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When I got back on the DC Metro Friday afternoon I had already decided I would not post anything on Instagram. A single image and a few hashtags doesn’t quite do the subject justice. By the time I was eating lunch a few hours later (first time at Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville, MD—thank you—perfect post-Trump atmosphere) I made up my mind that I was not going to share the reportage at all. As much as I may feel about the election, to be quite honest, the unending commentary that surrounds every sentence delivered online drives me nuts. A few drawings, uneventful as I felt they were, didn’t warrant any kind of negative attention. Then I saw our new Presidents’ tweet about the day.
Let me first say this, as I left the mall after the 2013 inauguration for President Barack Obama I vowed to myself that I would return every four years. I had documented his first—and then his second—and upon doing so I realized how much I did not know about our political history, at least not some of the details that warrant a closer look. It is something we take for granted. Something we assume will always be there. The inauguration every fours years is historic. Yesterday was no different.
For the first time I attended the ceremony with some companions. A right-leaning dear old friend who came to shoot the crowd (yes, I said shoot, with his camera) and two of his Trump supporting friends. The two friends were scared of something horrible happening during the day (I left that to their imaginations, I didn’t ask) and were hesitant about joining in the crowd on the mall. They were coming from the opposite side of DC so we were meeting up before going in. We took the Metro from just outside DC. There was absolutely no line at the station to get onto the platform where I had to wait in line simply to park in 2009. Granted that was certainly the bigger of the two previous crowds, but none the less, I was a few hours later than the first time, and this morning there were so few people on the platform and more importantly the parking lot was still empty at 8:30 AM. We jumped on with a family of Trump supporters young and old and I grabbed a few drawings (above).
For the third time I got off at the L’Enfant station on the south side of the mall. I have yet to get my bearings right on the DC Metro but I ended up coming out at the same spot as in 2013. However it was not the same scene. For the rest of the event I found very little similar to either of the last two I attended. I walked out onto what felt like a war zone. There were no protestors that could be seen, nothing was wrong so to say, but it felt ominous. It may have been the gloomy weather, but something was way off. The previous times I attended it looked nothing like what I was witnessing. The streets were lined with what felt like cages and crowds were lining up to funnel alongside of them. Again, nothing was wrong, just the feeling of something that could happen. There was no where to stop and draw, so we moved on.
Not knowing what size crowd would be attending we did not delay in getting to the entrance. However, we kept getting delayed. The single file line was constantly filtered through tiny openings in the barricades and then twisted along detours that took us farther away from where we wanted to go. I have no recollection of it having been so hard to get on the mall as this. When we finally arrived at the security entrance I was shocked to see the line that nearly reached 14th street (I quickly learned some landmarks). Taking our spot we agreed that this may not be happening as the line was too long and security seemed to be moving too slow. I think it was 9:30 at the time. Maybe I missed the build up after I arrived in 2013, but this line felt rather bottle necked. That was when I took out the pad.
Aside from a few obvious protestors there were no big demonstrations as we were trying to get in. Protestors were told they wouldn’t be allowed. We watched a few try en route that were stopped. A ton of Trump hats and scarves, some flags and various accessories. The vendors, all of whom were probably there the last two times for President Obama, did not seem to be selling too many shirts. My friend made a comment about Trumps’ face being on everything and I told him that it wasn’t so different from my memory—the material being sold was attempting pride but just as tacky the past two times. All souvenirs.
As we made our way to the security checkpoint quicker than I thought we would (I thought we would miss some of it) we met up with our other two companions. They bypassed the line and hopped on with us. Seeming so afraid of something happening I was not sure they would ever fully enjoy their time, and they were the ones there to celebrate. Having had the experience to compare I was asked if there was as much red, white, and blue at the last two as there was being worn on line. Trolling for an unpatriotic answer I had to concede I didn’t think so.
By this point everyone was looking to me to know how big the crowd was in comparison. Up to that point there was nothing the same that gave me a good idea one way or the other. It seemed tiny on the Metro platform and in the station, but waiting on line after line it seemed huge. As we made our way onto the mall I finally had the only real comparison that made sense. It took a while to figure out but this crowd was much smaller than 2013. There may never again be a similar moment as 2009, but make no mistake, 2017 was smaller compared to the last two. People kind of spread out and made sections seem full, but there was so much standing and sitting room. I had been on the mall the last time by about 7AM or so, but even by that time it was more crowded than Friday. And it never filled in behind me to the extent that it had 4 years ago. This crowd was thin.
