These Crazy Things Actually Happened At Inauguration 2017

Photo by Paul Cantor

A group of white cops fucks with a black dude.

“Why do you have that bag?” a cop asks, sandwiching the dude between two police vehicles.

“I want to get Trump back for all the things he did to black people,” he says. “He’s been very bad for the black community.”

“You got priors?” the cop asks.

Like a pack of wolves eager to attack, the cop’s buddies inch closer.

The black dude hesitates, lifts his chin, then says, with confidence: “I do.”

The cops press forward, and I press onward. It’s too early for this shit.

I’m in Washington, D.C. for inauguration and there’s a concert to catch — the Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration, featuring Toby Keith, 3 Doors Down, Lee Greenwood and others.

Photo by Darnell Gardner Jr.

At the Lincoln Memorial there is a small but growing crowd. Not the hundreds of thousands at Barack Obama’s welcome concert in 2009, which featured Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and many others, but a crowd nonetheless.

Among the sea of white faces, many from the heartland, I spy a sprinkle of minorities. An African-American here, Native American there, Mexicans, Indians, a broad cross-section of minority America. They aren’t overly abundant but they are here. There are also many women. Maybe the media does have it wrong. Maybe it is more than poor white men who are down with Trump.

Like a pair of batteries in a remote for too long, the concert’s energy is low; that isn’t to say it’s non-existent. Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” sends the audience into a sing-a-along, Toby Keith’s honky-tonk swag makes the place feel like the Grand Ole Opry, and for not having a hit record in a decade, 3 Doors Down isn’t as terrible as most people would have you believe. It ain’t the Saint Pablo Tour, but these folks don’t seem to mind. I guess that counts for something.

I begin to think maybe inauguration won’t be that awful, that these are sensible people — and most are — but while exiting the concert, two white boys with red “Make America Great Again” caps on their heads, strike up a conversation.

Photo by Darnell Gardner Jr.

“Are you really going to the women’s march?” one asks.

“Yeah,” the other replies. “It’s good to go to things like that.”

“But you’re just going to get some ass, right?”

“No,” the boy says. “I like, really wanna go. Why not, you know?”

“Why not? — I’ll tell you why not,” the other boy says. “Because the only things you’re gonna find at the Women’s March are fat ugly self-hating women and beta males who think being there is gonna help them get some. That’s why not.”

“Hmm,” his friend replies. “True.”

Out in the street, two men joke.

“Hey John, they ran out of Hillary shirts!”

“Goddamnit,” John replies. “I need the Hillary Goes To Prison shirt. Fuck!”

Another man walks by; his shirt reads — “Blacks Make Racial Slurs & Commit Hate Crimes Too.” And on Virginia Ave., a woman says: “That was amazing — the music, Trump’s speech, the fireworks. I’m so motivated.”

She’s charged up, but I am not, so I sit on a bench. Next to me is an older white man, belly protruding, in Trump attire, American flag hat and a Trump poster in his hand. Earlier, he berated Trump protesters, knocking down signs and shouting in their faces. Now, he turns to me.

Photo by Darnell Gardner Jr.

“Do you know where you’re going when you die, son?”

“Heaven,” I reply. “Heaven.”

“Well shit,” he says. “If you know where you’re going, then I ain’t got to save you.”

He turns again, takes out his phone and begins texting.

“Did you enjoy the concert?” I ask.

He doesn’t say anything, but he does grunt.

A fitting end to day one.

Eight years ago, black, white and everyone in between poured into D.C. by the millions to see Barack Obama inaugurated. The mood then was hopeful and jubilant, but in 2017, it is angry, aggressive and tense. With Trump supporters and anti-Trump protesters walking the same streets, it feels as if at any second the city could go up in flames.

It’s a fucking circus.

Outside the National Press Club, protesters for Standing Rock, Planned Parenthood, Black Lives Matter and other worthy causes block one of the key entryways to the inaugural parade. The night before, they clashed with police and attendees at the DeploroBall, hurling water bottles, shouting “Nazi Scum!” and generally causing a ruckus.

Here, they lock arms and fall down in unison against the entrance, creating a human blockade. The police struggle to pry them all from the floor, so they threaten them with pepper spray, tear gas and physical force. Fighting back tears, the protesters hold steady — they will not be moved.

Photo by Paul Cantor

Maybe their efforts are in vain, because it doesn’t seem as if anyone actually wants to go to this thing. And protesters are even protesting each other, as if to say: my protest is more important than yours.

At one point, they surround a loud, boisterous evangelical Christian. They push him against a wall, knock his megaphone from his hand and close in for the kill. Lucky for him, cops step in and break it up.

“It was that punk right there!” he yells to the cop, and I think: Goddamn, did Jesus really have to die for this shit?

Anger is everywhere. One time, two times, three times I try entering the parade, but the blockade keeps me out.

“You can’t be standing here,” an armed officer says, grabbing me by the shoulder. “You’re either in or you’re out.”

“Relax guy,” I say. “Don’t fucking touch me.”

Convinced I might die out here, I walk off and find another entrance. In line, I meet Brad. He’s in his thirties, heavyset with long hair, in a baggy sweatshirt and loose-fitting jeans.

“I’m from Alaska,” he says, and I immediately suspect he might be a Trump supporter. “But I also live and work in D.C., splitting my time between here and there.”

“What do you make of all this?”

“The turnout was better for Obama, because everyone wanted to see the first black President,” he says. “Trump, people don’t know what to make of him. But I figured, I’m in D.C. — like, why not come?”

