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Looking Into the LFA Washington D.C. Trip: From the Inauguration to the Women’s March on Washington

The+crowds+gather+in+front+of+the+Capitol+Building+as+they+wait+for+the+Inauguration+to+start.+
The crowds gather in front of the Capitol Building as they wait for the Inauguration to start.

The crowds gather in front of the Capitol Building as they wait for the Inauguration to start.

Photo by Ananta Srivastava

Photo by Ananta Srivastava

The crowds gather in front of the Capitol Building as they wait for the Inauguration to start.

Ananta Srivastava, Staff Writer

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      My alarm started blaring at 3:30 in the morning to wake me up for witnessing the next page in history. As I got ready and slowly dragged myself to the coach bus waiting outside the building, it was pitch black outside. I got on the bus to see that many people were already asleep, while others were struggling to stay awake.

     My group left the Quality Inn Hotel at 4:30 AM to go to the Metro Station. From there, we took a train into the heart of Washington D.C. On the 20 minute ride over to the station, I expected other people to be somewhat hyped about going to the 2017 Presidential Inauguration on Friday, January 20. However, the bus was dead silent.

     

Photo by Ananta Srivastava
LFA students enter the perimeters of the National Mall two hours prior to the beginning of the Inauguration to find an area to sit.

      As soon as we arrived at the Metro Station, we rushed onto the train. Other than my group, which consisted of fellow people from Lake Forest Academy, I was with other high schoolers from Tampa, Florida and Wisconsin. Yet, the train was mostly deserted. The tour guide for the trip described how it was unusual for the station to be this empty on Inauguration Day, even if it was this early in the morning.

     As I waited 40 minutes on the train to arrive at my stop, the entire train cart was silent with the occasional chattering here and there. With a few people on the train, I expected the crowds at the Inauguration to be relatively small when we arrived.

     When I got off the train around 5:00 AM, my group began to walk a couple blocks towards one of the main entrances for the Inauguration. As I continued to walk, that was when I began to see people slowly trickling in. We finally arrived to an entrance on the outside of the National Mall, but the gates were still closed. It was freezing outside and still pitch black. All that illuminated the streets were the lights from the lines of military vehicles and the street lamps. As my group waited, more people started to come in. When I looked around me, there was a sea of red Trump hats everywhere.

      It was anticipated that the gates would open at 6:30 AM, but that did not happen. As I continued to stand, some military officers began to push the crowds around to let vehicles pass through. People kept stepping on me and I felt like I was being suffocated because everyone was squished together.

     A little after the sun finally rose, a man with a large black camera began walking through the crowds. As security was higher than usual, they took extra precautions for everything. In this instance, we were squished once again to clear space for officers because they had to check out if the camera was a bomb. Everybody was watching, but no one seemed to be scared. Most were more annoyed at the fact that we were continually being pushed around. Once the camera was declared a false bomb, the crowds reformed and we continued to wait for another hour or so until the gates opened. Finally, the gates I was situated at opened around 8 or 9 AM.

     As I walked through the gates, everyone had to go through a security check by TSA. I was expecting it to take a long time to pass through security. However, they seemed to be checking everyone relatively fast.

Photo by Ananta Srivastava
A woman greets oncoming people with her poster as they head towards the main rally area for the Women’s March on Washington.

      When my group and I were able to reorder ourselves, we began walking towards an open spot right next to one of the jumbo screens in the middle of the National Mall. We sat down on an already muddy, plastic floor set out for the Inauguration. Everyone sat on blankets to avoid getting dirty. As we still had two hours to pass before the swearing in ceremony at 11:30 AM, we all decided to break up and get some food. I also wanted to get some hand-warmers from the concession stands because it was still freezing outside.

       As being a person of color at this Inauguration, I was honestly a little scared about what others would do or say to me. Luckily, people were generally kind. However, as I was walking over to the concession stands, a girl with an angry expression on her face intensely stared at me as I passed her. I had never felt so uncomfortable in my own skin as I did at that moment. Fortunately, that did not happen again.

