By Jana Kasperkevic, Tribune Media, in Washington DC
Donald Trump began his term in office as the least-liked president of the modern era, according to a recent Gallup poll: Just 40 percent of Americans see him in favorable light on the eve of his inauguration, compared to the 78 percent of Americans who viewed Barack Obama favorably in early 2009 and the 62 percent who viewed George W. Bush that way (and despite the contested nature of the 2000 election). So it wasn’t surprising that there were protests all around Washington, DC on Inauguration Day, nor even that a minority of protesters used the dissent as an excuse for violence.
Still, the vast majority of protesters, even the ones designed to be disruptive to Trump-supporting inaugural attendees, were peaceful.
For instance, at about 9 a.m., activists with No DAPL—a reference to the Dakota Access Pipeline—walked up to the gates of a screening point at E and 14th Street NW amid Trump supporters. Some linked hands to block the attendees’ path onto the National Mall; others chained themselves to the gate.
Maggie Henry, 63, was there with her walker—the result of a recent accident on her family farm in Lawrence County,Pennsylvania—to protest the pipeline because, she said “fracking has destroyed my life”.
“Trump is illegal,” she said. “He is in violation of the constitution. I am doing everything I can to prevent his presidency.”
As police worked to remove the protesters and restore access to the inaugural viewing areas, a small group of Trump supporters approached.
Amanda Hopkins, 24, was upset that the protesters were blocking her entrance after she’d traveled all the way from Florida to see Trump sworn in. “It’s not about different parties,” she said “We are all trying to be one country.”
But concerns about what the “one country” would look like under Trump was the animating force for some protesters.
“Most people are just unaware of the mean spirit that Trump has,” said Walter, who drove to DC from Florida to protest. “He keeps grudges and he has his hand on the nuclear button.”
“I don’t think he has ever read the constitution,” Walter added. “I am just petrified that he has been elected. I am angry at the morons that got him elected,” he added.
“We are on the edge of anarchy,” he explained describing Trump as a “dictator” as he watched the police remove about half a dozen protesters by unclipping them from the gates.
A block over, at the checkpoint on 12th Street NW, a group of LGBT anti-Trump protesters who had been blocking that access point by singing and throwing glitter, opted for a more peaceful retreat and marched north, singing and waving flags and signs.
By 10 am, many protesters were in line, instead of blocking them, in order to secure visible spots on the Mall for the inaugural address or on Pennsylvania Avenue for the inaugural parade.
Natalie Tamblyn, a friend and two girls, aged 7 and 11, were among them. They had from California for Saturday’s anti-Trump women’s march and were all wearing “pink pussy hats,” a visible response to the video that leaked during the campaign in which Trump suggested that he would “grab them by the pussy” when he was hitting on women.
“We hope he hears our voices,” Tamblyn said.
Lauren and Bob Carter, who had come up from Charleston, Virginia , had anti-Trump signs that were hoping to display along the parade route.
“We are opposed to Trump’s agenda,” said Lauren Carter.
Later in the morning, however, some protesters turned to violence , overturning trash cans and smashing windows at storefronts in downtown DC, including at steakhouse Bobby Van’s, Bank of America, Starbucks, Wells Fargo and the Hamilton Hotel.
“You make Trump look good when you do that,” yelled a man in a Green Party T-shirt at passing protesters. “Peace! No violence!”
“We were without violence!” replied a protester whose face appeared to be drenched in milk. (The police had used pepper spray after the property damaged had started.)
As the Hamilton staff finished clearing the broken glass, another group of protesters appeared. “This is a rescue mission,” they yelled, saying they were headed to where the police had surrounded other protesters.
Once there, however, there didn’t seem to be a plan for the mission; instead people simply occasionally chanted “Let them go” and people were loaded into police vans.
Ultimately, the DC police arrested more than 200 protesters over the course of the day, and six police officers suffered minor injuries (as did at least one police vehicle). Police used concussion grenades and tear gas in several areas over the course of the day, as so-called “black bloc” protesters clashed with police, often as part of larger demonstrations.
Those clashes inevitably, overshadowed the more peaceful protests along the parade route and on the Mall, carried out both by groups of activists and individuals of conscience. But just as protesters were smashing windows downtown—and as Trump was taking the oath of office—a large group of protesters marched peacefully through Union Station, trailed by a couple of bemused-looking police officers on Segways.
“Trump and Pence are illegitimate!” they shouted in unlikely unison. “Trump and Pence are fascists!”
With additional reporting by Megan Carpentier