We left New York early this morning and now the bus is driving towards the center of Washington D.C. It’s almost noon, it’s January 20th, the date of the inauguration of Donald J. Trump. I sit next to my friend Eva, who is also joining the Women’s March against the new president. This march will take place tomorrow.
Arriving in downtown D.C. we get off the bus, greeted by an eerie silence. Where are all the Trump supporters? There are no crowds, no celebrations. It’s strange. So we walk alone in deserted D.C. streets and then finally find the entrance to the Capitol Mall. Security is massive despite the absence of people. Uniformed guards tell us we cannot enter. We walk around the block.
Same situation, we still can’t see Trump, but now we can hear him speak. This feels weird, a bit like the climax in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and the Lion can only hear the obscured Wizard of Oz speak from behind a stage curtain. Through the loudspeakers we hear distorted bits and pieces of a speech. Trump talks, in an agitated tone, about “uniting the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism”. And now the national anthem is playing, coming through the speakers in a crackly and distorted manner.
Suddenly we both feel very self-conscious. We are both immigrants or whatever you call it when white people move to another country. We were both born in Europe and now we both feel like imposters, like European spies in America. It just feels wrong, so I head off to buy two Trump baseball hats. “Now we are real Americans!,” I say while handing Eva her “Make America Great Again” hat. She puts it on, but quickly takes it off. She says she can’t do it. But I like my hat, I finally feel like a proper citizen.
We walk over to the “Bikers For Trump” rally but it is very disappointing. These bikers look way too friendly, not at all like the scary Hells Angels bikers I remember from when I was a kid. I thought the Bikers For Trump would carry guns and wear “Fuck Islam” T-shirts. But in reality they are just chubby old white guys with beards looking like benevolent and sad dwarves from a bad fantasy movie. The people who sell Trump merchandise also sell anti-Trump merchandise. There are quite a few Trump supporters who are not white. The sadness and lack of energy is what unites the Trump camp. Perhaps most of them know that they have been duped, that they are being played by a con man.
On the other side of the Capitol Mall there has been a small riot. Some windows have been smashed, and some young protesters have been tear-gassed. Filmmaker Michael Moore is on stage speaking about the Muslim registry that Trump has proposed. He encourages all citizens to self-register as Muslims as a protest. He also talks about how the Democratic Party does not care about poor people in America, about the need for new leadership. A helicopter circles over the crowd as he speaks. It flies very low. You can see the legs of the snipers hanging out of the helicopter. Then a young Native American woman named Red Dawn is handed the microphone. She talks about how her sister Red Fawn is in jail for defending the land of her tribe against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Her short speech rings true. Trump wants to keep the immigrants out. But what is an immigrant? Red Dawn is basically the only non-immigrant in this crowd.
Half an hour later we leave and on the corner I say goodbye to Eva, who is going to some other neighborhood where she will sleep on the couch of a friend of a friend. My plan is to stay in a hotel, but I soon realize that I have a problem. My debit card doesn’t work. I had some extra cash in New York that I was going to bring, but I forgot it. A bit later I find myself, as if in a dream (is this happening? Oh yes it is!) checking into a hostel inhabited by Trump Bikers and Indian teenagers. My accommodation is not very glamorous: Metal bunk beds and open suitcases everywhere. An old TV broadcasts a documentary about the Egyptian ruler Tutankhamun who was buried in some kind of golden tomb.
I wake up early next day and leave the hostel and walk towards the Capitol. Thousands of people arrive for the Women’s March. Unlike yesterday, where most of the streets were empty, there are now groups of people coming from all directions, all heading towards the Capitol, mostly women but also men. All skin tones are represented. This is definitely a more mixed crowd than yesterday, a happier crowd too. People are carrying banners with everything from “John McCain: American Hero” to “The Future Is Female Ejaculation” and “We need a leader, not a Tweeter”. Lots of “Black Lives Matter” signs too. I forget about texting Eva or anybody else, too many people here already and the cellphone system is overloading.
I now pass of group of uniformed National Guards with bulletproof vests, standing in front of a Humvee. The guards all smile and seem to get along just fine with the demonstrators, who are joking, chanting, singing. The crowd grows bigger and soon we are in front of The National Aviation Museum. Outside the museum are banners with photos of the heroes of my childhood, the astronauts of Apollo 11: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Some black women with a portable speaker system sing “From Iraq to Palestine, occupation is a crime” and thousands of women cheer.
What else? I notice that most of the signs about pussies and vaginas are carried by white women. What can I say? I like the pussy signs and I find myself filled with wonderful thoughts about vaginas, especially after seeing a sign that has a drawing of a kitten and a text that said “Pussies: self cleaning and magical”. It remains to be seen whether an unemployed auto worker from Detroit would be impressed by signs about self-cleaning pussies and female ejaculation. But then again: Isn’t this a better place to start than with Trump’s paranoid and regressive negativity?
On a stage nearby some Black Lives Matter activists invite the mothers of young black men killed by police. A call and response between stage and audience is started and the mothers scream out the names of their killed sons. Many of the mothers are close to breaking down, but all pull through. You can hear the pain in their voices. Now political activist Angela Davis takes the stage and speaks about racism and justice and about the prison-industrial profiteers and the health care system profiteers and the corruption of Wall Street. After that Alicia Keys sings. And everything is pretty spectacular, I must say.
What is there to be skeptical about? Well, a few minor details could perhaps be addressed: There are almost no Bernie Sanders signs. He also had an election stolen from him, by a couple of corrupt women in fact. Not all women are wonderful, I think we all know that. I also don’t see a single sign about Edward Snowden. Why is America’s prime political prisoner not represented here? And why is Angela Davis the only speaker talking about totalitarian capitalism? America is run by oligarchs and tech monopolies and American wealth is controlled by a tiny elite. This injustice is the root cause of this mess and it goes beyond race or gender. This march is exhilarating and now is a good time to come to terms with the fact that most Trump supporters are not racists, they are simply desperate for change, any change. But that’s a detail.
The march feels pretty mythic, pretty historic. It’s a relief to see a bunch of self-righteous male activists replaced by thousands of dynamic women with less ego and more humour. In other words: Everything is perfect, everything is as it should be right now. We have a grotesque president, a paranoid monstrosity, a hollow and hateful man is now leading the Western world. But at least we know what we are dealing with. If Hillary Clinton had won, it would have been a celebration of the status quo and the streets of Washington D.C. would not have been filled with hundreds of thousands of people. Something is fundamentally wrong in the West and more and more are becoming aware of this. The women who organized this, whoever they are, have created a historic event. This march feels like a magnificent celebration of year zero, day 1 in a new world. I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate the birth of a new kind of resistance movement.