By Bianca Strzalkowski
WASHINGTON, D.C. — I knew long before I stepped in the voting booth on that Tuesday in 2016 that I wanted to attend Inauguration Day. For me, it wasn’t about who won (even though I had my personal choice) as much as it was about seeing America in action. One of the things I believe everyone should add to their life’s bucket list: see what a true peaceful transfer of power looks like.
I have to admit, being there on the ground gave me a much different perspective than what I was expecting based on news coverage and social media conversations. The intertwined world of the internet lets the imagination go wild and opinions grow legs. Still, the national tension dulled the meaning of the day for me. Then, I arrived.
Whether it’s Trump supporters or women marchers, Americans did what Americans do — rallying to support what they believe in. In the case of this election, it came down to who organized more effectively. I am afraid to say my observations will not support any one narrative; instead, like my Dad always taught me, ‘there are three sides to every story and the truth is somewhere in the middle.’ So here you go, the unfiltered lens of a military wife witnessing a few pages of our history book in person.
The great debate of 2017 has focused on a comparison of crowd size from 2009 to now. I am no mathematician, words are my craft, but at the height of the ceremony when the camera panned out to show an aerial view, the National Mall was full. I have no idea what that equates to statistically, but it definitely did not reflect the photo that has gone viral.
- How an individual peaceful protester was handled
At the onset of President Trump’s speech, an older female protestor stood up on her chair with a sign that read “No racism, no hate.” She was peaceful, not saying a word. The man behind her ripped the sign from her hands and they proceeded to argue. Shortly after, a Capitol policeman escorted her out and the people around me started calling her names like snowflake and sore loser.
Contrary to popular belief, these inaugural events were not just a bunch of white people supporting this new president. This was most evident at the Welcome Concert Thursday night. There were groups of people scattered within the crowd that had homemade signs reading “Blacks for Trump,” “Hispanics for Trump,” and “Gays for Trump.”
- Epic security
Never underestimate the power of the National Guard and law enforcement. Initially, I had reservations about how safe I would feel at such a high-visibility event. Well, the moment I stepped in the perimeter of that Inaugural Ceremony — which was basically the whole of D.C. — I knew I was in good hands.
I was embarrassed. So embarrassed. I have attended so many military change of commands where attendees carry themselves with a certain level of integrity. This. This was more like a baseball game between the Yankees and Boston Red Sox. When Hillary Clinton and President Obama each came out onto the Capitol’s platform, the people around me booed loudly. When Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer spoke on the microphone, the crowd in the back began chanting “Trump.” I don’t know if this translated to viewers at home, but it was a mortifying representation of America.
- Overwhelming enthusiasm
Aside from the immense number of attendees donning red “Make America Great Again” gear, there was an elevated feeling of hope and national pride among the large crowds of people. From the moment I arrived in D.C. what was evident to me was that many of the people who took the time to show up really believe that Trump will improve their lives. I do not know their backstories or if they even voted for him, I do not know their trials or tribulations, but something gave them promise. You could see it in their faces.
In the days following the change of national leadership, the country finds itself even more divided than we were during the heated election. Any hope that civil discourse would re-enter our society seems unlikely until we learn how to navigate our differences better. However, if there is anything I learned from planting my own heels on the ground of events last week, it is that you should only believe some of what you read and show up when you can to see it for yourself.