      As soon as a few others and I got back to the main location of the group, I could see mostly everyone in my group asleep on the ground and wrapped in blankets. We were not the only ones. As I continued to look around at other people, others were also asleep. Everyone seemed tired and personally, there was a very dull aura to the environment.

     Time seemed to slowly go on as we were all still sleeping, talking, or watching the monitor to see the whereabouts of the Trumps and Obamas. It seemed picked up pace around 11:30 AM, when the swearing-in began. As the camera panned around the people sitting on the stage in front of the Capital building, every time the camera showed former President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton, or Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the crowd booed.

     Finally, noon struck and it was time for Donald Trump’s swearing into office. Everything seemed to pass by in one big blur. All I could remember was hearing the crowd around me at the end of the ceremony give Trump a round of applause, but the cheers seemed to be inaudible.

       Straight after the ceremony finished, we began collecting our items to pack. I was content that nothing had happened to anyone during the Inauguration, as some of us were worried. However, when one of the other students of color from my group bent down to pick up something from the ground, a man  threw his Trump hat at the student’s head, picked it up after it fell to the ground, and continued to walk away. As all of us who saw the incident were shocked by this. In response, my fellow peer decided to pour some water on the man and walked away without any other incidents. I thought that would be the end of me seeing any conflicts, but I was wrong.

      As soon as we walked outside the perimeters of the Inauguration, there were large crowds of protesters filling the streets. People were holding signs that said things like “Not my president.” Fortunately, from where I was, there were no brawls between Trump supporters and protesters. The only loud people that were screaming through a megaphone were members from the Westboro Baptist church, who were advocating ideas of homophobia and racism rather than being there to protest Trump.

     The rest of the day continued to be relatively chaotic like when the police put up additional gates that temporarily separated some members of my group from the rest. But, at the end of the day, we all made it through.

Photo by Ananta Srivastava
The Westboro Baptist Church members hold up their signs of hatred in the middle of the crowd at the Women’s March, while participants of the March try to block Westboro’s signs with their own posters.

     When we returned to the hotel later that night, we all crashed on our beds from a long and exhausting day. After I got to sleep in a little, we got up and left the hotel to head to a completely different environment, the Women’s March on Washington.

     I arrived a couple hours before the March started so the group could look at some of the war memorials. Later on, we started to head towards the rally a couple hours prior to the official starting at 1:00 PM. As we were walking, we were met by an enormous crowd of people from all different walks of lives. Instead of seeing a crowd of red hats from the previous day, this time, I saw thousands of pink cat hats.

     I walked around the corner towards the main rally area to see even more hats and signs that were protesting against Trump. As I continued strolling down the street, no one attempted to interfere with the rally other than a group of the same Westboro Baptist Church in the middle of the crowd. Generally, people ignored them and walked right past. A few others from the March, on the contrary, stood in front of their posters of hate and blocked them off with their signs evoking equality and peace.

     My group couldn’t stay too long at the rally because we had to be the airport around noon. So, I left the main area of the rally early to head towards a place to find food for lunch and the bus that would take me to the airport. As we tried to leave, thousands of more people poured down the streets toward the rally. It was impossible to see the end of the crowd because people just kept coming from every direction.

     

LFA students enter the perimeters of the National Mall two hours prior to the beginning of the Inauguration to find an area to sit.

After walking several blocks away from the main vicinity of the March, I still saw a sea of people flow off the buses and rush towards it. I felt overwhelmed because I had never seen that many people come together like that before. Even when I walked into the Metro Station to where my bus was, the flow of people coming out of the train seemed to stop moving because it was overcrowded. Finally, when I got on the bus to head towards the airport, we drove past the National Mall and it seemed as if every inch of the streets near the rally was covered by the sea of people.

     Although I was exhausted as well as being both upset and happy over the span of those two days, it was definitely an eventful and memorable experience for being able to first-hand witness the swearing in of a president as well as participating in one of the recent largest protests in the United States.

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Looking Into the LFA Washington D.C. Trip: From the Inauguration to the Women’s March on Washington