Peace Ball, Trump's Inauguration, Women's March: Three Days In Washington
The Women’s March on Washington photos taken by Vickey Ford of SneakShot for Okayplayer.
Ed. Note: Our illustrious man-of-the-people, Elijah C. Watson, ventured down to Washington, D.C. last week to take in all the activities pegged to the inauguration of Donald J. Trump. Beginning with the Peace Ball and ending with The Women’s March on Washington, below you can read his account of what all took place + how it affected him for the following three days.
Day 1 – Thursday, Jan. 19
“You can’t depend on the train from Washington / It’s 100 years overdue.” – Gil Scott-Heron
“The Train From Washington” soundtracks my arrival into Washington, D.C. on Thursday afternoon. The following day will be the inauguration of, arguably, the most polarizing president our country has had thus far — Donald Trump. Some see the 45th president of the United States as something to celebrate; some see him as something to mourn. As a night sky settles over the nation’s capital, the celebrators and the mourners venture to their respective festivities.
For the latter, it is the 2017 Peace Ball: Voices of Hope and Resistance. Hosted at the National Museum of African American History and Culture — the alternative inaugural ball first began when founder Andy Shallal created the event following Barack Obama’s win in 2008.
The majority of the crowd is older — early 40s and beyond — but diverse: Asian, black, Indian, Latino, and white people snacking on appetizers and trying not to get drunk too soon from the multiple open bars set up on the ground floor. I, however, fail at this and am already inebriated by 9:30 (an irresponsible transition from white wine to cider to IPA is to blame), taking to the museum escalators to see some of the exhibits.
On the top floor is the entertainment exhibit, which splits off into other areas dedicated to African American art, dance, music and more. I enter the “Musical Crossroads” exhibit and am welcomed by Chuck Berry‘s 1973 Cadillac Eldorado. From there displays of artifacts from an assortment of black artists can be viewed: compositions written by John Coltrane; a vest worn by Jimi Hendrix; and J Dilla‘s MPC. I make my way to the Mothership, the iconic prop used by Parliament-Funkadelic, and start crying. Part of this is because of the alcohol, but also because of what this museum represents — resilience. That in the face of ongoing mistreatment and oppression, black people continue to create culture time and time again, contributing so damn much to the fucking fabric of American history and identity, and rarely, if ever, receiving any credit.
As I make my way back to the lower levels of the museum I read a quote from George C. Wolfe that is adorned on one of the walls in the entertainment exhibit: “God created black people, and black people created style.” Damn right.
Throughout the night a number of activists, entertainers and journalists took to the stage to speak. Most spoke of the forthcoming fight against Trump’s presidency: supporting the politicians standing up to his supporters and administration; and, just as important, supporting one another, specifically the marginalized people targeted through Trump’s rhetoric.
“When Donald Trump’s hand goes up we must be ready to resist and fight,” Senator Corey Booker said. The declaration was powerful, the audience responding with applause and cheers. But I couldn’t deny my cynicism: that as a black man being in a space celebrating blackness, most of the faces present at this event were white. Were these cheers going to manifest into action? Were these sentiments of solidarity going to manifest into action?
When tensions are high it’s hard not to wonder who is actually going to be there for you.
But before I can ponder that any further the DJ for the night drops Montell Jordan‘s “This Is How We Do It,” and I’m dancing while eating a plate of chicken stuffed with cajun rice.
Twenty minutes prior to midnight, and the famed activist Angela Davis introduces Solange. The stage lights glow a bright yellow and red, as Solange’s backing band begins “Rise.” Then Solange appears, wearing a white suit and slowly walking towards the center of the stage. “Fall in your ways / So you can crumble.” The words echo throughout the floor, Solange and her singers hitting harmonies that are absolutely mesmerizing.
She keeps her set straightforward with “Rise,” “Weary,” “Cranes in the Sky,” “Mad,” “Bad Girls,” and “Don’t Touch My Hair.” The short performance is therapy: acceptance and acknowledgment into resistance and resilience. “What you say to me?” The words become a mantra, articulated with such a subtle authority that it gets more and more powerful with every repeating.
Solange thanks the NMAAHC for having her and leaves the stage as the band jams on the song for a few minutes more, before finally finishing the performance. The DJ proceeds to play a few more tracks as the crowd makes their exit, transitioning from Kendrick Lamar‘s “Alright” to Migos‘ “Bad & Boujee.” I dance to both and scream Offset’s verse with wild abandon when the latter comes on.
I’m pretty sure this will forever be the pinnacle of my blackness: drunk and doing dabs to Migos at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Day 2 – Friday, Jan. 20 (Inauguration Day)
“MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.” The words, white and bold, are bathed in bloody red and adorned on caps worn by Trump supporters walking through the National Mall. The red pierces through the gray skies that cast over Washington, with lines of people trying to gain entrance into different parts of the National Mall.
In front of me, two white Trump supporters discuss Obama’s presidency, with one talking about a news article he read about the 44th president being gay. He says he didn’t initially believe the news until Joan Rivers made a statement about Obama being gay and Michelle, transgender.
“Just the way she said it, I was convinced,” he says.
Along with the hats, there are flags of Trump being waved, as well as merchandise of the soon-to-be president being sold. A number of the sellers are black. For some reason this makes me think of the scene in Atlanta, in which Earn tells Darius that “poor people don’t have time for investments because poor people are too busy trying not to be poor.” A hustle is a hustle, and part of me wants to be mad at this man, but I can’t.
Following the end of Trump’s speech, I settle near one of the exits of the National Mall to see more of his supporters. Underneath those red caps are more than white faces: Asian, black, Indian, Latino — the same demographics I saw at the Peace Ball, were also present here.
For some it’s party affiliation; others, they simply really, really like Trump. Throughout the day I do witness some arguments but they never become violent.
I walk around some more before heading to a coffee shop to finish some work.
“We all on reality TV now,” another black seller yells as he offers passing Trump fans two t-shirts for $15.
Day 3 – Saturday, Jan. 21 (The Women’s March On Washington)
I wake up early to go to the Women’s March with some friends. Upon arriving at the location where the event will begin, we join thousands of people listening to speeches being given by Ashley Judd, Madonna, Gloria Steinem and Angela Davis.
In opposition to the red caps of Trump supporters, most of the marchers in attendance wore pink caps with cat ears (as a means of reclaiming the word “pussy” following Trump’s controversial and sexist remarks). The crowds are diverse: men, women; Asian, black, Indian, Latino; LGBTQ.
Around 1:30 an announcement had been made: the initial marching route could no longer be done because so many people had attended the event. Overwhelmed, everyone took to the streets and headed in the direction of the White House. Aside from seeing so many people brought together through the march, what was most fascinating was seeing the signs they held. Although most of them spoke of feminism and women’s rights, some were dedicated to Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ people, Mexican people, and Muslim people. Some were also divisive but necessary, with several signs speaking to the fact that 53 percent of white women voted for Trump.
The event was necessary for everyone in attendance, a reminder that this country is at its best when focused on building solidarity with one another.
When I went to Washington I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, or if I was looking for anything at all. Moving forward, there’s no one concrete answer about how best to navigate this Trump presidency. But the most importance and crucial takeaway was this: be ready to stand up for those even if it may make you uncomfortable, because now more than ever, action is necessary.