So. This year turned season has been my “Year of Yes” (thanks, Shonda), where I’ve just been shooting my shots academically/professionally– got into school, moved clear across the country to go, got it paid for, got two GA positions I wanted. God is good, basically, and s/he be waitin’ to show out for you.
In October, the opportunity presented itself for me to attend the inauguration as a photojournalist– which I am not. I had just gotten my camera and didn’t think I’d make it past the application process; so I didn’t apply until the instructor literally told me to the day the application was due. Long story short, I made the cut, anticipating the chance to document the inauguration of our first female president and us just taking a collective breath after dodging this Trump bullet.
Plot twist: we didn’t get either of those things. But I went anyway, for the experience and to be able to tell folks, firsthand, NOBODY was there.
Here’s my kind of newsy assignment covering a few people I met with a few halfway edited photos, done after a 13-hour day, with a few of my own opinions added for Hive purposes:
The crowd at the inauguration for newly-elected President Donald Trump was both starkly opposite that of the crowd at former president Barack Obama’s initial inauguration, and yet, still quite similar.
Though several thousand Trump supporters descended upon on the capital city’s National Mall, news and social media outlets were quick to share photos contrasting the two scenes some eight years apart. Whereas Obama’s inaugural crowd filled the mall from the Capital Building to well past the Washington Monument in 2009, Trump’s gathering was recognizably thinner, leaving room for guests to sit and even lie down.
While guests at Obama’s inauguration differed across several demographic lines, meshing in support of the president, guests at Trump’s inauguration were nearly ethnically indistinguishable. From the lines outside of the security checkpoints at 6 am until crowds dispersed for the parade, I was surrounded by a peculiar-feeling whiteness.
Even those who weren’t there to celebrate the man were mostly white, and it acted as a connecting thread in spite of the ideological differences that may have been present. What did separate them, however, were their individual causes. Among the often unbelievable politician’s supporters and fans were several protesters bearing signs to set themselves apart, championing such issues as women’s rights to bodily autonomy, education, ending racism, and improving immigration policies.
Two local school teachers, attending to protest, declined to be named because of their affiliation with a school district in the area. “We’re here for the resistance,” the women said, simply but sternly.
Among their grievances was, of course, Trump’s appointing of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Trump would go on to acknowledge that “Americans want great schools for their children,” in his inauguration speech.
Larry Alexander drove from Florida with his partner, mother-in-law and four young children. Alexander planned the trip beforehand in anticipation of celebrating the United States’ first female president. Alexander, coincidently, is a white man married to a black man and, together they have four black children.
“We wanted to show our kids that sometimes you don’t win,” Alexander said. The father of four was understandably anxious for the coming years.
“We went to the new National African-American History and learned about so many people… I’m afraid for my black sons, you know,” Alexander said.
New York City’s own Naked Cowboy attended the inauguration as well—guitar in-hand and nearly naked, of course. After picking up several young women for photo opportunities, he broke out into song.
“Trump’s gonna build that wall, that wall’s gonna protect us all,” the cowboy sang, in full support of the new president. His song included several infamous soundbites from the election cycle, followed by affirmation: “Sounds like a good idea to me.”
While the cowboy continued, “Gonna finally scrap Obamacare, ‘cause it don’t work and it ain’t fair… and that sounds like a good idea to me,” Lucy Crim’s opinion was far less blunt.
Crim, from Fairfax, VA, identified herself as a Democrat. “With healthcare, I’m blessed that I’ve got permanent good healthcare through my disability,” Crim said.
Crim had hope that Trump would only improve upon Obama’s Affordable Care Act, not wipe it out completely. “They’re not really undoing Pres. Obama’s legacy, they’re just fine tuning it,” Crim said.
As far as what she wanted to see happen as a result of Trump’s presidency, Crim said it’s already happened. “I believe that they gave a lot of credit to God, at least in the motions of the ceremony,” said Crim, “I think it’s genuine for him, trying to turn the nation over to God—however you see him or her.”
“There was a lot of reference to God, and I think we truly need that for the continuation of our history of our country.”
Still others attended Trump’s inauguration pushing peace and love. Though many attendees spoke of the division the election cycle seemed to expose, few were more congenial than Mary Hart and Shannon Brophy, both from South Carolina.
“We’re out here to spread peace and love, and just make sure everyone feels accepted, because this is a time where people can feel so out of place” said Hart.
The two advertised free hugs with the hope that they might lessen the gaps between the various sides represented at the inauguration.
“We just feel like there’s a lot of conflict going on, and we feel like we can help bring positivity and peace into other people’s lives,” Brophy elaborated.
The most engaging attendee might have been 19-year-old Micheal “Hype Mike” Estes, Jr. After delivering 16-bars of politically-charged rhymes, complete with a chorus, Estes’s point was brief, but clear.
“Regardless, if Trump is the captain of the plane, I don’t want the plane to go down,” Estes said.
And that’s a real decent thing to say.
Except for the fact that people who look like me barely have seats on this “plane.” There I was surrounded by thousands of people who, outside of the protesters and folks who had planned to see HRC, might’ve seemed decent, but still held varying levels of support for Trump. Or those who, because they had the privilege of only recently noticing the centuries-long divide caused by white supremacy in this country, sincerely believed that whimsical concepts like peace and love could bring us to a togetherness that doesn’t exist.
The experience, overall, was life-changing– it was basically a 10+ hour road trip both ways with nine undergrad students and a former Chicago SunTimes photographer, all of whom I didn’t know the week before. On my feet, camera and lapel mic in hand, talking to people and snapping pictures in the cold from sunup to sundown, for three days straight.
Those four days were unforgettable. But the implications of having this man as
our their president and a moderate majority who want peace and order over justice is something we’ll all be reeling from all day, every day, for years to come.