“It’s history,” I reply. “It’s surreal — but it’s history.”

“The truth is, I didn’t even vote,” he says. “I’m actually Native American, so I don’t have a dog in this fight. Nobody gives a shit about us.”

“Well, I took you for a regular white guy, going to the parade — an average Trump supporter.”

“That’s the thing — that’s the thing!” he says. “Not everyone is as they seem.”

“But are you going to the Women’s March?”

“Of course,” he chuckles. “Good place to meet some girls.”

Trump supporter or not, men are gonna be men.

Photo by Darnell Gardner Jr.

Like the welcome concert, the parade is not empty, nor is it crowded. It is rainy and cold and some people are there. When I enter, the first thing I see is a black woman and a white man arguing.

She wears a blue Trump hat and supports The Donald. He wears a red “Grab Them By The Pussy Cap” and says he voted for Hillary. Their argument is heated — so heated, in fact, that when another man grabs them by the shoulders to intervene, it threatens to get physical.

“Don’t put your hands on me bro!” she says, swatting his hands away. “You’re in my space. Back up off me, brother.” And he does.

Hours later, the crowd is weary. I begin to think Trump will be up for re-election before this parade starts. Finally, his motorcade rides by; it is greeted with loud applause and vociferous boos.

Supporters scream “Drain the swamp!” and “Make America Great Again!” Protesters yell “Show your taxes!” and “Go back to Russia!” A woman shouts at one man: “You’re the swamp!” And he shouts back: “Abort yourself!”

Photo by Paul Cantor

They stare each other down, but if they are going to come to blows, today is not the day. In the distance, clouds of smoke billow up to the heavens. At 12th and K Street, anarchists have destroyed a Muslim-owned stretch limousine; for now, it burns.

Like a moth to a flame, I walk towards the fire. Out of the parade I head north, arriving at Franklin Square. There, anarchists have knocked out windows at Starbucks, Bank of America, Au Bon Pain, and other businesses. A small-scale riot has occurred.

Rock music is on the stage, signs are held high in the air, and protests abound. To keep things in check, the riot police have arrived, arresting many. At times, when the protesters push too close, they push back, moving forward with their shields, wrestling the resistance back to a futile position.

At one point, I get caught in the mob and get pushed back by the police. I have no clue what’s happening, but fear an even bigger riot is about to begin.

It doesn’t, and thankfully, I live to see another day.

Photo by Paul Cantor

When I arrive at the Women’s March, nothing makes sense.

It’s afternoon and the speaking portion has ended. At Metro Center, I am surrounded by what appears to be every white woman on earth. It is cool, though nobody knows exactly where this march is headed.

“Where are we going?” one woman asks.

Another replies: “I have no clue. I guess we’re just walking.”

“But where?” she presses on.

“I don’t know,” says the other. “I don’t think the destination is actually the point.”

I join a group that seems like it’s walking toward the Capitol Building. The women wear pink hats and carry signs that say things like: “I Will Not Be Governed By Hate” and “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” and “This Pussy Grabs Back” and “The Future Is Female.”

Photo by Paul Cantor

If the previous two days were like shots of heartland hooch, the third is like spring water, refreshing and life-affirming. For miles and miles, there is nothing but women (and a large, but noticeably smaller contingent of men).

They are young and old, alone and with families, some fashionably hip, and others, looking as if they’d just stepped out of a suburban mall circa 1983. What is most noticeable, however, is how happy everyone seems, as if the cloud hanging over D.C. has given way to a nice, colorful rainbow.

“This is the best energy I’ve experienced in decades,” Lia, a D.C. native, tells me. “To see women come together like this, it’s inspiring. But at the same time, let’s not kid ourselves — we’ve got to get active. If the midterm elections come up in two years and nothing has changed, then all we’ll have gotten from this march is some blisters.”

Fair point. And for all its goodwill, the Women’s March, too, has its moments. Seeing a white woman lecture a black street salesman about the kind of shirts he should sell if he wants to make money, I think — hmm, that’s presumptuous. There’s also an absence of Trump support — didn’t 53 percent of the white women in United States vote for him? And where are all the minorities? The Women’s March seems just as white, if not whiter, than the inauguration.

But whatever, it’s women’s day and they don’t have time for anyone’s shit. Case in point: in front of the Macy’s on G Street, standing alone, next to a collection of protest signs, is a young white man. He wears a red “Make America Great Again” cap, shivers in the cold, and in his hands holds a sign that says: “I Stand With The Millions Of Women Who Voted For Trump.” He says he’s a former Obama supporter and seems well-intentioned (though arguably a troll), but when two girls spot him there, they immediately turn away in disgust.

“It’s cool,” one says. “I don’t need to interact with that dude.”

I have mixed views on this — thinking, well, that’s closed-minded in and of itself — but I have decided that I don’t really give a shit. My time in D.C. is nearing its end and I am incredibly tired, emotionally spent.

And yet I realize my weariness pales in comparison to those in D.C. fighting for things they so deeply believe in. Whether I agree or disagree with their views, whether they stand to the right, the left, or somewhere in the middle, I am encouraged and inspired by their energy, invigorated by their passion.

I have no idea if inauguration weekend accomplished anything, though I suppose that at a time when it feels as if the entire country is moving backwards, if even one person paused and considered another’s point of view, then we all took one small step in the right direction.

Photo by Darnell Gardner Jr.

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.