We folded and tucked them into our heavy coats as my uncle, a police officer from Atlanta, explained what to do in the event of a violent protest or terrorist attack. Safety is a dinner table and car ride conversation for us, and more especially so today.
We were expecting and prepared for violent protests on Inauguration Day. Eyes open and ears peeled, we left the hotel with caution.
We rode the metro for the 45-minute trip from northern Virginia to downtown D.C. and watched as the cars filled with Trump supporters sporting his campaign’s paraphernalia and wrapped in warm clothing on their way to watch the swearing-in ceremony. The riders were predominantly white – I and my family were the only visible minorities in the car.
As we moved farther into Washington, a single protester boarded the train.
She chose a seat toward the back of the car, surrounded by supporters decorated in buttons that read, “Make America Great Again,” “Lock Her Up,” and “Trump 2016.” She folded her sign, which read “I’m With Her” and “#NotMyPresident,” and silently sat.
She was the only protestor I would see until Saturday’s Women’s March.
As we exited the train, we joined a large group of people pushing their way up the escalators and onto the street. There were hundreds of people in this tiny space, all trying to find their way into their sections. It was difficult to stay with our group of eight. We held onto one another’s coats and continually did a headcount to ensure we hadn’t lost one along the way.
However, I kept thinking how quiet it was, despite the amount of people around us, and it remained that way the entire time we were there. And I was struck by how predominantly white the crowd was. The only people that we spotted in our area that were from a minority group were members of the media.
As Mike Pence and Donald Trump took their oaths of office, the crowd cheered. Trump’s speech felt targeted to his supporters, who roared with passion and enthusiasm as his words reflected the promises he had made on his campaign trail. “And we will make America great again,” President Trump exclaimed. Within those 16 minutes, the crowd was electrified.
My family looked on, proudly, at our nation’s new president. This was the first inauguration that we all had attended, and we were excited to experience history and be a part of it. Our family friend, Jennifer Matheson, who had come along, said she was excited because it was “so historic, regardless of who won.”
“To be part of it showed how lucky we are to live in such a great country,” she told me.
But for my aunt and uncle, the experience was more than historic. It was a victory. It was a chance for change, which they felt was desperately needed. I had watched for the past eight years as they lived under the Obama administration in frustration; they disagreed with so much of what the Obama administration stood for because they did not feel as if they were represented by the president. They are conservative Republicans from the middle class and feel that they are the epitome of Trump’s “forgotten man.”
They were just as excited to see Obama stepping down from the presidency as they were to see Trump being sworn into it.
My uncle has been in the law enforcement field for 28 years, and our family often felt that President Obama did not support police officers and, instead, perpetuated feelings of dissention toward the police and enhanced racial divide. My aunt said she could not watch and listen to the “rhetoric of a president who does not support their law enforcement.”
My aunt is an entrepreneur in the health care industry and experienced firsthand the effects of the Affordable Care Act as deductibles rose to incredibly high amounts and copays became impossible to afford for the middle class. Her business suffered greatly. Our family’s deductible alone rose from $250 to $2,500. My aunt experienced a heavy hit on her clinic, as well as a heavy hit on our own insurance.
My family has always served in the military. Pilots, officers and drill sergeants enriched our family history, and some died for our country. Under the Obama administration, my aunt and uncle felt our military was depleted and weakened.
“We wanted to support a president who will actually keep his promises and care about America and its people,” my uncle said. “We wanted to be part of this tremendous movement of the forgotten middle class workers.”
Given my background, I was proud to see a change in the administration. I will be honest that Trump was not my first choice in the Republican primary, but I preferred anyone over Hillary Clinton. I know I hold a view that’s different than many of my fellow Millennials.
During the campaign, it had been a subject I avoided discussing with my peers. I still avoid it.
I posted inauguration pictures, but only to a limited extent. I often felt like my opinion was discredited when it did not coincide with the progressive rhetoric – I felt as if their “open-mindedness” was only open-minded if you agreed.
The night before the inauguration, we attended the concert between the Washington and Lincoln monuments. On our way home, we tried to take Pennsylvania Avenue to get to the Farragut West station, along with hundreds of people. Police officers lined the streets. Suddenly, an officer in all black with a flashlight blocked our path, telling us to go the other way.
Later, we found out that there was a protest in front of the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. On the news, we watched as protesters marched around the city and vandalized some of the restaurants and stores in downtown D.C.
But my protestor count remained at zero, save for the girl on the train.
The morning after the inauguration, we prepared to leave town to head back to Atlanta and we packed our van outside of the hotel. We saw women exit the hotel, sporting homemade signs and tennis shoes for their march later that day. One even vulgarly commented to my brother, who proudly wore his “Make America Great Again” T-shirt, that he probably felt the need to grab, well, something. We silently got into the van.
After a pit stop at a breakfast restaurant, we spotted protesters in northern Virginia. They lined up in front of and behind for doughnuts and coffee. Later, as we traveled back to Georgia, we watched hundreds of thousands of marchers fill the streets of Washington, D.C.