As Robert White, an at-large D.C. councilmember, marched alongside his wife and six-month-old daughter on Saturday, he was surrounded by hundreds of thousands who had travelled to the nation’s capital for the Women’s March on Washington.
A day previously, White could not bring himself to attend the inauguration of President Donald Trump, although his position as a local lawmaker guaranteed him one of the best views in the city to watch the swearing in of the 45th president.
White also refused to watch the inaugural parade from what is typically a standing-room only event at city hall. This year, things were different.
“Donald Trump as a person, during the campaign and after his campaign, showed himself to be so divisive and narcissistic and nasty toward marginalized people that I could not in good conscience attend a celebration of his inauguration,” White said in an interview with The Hoya.
Only three of the 13 local lawmakers, as well as Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), attended the event, meaning there were considerably less eyes on Trump when he passed the John A. Wilson Building, which is a block away from the White House on Pennsylvania Ave., during the parade.
Beyond the inauguration, Washington, D.C., lawmakers will learn to adapt to their new neighbors in the Trump administration — not only because they have moved into city hall’s backyard, but because the federal government has the ability and motivation to roll back the District’s autonomy.
This tension of a deeply Democratic city housing an unapologetically Republican federal government was showcased by varying degrees of support for two contrasting events in the city this weekend, which could set the tone for four years of a contentious relationship.
TAKING TO THE STREETS
As protesters navigated through clouds of tear gas, they engaged with officers from the Metropolitan Police Department, clad head-to-toe in riot gear.
It was 1:55 p.m. on Friday, and the inaugural parade for President Donald J. Trump had yet to begin when police surrounded protesters on 12th and K streets.
This scene is a fragment of the chaos witnessed on many of Washington, D.C.’s streets following Trump’s inauguration earlier on Friday. By the end of the day, police had arrested more than 200 protesters.
The following morning, hundreds of thousands who had traveled from around the country to attend the Women’s March on Washington put on their own version of riot gear. A sea of pink “pussyhats,” the cat-eared hats that became emblematic of the Women’s March after an online project drew worldwide support, dotted Independence Ave. and spread from the march’s starting point to the National Mall.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
As clouds gathered and rain drizzled down on Friday morning, the appearance of different guests at the inauguration drew varying responses from the audience. Attendees cheered on the appearance of Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and their families.
Meanwhile, as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) took the stage to address the audience, boos from the crowd almost drowned his remarks.
Amy Swank, who attended the inauguration to silently protest Trump, knew she would be on the receiving end of negativity going into the inauguration. She said she was startled by the extent to which she was targeted.
“We definitely heard some ‘Lock her up’ chants still and some Trump chants and USA chants at some point,” Swank said. “It was a little unsettling. It kind of got hostile especially there towards the end when they were swearing him in. A few people started to get a lot more unfriendly at that point.”
Although he did not support Trump, Aakash Panjabi (MSB ’19) attended the ceremony because he wanted to witness history and did not know whether he would ever get the chance to attend a presidential inauguration again. As he left, part of him regretted going.
“It was kind of scary, I felt really uncomfortable, actually, being here. I figured I might never be able to go to an inauguration so I came,” Panjabi said. “I wasn’t scared coming into it. I think when I got here and I saw everyone around me, it kind of freaked me out.”
A DIVERSITY OF IDEAS
Chants in support of various causes filled the air: “Black lives matter,” “Feet on the ground, not backing down,” “Tell me what democracy looks like; this is what democracy looks like,” “Women’s rights are human rights.” The city’s security exhaled Saturday as MPD made zero arrests; demonstrators chanted, sang and marched for hours until weary demonstrators finally left the White House.
Marching alongside White were thousands of participants who voiced their support for women’s rights — among other social issues.
“The Women’s March seemed almost deliberately to have an open agenda, so that people of every gender could march for the democratic issues that they believed in. There was a real diversity of issues reflected in this march,” White said. “It was a beautiful atmosphere. Many women and some men dedicated to making their voices heard on a diverse number of issues. I felt very positive energy there.”
