Students protest in D.C. on inauguration weekend
Standing on the National Mall on Friday, I was immersed in a crowd of red ‘Make America Great Again’ caps and fuzzy gray ‘Trump’ beanies. Mist condensed into light rain as Donald J. Trump began his inaugural address.
The mood on the Mall was jubilant. Supporters shared a mix of triumph, relief, and at times, disbelief at their success. The crowd cheered at the mention of “the forgotten men and women” of America, but the loudest applause came when Trump declared, “we are transferring power from Washington D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.”
It was clear that the crowd was primarily there for Trump: people milled around and chatted as Vice President Mike Pence took his oath of office, but were raptly attentive when Trump rose to take his. Crowds began to disperse immediately after Trump’s speech, many even leaving before the national anthem.
One man mused on Black Lives Matter posters he’d seen carried by protesters earlier in the day. “I don't know much about ‘black lives matter,’ but it sounds pretty good to me. Black lives matter, white lives matter... all lives matter.” People in earshot nodded their agreement. Others debated gun control, one teenager calling it “the most complex issue of our time.”
Across from the Mall, on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, protesters blockaded access points to the inauguration. #DisruptJ20, the group that coordinated the protests and self-describes as anarchist, aimed to “shut down the Inauguration ceremonies and any related celebrations.” Pennsylvania Avenue itself was impassable, secured for the inauguration parade. Spectators on the Mall were insulated from protests by a bilayer of police officers and metal barricades.
Over inauguration weekend, around 100 MIT students travelled to Washington, D.C. They were part of MIT to D.C., a group brought together after the election by students who “sensed growing energy for political involvement,” co-organizer Sarah Schwettmann G said.
According to MIT to DC organizers, students participated in morning rallies, blockaded entrances with #DisruptJ20, and attended the ANSWER Coalition protest alongside the inauguration parade route. Others connected with outside student and activist groups including Georgetown Solidarity Committee, Movement for Black Lives, and Standing Rock water protectors.
On Saturday, many of them joined the Women’s March on Washington, D.C.
Early Saturday morning, people streamed toward the Capitol. By 10 a.m., three hours before the march was scheduled to begin, the starting point was a sea of pink pussyhats and colorful signs reflecting a diversity of issues — reproductive rights, climate change, rights of immigrant and LGBTQ populations, Black Lives Matter, and others.
One woman had traveled with her family from Oklahoma. She took one of the march’s unofficial slogans — “agitate, educate, organize” — and made it her own, removing the word ‘agitate.’ “That wouldn’t fit well in Oklahoma,” she said.
After finding out that her bus to D.C. had been canceled, a woman from Framingham, Massachusetts made a seven-hour drive with her daughter, leaving at 3 a.m. to arrive in time.
The size of the crowd was awe-inducing. The New York Times reported that 470,000 people marched, compared to the 200,000 that organizers had planned for. At one point, as the march encircled the White House, the head of the march stopped to cheer its tail, visible as a swell of pink stretching down a side street.
Husayn Karimi, an organizer of MIT’s Student Activist Coalition, sees the march as only the beginning. “Trump’s agenda represents a vicious intensification of capitalism’s long-term attack on colonized people, the working class, women, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities,” he said. “We need to protest and fight against this, but it can’t end with one day in the D.C. streets — we need to actively grow it into a mass movement, because ultimately, Trump isn’t an aberration of a rational system, but a rational outcome of an inherently unjust system.”
“The Trump administration’s platform of anti-science, anti-sustainability, and anti-education aims to aggressively undermine ecosystems that sustain human life,” graduate student Dae Houlihan said. “I came to D.C. to add my voice to those demanding that scientific progress and long-term global priorities not be suppressed for the sake of myopic corporate interests.”
Daniel J. Gonzalez G, a Libertarian, did not attend protests on Saturday, but was generally supportive of them. “This is what democracy looks like, and it’s great to have peaceful protest,” he wrote in an email to The Tech. “My big issue is with what protest is becoming lately. After the election, there were some protests, but there were also riots, blocking traffic, blocking infrastructure, vandalism, and assault. That’s not classy.”
“Effective protest changes public and politician opinion to sympathize with the marginalized group,” he said.