By now I had ditched my companions and I was waiting in the not-so-thick of it with foreign Trump supporters. As we waited there were a few chants of USA! USA! USA! but nothing that lasted too long yet. I figured the dreary clouds suppressed everyones spirits but expected some celebration as the time ticked on. One woman turned around and caught my attention as she was starting to open up and get excited.
On the jumbo trons along the edge of the mall we watched as people filled the steps of the capital building. I felt like I heard cheers as Vice-President Biden came on screen but then I realized Vice-President Elect Pence was with him and I remembered why I was there. Hillary got boo’s from the crowd. I wasn’t too surprised. What surprised me the most however was that when Bernie Sanders appeared on screen he got pretty big cheers. The woman from above boo-ed the crowd and started yelling “COMMUNIST,” I mean “SOCIALIST” and swapping back and forth until she finally realized people were looking at her because she obviously had no idea what she was saying, just simply repeating what had been told to her.
It was also at the sight of Bernie that I realized the cheers I thought were for Biden actually were. There was a good sized group of young women, possibly college though I think high school, who were there it seemed for the civics lesson of it all, but were certainly Obama fans as they cheered for Bernie and Michele Obama over the woman’s boo’s and then chanted please don’t go when President Obama was on screen solo, who also got boo’s from one man in front of me angry about the President taking away his health insurance. A quick and subtle harassment from the “communist” woman’s companion quieted the young women down, but you could tell the audience was more mixed up than I had realized.
The crowd was a bit somber as Donald Trump took the oath. No gasps, no cheers, just listening and watching. They cheered and clapped a bit at the end, but nothing grand and celebratory. Reality was setting in.
The reverend who ended the service about 20 minutes or so later tried to wax poetic about the Biblical symbolism of the rain that just so happened to start precisely when President Trump finished the oath and began his speech. Since I was told on the day of my baptism it rained and my pastor said it was good fortune, I will give a pass, but I couldn’t help see the irony in the grey clouds opening up at that exact moment (and thinking about my mother who sounded as if she had daggers in her eyes for my pastor). In my mind I saw the entire scene get drenched as the first officer descended the steps behind Trump to place an umbrella at his feet and then several officers gathered, I assume to help with the immediate crowd behind the podium. It never poured, but it took dreary to a slightly darker place for a few minutes. The more dramatic drawing in my mind also vanished.
As President Trump rattled through his speech one eccentric woman from Detroit cheered as he mentioned the name on the bag over her shoulder, with a few looks from those around her, taking pride in her hometown. And then after a few prayers it was all over as people streamed out.
Now, as for the reason I decided to post this. When I found out Trumps’ White House tweeted a photo from the 2013 inauguration I realized there was more to my drawings than I had left the mall feeling about them. I did not attend looking for something to attack and quite honestly I initially decided not to post them at all because I felt there was little to really speak of. This started 8 years ago as a celebration and by the next time it had become a personal exploration, part observer, part participator. Any small observations that I made were just going to incite comments that I didn’t want to go through and approve or delete. Then the sunny-sky’s-over-the-Capital-Building-with-flags-waving photo appeared on his Twitter feed and I thought how skewed the whole day was. The earlier question about the patriotic red, white, and blue display on everyones dress, well no in 2013 I didn’t see that. I also couldn’t see the Capital because every five minutes or so there were thousands of flags waving above the crowd. The very same flags in yesterdays twitter photo. Pride—American pride—was on full display 4 years ago. Yesterday I barely saw any flags at all. A handful maybe. One large one for sure. Four years ago the crowd was big—in spirit, in numbers, in unity. Friday it was somber and bland. As I met up with my companions I found they were equally unimpressed by the event. The couple we met up with were disappointed that there were no protesters inside, which is when I realized what they were looking for, and expecting, a rally. There shouldn’t be any protestors allowed in, this is an American ritual that should be respected. If we all don’t why will it continue when we want it to? When we next need it to? I am sure many tried to get in, but thankfully they failed. That is what the March on Washington was for today. Hell, that is what the parade to the White House is for. I wish I had gone to both, but I never thought the parade would be so sparse and I know I am represented in great numbers by various friends today.
The fact is he won. Donald Trump is OUR PRESIDENT whether we love him, hate him, or could care less. What I found absurd is that the whole thing was uneventful. There was no pride, unity, or desire demonstrated by much of the crowd, and for all the people who actually showed up for the event, very few felt like they held anything in common with those around them. So while I quietly long for the next inauguration I hope we get some change. I hope both parties realize this election was reality tv at its worst and maybe take some action to alter it, but I doubt it. Until then the burden falls on us as it always has and will to not believe the tweets and see past the lies with some sense of truth, and realize that sometimes it rains when you don’t want it to. Doesn’t mean we have to get soaked.