What happens when one's expectations and best laid plans are blown apart like confetti on a windy day...? When the world seems turned upside down, yet you are not quite sure whether to tilt your head or not? The American electorate and a watching world experienced this in November, 2016, and, two months later my job brought me to a place that caused me to question whether an election signals the end of a race, or the beginning of a cause...
We were halfway through our flight between Washington, D.C. and Boston and I was sick to my stomach. The feeling had nothing to do with the turbulence but rather the news unfolding on the tiny screen before me: Sean Spicer was taking his first press moment in the White House to release a statement that denounced the attendee number of the inauguration. I couldn’t fathom what was worse: the insecurities displayed by the White House -- akin to being caught counting Instagram likes -- or the fact that this statement was a flat-out lie.
I work for a company that specializes in educational travel. We partner with teachers to plan their annual student trips, specifically across North America and its territories. Every four years we offer a special “Inauguration Tour “ so that students and teachers can witness a moment of history and spend a few days sightseeing in Washington, D.C. For some of these students, the trip is the first time they ever leave their hometown or travel on a plane.
As there is such a large volume of schools that travel, my company sends staff to accompany the groups. Staff members are stationed at the National Mall on Inauguration Day, clad in easy to spot hats, should anyone need them. They also help with issues on the road and pretty much anything else that comes to pass. This year I was one of those staff members.
I received my flight confirmation for the trip on the day before the election, when many of us still expected Hillary to pull out the win, when this would have been a different story. The day after results were confirmed, my company office was a polarized mix of inbound calls to either cancel or to enroll, even though it was far past the deadline. Due to the requirements of my job and the needs of the teachers I was corresponding with, I was compelled to distance myself from my opinions and emotions. I stopped reading the news, stopped engaging in political discussion, and pivoted my focus to the Inauguration Day logistics instead.
Despite my expectations of chaos and excitement, Inauguration Day itself was quite uneventful. We woke up early and rode the DC metro to the Farragut West stop. I found my assigned spot in front of the Museum of Natural History, I stood for a few hours, and there was a peaceful transfer of power over to Mr. Trump. Over this time, I did not perceive inspiration in the air, nor uprising.
The next day was a completely different story.
The empty metro from yesterday’s commute now had lines stretching out across the platforms and down into the streets below. Once on the National Mall, I wove my way through throngs of pink hats and painted signs, slowly edging to my designated post. Standing on the steps of the Museum of Natural History, I had trouble convincing myself that this was the same location, let alone the same city.
Yesterday, the Mall was dotted with spectators, and today it was bursting at the seams with actors.
The positive energy was palpable.
There are few words to fully capture the volume and the power of the event. Below are a few of my impressions:
Sometimes it’s pure presence or lack thereof that says the most, and I can confidently say that the time of complacency has passed, nudged out by a call to action. Every US -- and global -- citizen will recount the Inauguration and the Women’s March through a different lens. Each will have their own chronicle. This is mine.