How Angry Left-Wing Activists Are Protesting Trump's Inauguration

On Thursday night, activists were tangling with Trump supporters and getting ready to march down the National Mall and block entrances.
January 20, 2017, 3:25pm
All photos by Jason Bergman

In Washington, DC, protests are routine as press conferences. This is where the government does its business, and opposition to that business is both inevitable and expected—so much so that the DC's Metropolitan Police Department is known for being a well-oiled protest control machine. Presidential inaugurations, of course, have seen their share of demonstrations: George W. Bush and Richard Nixon's ceremonies were both met with massive, though controlled, protests.


But DC has never seen anything quite like Donald Trump.

Not only is Trump the most unpopular incoming president in modern American history, not only did he win office while trailing in the national popular vote by nearly 3 million, he has also sparked a feeling of dread among some DC natives that the end is nigh. Since I arrived in the city earlier this week, several residents of the predominantly Democratic city told me that they fear the worst ever from the incoming administration—for their country, and their city. As the New York Times documented in the week after the election, many Washingtonians are apprehensive about what will happen to their town's culture under Trump. Signs of discontent are everywhere, from a poster in an office window reading "Thanks FBI" to scribbles of "Fuck Trump" on every Pret a Manger in a five-mile radius.

It's no surprise then that, based on the plans for protest during Friday's ceremony, inauguration is shaping up to be a shitshow on the streets of DC.

By Thursday afternoon, Trump supporters from all over the nation had descended upon the capital, on motorcycles, trucks, and Christian tour buses. Even in the sea of red baseball caps, there were the first glimmers of protest—in the span of a single block, I saw a man holding an umbrella that read  "Dictator" in front of the new Trump International Hotel, a woman carrying a sign that read "Back in the USSA," and a handful of people wearing pro-Obama stickers. Then I came to McPherson Square.


Tagged with "I"'s for "Illegitimate," a group called Refuse Fascism has held daily protests at the public space, which is just north of the White House, since Saturday. They gathered in a circle, chanting "In the name of humanity, we refuse!" and calling Trump the "American Hitler." The group was small—no more than 50 people—and barely met with any resistance, either from cops or Trump supporters.

A stage at an anti-nuke protest on Thursday

Carl Dix, one of the main voices for the group and a founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, told me that organizers had come from as far as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York for the inauguration on Friday. "We're gonna be out in the streets, and make the business in usual in this town stop," he said.

The group is protesting under the banner of Occupy Inauguration, a coalition of leftists that, one member said, was a "continuation of the Occupy movement." I was told by some organizers that the Women's March on Saturday, which is expected to be the largest inaugural weekend demonstration ever, was an afterthought to these protesters—one described the march to me as no more than "colorful."

In conjunction with a number of other activist organizations—many of which will be marching down towards the National Mall on Friday, or as far as they can get—Refuse Fascism was focusing its attention on the Inaugural parade, Dix said, when Trump will ride up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, his new home. From the Navy Memorial and Freedom Plaza, the group hopes to disrupt the procession, Dix said, or at least get Trump's attention. Several protesters mentioned plans to block entrances to the inauguration, and possibly even the DC metro—plans that seemed to be being carried out as of Friday:

From what I was told, protesters appear to be more concerned with confrontation from Trump voters than the police. But Dix seemed unfazed. "We're not going to interact with those fools," he told me. "If he gets you a job, then you like the rest of his agenda? That's like when Hitler gave some Germans jobs, and they were fine with the Holocaust."

"But," he added, "I can't say how it's gonna go."


The Resist Fascism crew later headed down the street to the Deploraball, a gathering of alt-right types who were the most flamboyant, nationalistic, and sometimes outright racist of Trump's supporters. There, protesters struggled with the police, who deployed pepper spray against them.

Jill Stein speaks to her supporters at a rally on Thursday.

Down the block from McPherson, at Franklin Square, an even smaller group, this one organized against nuclear arms, gathered to hear Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate, who delivered her familiar talking points. She assailed the vast wealth of Trump's cabinet appointees, and promised firm opposition. "If there's a registry [of Muslims]," she told the audience of 20 or so, "I don't know about you, but I'm putting my name on it." One man started yelling profanities at her for reason that were unclear, but was soon surrounded by audience members and silenced.

A few blocks north, we met a handful of organizers from the Progressive Independent Party, which was started by "Bernie-crats," in a room at the Luther Place Memorial Church. One organizer, Pete Perry, told me that the group had just wrapped up "peacekeeper training," which involved de-escalation tactics along the parade route, specifically with Trump voters.

"We'd say, 'I hear that you're frustrated. I am, too,'" he said. "And then, we'd try to engage and de-escalate from there." Perry, who is originally from DC, said other inaugurations have been "intense," but Trump's is likely to be unprecedented in its tumult. "We're trying to keep it as nonviolent as possible," he affirmed.

These groups may have all been anti-Trump, but they were not united. Refuse Fascism seemed interested in confrontation, the Progressive Independent Party seemed prepared to make sure that no conflicts broke out, and some leftists—like Stein—are simply continuing their usual activism and agitation on behalf of their chosen causes. We'll find out how that will play out on the ground as Trump's inauguration festivities continue. But this division and anger will set the stage for four years of agitation in DC.

On the night before Trump's inauguration, the "Resistance" didn't seem strong; it seemed confused. What that'll mean for DC will ultimately be decided in a few hours—but it could set the stage for how the city handles the next four years.

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