However, even at the Women’s March, the cascading pink was not ubiquitous. As he walked toward Independence Ave., Myrom Croel, clad in his red “Make America Great Again” hat, a white polo Trump shirt and even Trump underwear, found himself in the midst of bulging crowds.
A Trump supporter who flew in from California for the inauguration, Croel was one of numerous attendees who were older than 60, a contrast to many of the young women marching.
Croel said he did not understand the reason why women were marching, although he said he respected their right to do so. He believed women had better lives before entering the workforce.
“I actually don’t know what they’re marching about. We recognize women, and if they need to be more recognized that’s fine, I don’t see where women are trod on or beaten down, or anything else. I think they’ve pretty well got equal rights now,” Croel said. “A lot of them used to be princesses, and now they’re our level.”
THE PRECIPICE OF CHANGE
As for this year’s inauguration, White, who has been in local politics for nearly a decade, forebode drastic change, with the country standing at a possible precipice.
“There was a hope and an optimism that was particularly bright during the previous two inaugurations for Barack Obama that was not only absent in D.C. during this inauguration, but there is a strong cloud of despair and fear and it’s palpable in the city,” White said. “The fear is very justified based on the divisive style of politics that we’re seeing in the new administration.”
Local lawmakers expressed fear that the District’s fight for statehood might be stalled by Trump’s administration. Republican senators have also begun an aggressive push to gut other pieces of progressive legislation, such as D.C.’s proposed measures on gun-control, physician-assisted suicide and abortion funding for low-income women through tax dollars.
A referendum for statehood gained approval from 80 percent of D.C. residents in the Nov. 8 election; however, like all legislation passed by local lawmakers, Congress and the president must approve the measure, which is highly unlikely given that if D.C. ends up becoming the 51st state, there would likely be two new Democratic senators as well as one new Democratic representative in the House.
While thousands poured into the nation’s capital from across the country, the Women’s March held special significance for those within the city who predict they will be directly affected by Trump’s administration.
At the rally preceding the Women’s March, Bowser ignited a “Leave us alone” chant during her speech.
“I’m here to speak for all the women elected officials. We are more harshly criticized, we are more wrongly criticized at every single level, when we speak up for women,” Bowser said. “We need every man and every woman to speak up for us, too. The best thing for Congress to do is leave us alone.”
A UNITED RESISTANCE
On the parade viewing stand at the Wilson building, Bowser taped up a large photo of D.C. abolitionist Frederick Douglass alongside the quotation, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will.”
In December, Bowser met with Trump at Trump Tower in New York to discuss local Washington politics. During Bowser’s 2014 run for mayor, Trump’s children Ivanka and Eric donated a total of $4,000 to Bowser’s mayoral campaign. After she won, Trump himself donated $5,000 to Bowser’s D.C. Proud Inaugural Committee.
Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) also took advantage of city hall’s prominent parade viewing position by using the large windows on the third floor of the Wilson building.
Grosso taped up a sign proclaiming “D.C. Protects Human Rights” with rainbow lettering to profess his support of LGBTQ rights.
His fellow law-maker Councilman Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4) was one of the three councilmembers who attended the inauguration. Todd’s Communication Specialist Joshua Fleitman wrote in an email to The Hoya that the councilmember attended to celebrate the peaceful transition of power, though his attendance was not an endorsement of any of the views of the new administration.
“Although the councilmember shares many of the concerns of his constituents regarding the policy proposals and initial actions of the new administration, it is of the utmost importance that District leadership cultivate a working relationship with the Trump administration,” Fleitman wrote.
Fleitman’s optimism about working with the new administration has not rubbed off on his coworker White, who is uncertain about what the future of politics in D.C. will look like.
“I’ve been looking for months for a reason to be optimistic or hopeful about Trump’s presidency,” White said. “But I have not been able to find any hope for those of us that worry about losing the civil rights gains and for the District of Columbia, the autonomy gains we have worked for over the past eight years.”
Hoya Staff Writers Tara Subramaniam and Christian Paz contributed reporting.