Inauguration Protests Set Tenor for Trump’s Presidency

Russell Jaffe, Columnist

On the day of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, I joined thousands of people from across the nation to voice our disapproval of the incoming administration. Many, including myself, had been protesting all month. At 5 a.m. on the morning of Inauguration Day, I met with The Future is Feminist in D.C., a nonviolent group devoted to combating misogyny and promoting gender equality. Our goal for the day was to shut down one of 14 inauguration checkpoints, in coordination with other groups who would succeed in shutting down another five of these checkpoints. Many members of the Future is Feminist received and continue to receive death threats from various neo-Nazis and conservative operatives who had been attempting to infiltrate the group throughout the month. However, not a single person backed down, and they are some of the bravest people I have ever had the honor to work with.

Among us were teams of certified medics to assist injured protesters, specially trained de-escalators to prevent fights from breaking out and legal observers to record police brutality for use in court. We also had a squad of four people known as the Red Team, who joined us knowing that they would almost certainly be arrested. When the protest began, the Red Team chained themselves together by the neck to block the checkpoint to the Inauguration Day gates, and the police soon isolated them with steel barricades. For almost seven hours, crowds of protesters stood around these barricades, chanting and preventing anyone from threatening the Red Team with the simple words, “This checkpoint is closed.”

Few of these protesters were career activists. They were ordinary people — teenagers, students and senior citizens — many of whom had never participated in public demonstrations before. However, every one of them put their bodies on the line, staying peaceful and strong even when Trump supporters attempted to violently force their way through the blocked checkpoint. In fact, several protesters were even pepper-sprayed for standing in the way, but after washing their eyes out, they returned and held the picket line for hours afterward.

Often, the Trump supporters were not even trying to get to the inauguration, moving right back out again after pushing through the blockade, apparently for the sole purpose of provoking the protesters. One of my most vivid memories of that day was when several Trump supporters grabbed a protester by the shirt, attempting to start a fistfight. However, before the police could cross the street to intervene, one of the protest leaders stepped between them and quietly diffused the situation, directing the men away.

The protest was planned to disperse at the end of the inauguration, since there would no longer be any reason to block the checkpoint. At this point, however, we were surprised when the Red Team’s barricades were opened and they were released to join us, unshackled and unharmed. Everyone, including the members of the Red Team themselves, had assumed that the police would drag them away, but through negotiation, the protest leaders had actually managed to prevent a single arrest from occurring. Cheering and waving, the Red Team followed the protest out of the checkpoint to converge in a unified rally with the other movements from all across the city.

Watching the Red Team walk free was the most incredible moment I have experienced in activism. This was proof that our movement was more than just noise. For a single day, scattered groups of resistance took over Washington, D.C., and sent a clear message to set the tone for the next four years: We the People reject President Trump and his reprehensible ideology. We will rise up; we will resist. Most of all, we will retaliate using love, not hate, and that is the reason why we will be victorious.

But this is not where the movement ends. We cannot say that we have done enough with our prior protests as long as Trump is president. Even worse, the nation continues to be ravaged by the bigotry and anti-intellectualism that brought him into power in the first place. Although the inauguration protests and the Women’s March set the stage, we must continue to resist. For some people, this may mean organizing demonstrations or public protests. Others might gather information to provide legal support for immigrants or to draw attention to injustices that Trump has been creating. Even an act as small as writing an op-ed for a local paper can make a difference, and it is these tiny differences that will eventually change the world. We must keep going as long as it takes.