The streets of the District are blocked and filled with bodies, once again. It’s only morning and there is already a colorful blur of counter protestors milling about Lafayette Square (and a number of other spots around the city, but this was what I saw firsthand). The plan is roughly to spread the message that alt-right attitudes are not welcome here. The energy is vibrant and kind.
Machi and I move to the Foggy Bottom Metro station, where the alt-righters are scheduled to arrive. We wait for a few hours as the crowd grows. Police draw lines in caution tape designed to keep both groups safe and separate.
Several hundred members of various alt-right affiliate groups were predicted to be at today’s rally. When they finally ascend the Metro escalators, we count a little over two dozen.
Within moments, the caution tape is broken and a swarm of people surrounds the alt-right group. No violence, but too much motion in too tight a space for my instincts. Machi and I slip out of the mob and jog some side streets to try and get some shots from a new angle.
We enter another mass of people (estimating over a thousand) near Lafayette square. We are circled around a group of dancers led by Black Lives Matter. The energy is once again vibrant and I remember why I love these events. We follow this crowd back to Lafayette Square and explore the demonstrations here. Lots of conversations happening, everyone friendly. A black man stands and stares straight ahead with the American flag hanging from a rope over a tree. I ask if he minds if I take a picture, his eyes are kind and he signals me to go ahead. A small group of us intersect for a moment around him, musing on the power of his statement.
This part of protests I love - the use of art to express. The humanity that allows us to connect and trust instantly.
But that same humanity has tribal roots. I am so grateful for the show of solidarity, but I am humbled by the reminder that people with the best of intentions can devolve...myself as no exception.
A couple wearing Trump 2020 shirts were spotted in the city, and a group of hundreds formed around them. When police saw cause for alarm and began escorting them to safety, a handful of people started throwing water bottles at the couple. Someone punched. The Trump supporters walked, eyes ahead, passive.
I watched, leaning on Machi, while people shouted and cursed at the police. Chanting who do you serve, and other harsher things that don’t need repeating here. A black officer stood with his head down in front of us, the verbal attacks happening directly in front of him.
The officers worked tirelessly, many pulling overtime to ensure the safety of all citizens present. All citizens, not just one side or the other. Please don't get me wrong: police don’t always protect the people as they should, especially people of color. Reform is necessary. But in this moment, I am not sure where the line is.
I feel physical pain when I think of our president. That someone who hates so openly, who lies so frequently, could be leading our nation humbles me. He tells it like it is, and that bothers people. I have heard this sentiment from numerous Trump supporters. He tells it like it is? Whenever I hear this I find myself shaking my head in disbelief. Does this person know that he has boasted about assaulting women, called black countries ‘shitholes,’ called Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers (among many other less publicized comments)? Is this person ignorant to the countless, documented, proven lies that he tells? The morning after he was elected I woke up feeling hungover and unsafe in my skin, and I had been half-expecting him to win. I know that as a woman I am less safe in this country than a man; I have been reminded of that just about every year since puberty. But at least we had pretended like we cared as a nation...we’d held up certain ideals even if we knew a lot of folks didn’t abide by them. But President Trump didn’t even pretend to hold up those ideals. Sure, he tells it like it is alright, as he sees it in his bigoted closed mind.
I have empathy for the anger of the people throwing water bottles and punches. I am very aware of my white privilege but as a woman I know what it is like to experience bigotry time after time, until one act tips the scales and all your pain is released into one moment. I empathize fully with disproportionate reactions; I have had them. But how often do those sorts of actions effect change? Humans don’t learn well when they are humiliated, they tend to get scared and go into relative fight or flight mode.
The good I saw yesterday was vast and healing but the violence was grounding. There is a lot of work to be done.