines of oppression remanufacture our souls,
Nor white supremacy murder our goals,
We won’t let Obama’s dream be destroyed by that son of a bitch
We won’t let them re-enslave us so they can get more rich,
They can’t confine us, Trump can’t redefine us
We will stay at the front of the bus
Black lives matter. Can I get a black lies matter?”
“Black lives matter!”
“Black lives matter”
“We aint niggers, we aint diggers, we aint forgotten, we don’t pick cotton”
“Black Lives Matter!!”
The remaining speakers were equally fired up. A Native American who had apparently run for Congress in North Dakota named “Chase Iron Eyes ” spoke in really Thoreauesque terms about saving the river from oil exploration and a bunch of other really deep spiritual metaphors about the “omnipresent soul of nature”. I don’t even think he went to the weed fest and was still this deep.
He was also playing the harmonica, a flute made from bamboo and sang with a cadence that pulsated river currents through my veins. I was rather awed as was the crowd who chanted a bunch of really cool verses in authentic native american dialect. I felt like I needed to see Dances With Wolves again.
The last speaker I heard was a Muslim-American female. She was pretty intense, blaming pretty much everyone for the mistreatment of a handful of Muslims and negative perceptions of them. Clearly Trump’s speech didn’t sit well with her. Islamaphobia, in her eyes, was more widespread then lets say love of major league baseball. But everyone cheered and chanted “Down with Islamaphobia. Don’t with xenophobia, down with gynophobia, down with diversophobia (or something like that).
She was a little too extreme for my taste but I cheered anyway. Apparently she didn’t even know she was to going speak so everything was said extemporaneously. Her last comment was particularly striking.
“If they say Muslims don’t belong, I say bring more
If they say Muslims are the problem, I say just look at the score
of American terrorists on Muslim lands and Muslim values
Confining Allah within the hateful chambers of biblical lies
If you are really afraid of Muslims Mr Trump, look in the mirror and take off the disguise.
You are the enemy. Your hate bullets which spread from city to city, state to state
You and your millions of ignorant followers are what keeps America from being great”
……. I clapped, I’m not even sure I agreed with much of her rant, but I clapped like my team had just gone ahead in the last minute of the game.
1st Amendment in the spotlight
I could go on and on here but I will close by saying that I felt a little boring by comparison. I’m a white guy from New Hampshire who’s biggest complaint is that my neighborhood sidewalks are a bit hard to traverse with a baby stroller.
From here, I felt ready for some more adventure.
At first I felt stronger than nature. I even facetimed my wife to prove how brave I was. But as I got closer to the center of the action, I could see that something was burning and no it was not a Caja China nor a recreation of the weed-fest. There were overturned trash cans and they were either making human sacrifices or burning Trump gear or maybe both. A Trump guy came over with a fire extinguisher and then as squatters tend to do, they got a little resentful and sure enough everything I was forewarned about came true.
Most people stuck around to take photos but I went running. Ironically stopping only to speak with a group of Red Hats…
I apologized to them.
Me – “These are not real Democrats. I think they are just a little too stoned and still upset that Bernie Sanders lost. Or they really just want to make the news.”
Them – “Yea I know. But still this is ridiculous. (One of them started ingesting chewing tobacco. Another seemed pretty hammered.) I survived eight years of Obama ( I hate this line) and we didn’t break things or try to pick fights. We sucked it up.”
Me – (better part of reason) “I mean it’s a free country. People can vote for whomever they want, even Donald Duck. Anyway, I hope you guys have a good inauguration weekend. Hopefully I won’t see you in four years though.”
They – laughing, hopefully you will see us. I wish more Democrats were like you, friendly and all.
Me – I’m sure they are, they are probably just hanging out in coffee shops reading the paper right now.
Like a casino enthusiast, I was tempted to go back for one more look. Really. All the swarming cop cars and sound and fury didn’t dissuade me. But I looked at my phone and saw a message from my wife telling me to be safe. I actually followed her suggestion.
Disclaimer – The next few sentences will depart from satire.
Walking along the parade route, I had conflicting feelings. One I was embarrassed or at least confused by all the hysteria. Trump was elected 10 weeks ago. They had plenty of time to exercise their first amendment rights. Secondly, did all these vigilantes actually get out and vote? Third, maybe free marijuana and the constitutional right to assemble on inauguration day isn’t such a good blend. Fourth, If Clinton had been elected, would the Trump people be doing the same thing? For some reason, my instinct told me no. And five, Trump hasn’t even moved into the White House. Maybe the hysteria should wait until he actually does something.
I kept walking, peering over at the White House and getting a little miffed at a guy selling big Trump banners. Shit, he must be making a ton of money on this crap. I think I was just a little jealous. The only knick knack I have ever sold are Mindo t-shirts and I sold those at cost.
The slogan perplexes me. When did we stop becoming great? Obama created 10,000 million jobs in his second term and the economy is more robust than at any time in decades. Millions want to immigrate here every year. Why did 63 million people buy into this trope?
And then an idea came to me, a coy response to this ridiculous and erroneous slogan. Why not flip it on its head? Okay Trump wants to make America “great” but we were “really great” before he took office. America’s status has now been downgraded. “This is genius,” I thought to myself. I’m going to make bumper stickers, hats, flags, towels, etc. This will be the opposition’s catchphrase.
My pace quickened. Where should I post this? Facebook? Twitter, text all my Democratic friends or just catch everyone by surprise?
Now I was floating on air. Hah, I bet Trump’s PR people never thought of this. I wanted to scream it out to all the Trumpeteers. “Wow, so we are great now, but we used to be really great. The joke is on you.”
By now, I was out of the eye of the storm. I fought the urge to text my new slogan and went inside the GW gym, ready to release much of the day’s angst on the squash court. I was a bit curious as to what was going on K St. And then another thought crossed my mind.
Maybe I really need to get a life. Either that or start reading more Native American philosophy.