With homemade signs, banners and even locks and chains, thousands of protesters descended on Friday’s inauguration of Donald Trump. In modern times, no one so disliked has ascended to the nation’s highest office. Tens of thousands more are expected to rally today.
During the campaign, Trump played footsie with white supremacists, called for a ban on Muslims and described Latinos as criminals and rapists. Since Trump’s upset victory in November – in which he received nearly 3 million fewer votes than his opponent, Hillary Clinton – he’s tweeted and attacked, but done little to bring the country together.
Trump recently went after John Lewis, a civil rights leader and congressman who questioned the legitimacy of his presidency. Lewis, along with around 60 other congress members – all Democrats, many African American and Latino – boycotted the inauguration.
Under the banner #DisruptJ20 (for January 20, the date of the inauguration), activists dedicated to different issues took their message to specific viewing entrances, many attempting to slow or stop supporters from getting inside.
— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) January 20, 2017
“This is not a normal president, so it shouldn’t be a normal inauguration,” said Denise Romano, a member of Communications Workers of America. She spoke as union activists linked arms, facing down a line of shield-wielding police at another entrance.
Labor has reason for concern since Trump “stacked his administration with folks who are not shy about privatization,” said labor activist Anna Woodbury.
Nowhere is that more clear than with billionaire Betsy DeVos, the nominee for education secretary.
DeVos and her family have spent millions of dollars over several decades to steer public money away from public schools and into charter and religious schools.
“She bought her way to this position,” Washington Teachers’ Union president Liz Davis said after a rally yesterday. “She represents privatization, school choice, for-profit schools.”
For labor secretary, Trump tapped Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s fast food chains.
“He’s terrible,” said Romano. “He doesn’t believe in any sort of minimum wage so why the heck is he the labor secretary?”
Black Lives Matter Blockade
After a short rally in front of the D.C. police department, Black Lives Matter activists made their way to the line into the inauguration.
“Hey, hey, ho, ho, white supremacy’s got to go,” chanted activists, as some pulled out chains, quickly locking themselves across the entrance. They held the space for hours.
At the same time, the country’s first black president prepared to hand over the reins to Trump, who’s tapped people with racist backgrounds to fill top positions in his administration.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s White House chief strategist, until recently headed Breitbart News, which he called “the platform for the alt-right.” (This is the same alt-right that celebrated the election outcome with chants of “Hail Trump” and Nazi salutes.)
For attorney general, Trump tapped Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, whose past is so checkered the Senate Judiciary Committee denied his bid to become a federal judge thirty years ago.
“All of this is sort of winking and blinking towards the forces of the Confederacy,” said D.C. preacher and activist Rev. Graylan Hagler. “We’re witnessing an overt resurgence of racism and white supremacy… It’s really up to us to resist it.”
Chanting “Exxon, Mobile, BP, Shell! Take your filth and go to hell!” environmental activists linked arms to blockade another inauguration entrance. As rain started to fall, Trump supporters attempted to push through the line, most unsuccessfully.
The action follows confirmation hearings for Scott Pruitt, Rick Perry and Rex Tillerson, Trump’s picks to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Energy Department and State Department, respectively.
Pruitt, the attorney general for Oklahoma, is a climate denier who repeatedly sued, on behalf of polluting industries, the very agency he seeks to head.
“He’s a terrible person to run the EPA,” said Drew Hudson of South Carolina, as he locked arms with fellow activists.
Meanwhile Perry, the former Texas governor, seeks to lead an agency he wanted to abolish but famously couldn’t name – and only recently learned what it does. (Through Dec. 31, Perry was a board member of Energy Transfer Partners, which owns the Dakota Access Pipeline.)
Tillerson stepped down as CEO of Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest oil company, in preparation for the cabinet position.
“What we’re witnessing is the marriage of oil and state, and it’s important that we stand up and object,” said activist and energy expert Steve Kretzmann.
For his part, Trump has called climate change a Chinese hoax. Meanwhile, recently released data shows 2016 was the hottest year on record, surpassing 2015 and 2014, the previous record highs.
Organizing Under Trump
“This isn’t just about today,” said Anna Woodbury. “It’s also about making connections and building that long haul fight.”
Trump is “going to be the best organizer that we could ask for,” activist filmmaker Michael Moore said at McPherson Square, a hub for today’s protests. “When he starts to cause harm to our fellow Americans people are going to rise up.”
“They’re not going to take it,” said Moore, especially “from a guy that did not get a majority of the votes of the people of this country.”
Moore responds to a reporter asking if he’ll be locked up under Trump.
Julia Kann contributed reporting and photos to this story.