We Went to Protests: Scenes of Inauguration Resistance in Three Cities

by Michael Farley Whitney Kimball Corinna Kirsch on January 25, 2017 Rise Up + We Went To...


WASHINGTON/Whitney Kimball

MEXICO CITY, NEW YORK, WASHINGTON—Over inauguration weekend, three members of the AFC fam found themselves in different cities, united by pissed-off-edness at Trump and the rise of the Right-wing. On inauguration day, Whitney Kimball navigated the surreal belly of the beast: Washington, DC. Meanwhile in Mexico, D.F. Michael Anthony Farley joined in a #J20 solidarity strike, protest, and march from the U.S. Embassy. The next day, Corinna Kirsch was among the hundreds of thousands participating in the New York City chapter of the Women’s March on Washington.

Whitney: DC on inauguration day was a weird labyrinth of barricades populated by me and untold thousands of zombie people with stupid red hats trying to find a gap into the National Mall and failed. Everything blew.

The city was barricaded off in chunks, so that you’d walk 10 blocks and then hit a bunch of soldiers and traffic police who’d make you turn around. (Same with Cleveland at the RNC last summer, where lots of us fully expected a bomb to go off). It’s an effective crowd control method because it makes it really hard for large groups of people to coordinate, but it also seems like it could go horribly wrong in an evacuation scenario.

WASHINGTON: Line for the parade? Or escape from DC? No one knows. /Whitney Kimball.

WASHINGTON: Line for the parade? Or escape from DC? No one knows. /Whitney Kimball.

Anyway I spent the hour before the inauguration with wandering bands of people who also didn’t seem to realize that you needed a ticket to get within five miles of the Capitol Building. At the very last minute, a kind soul gave up his ticket, and I sprinted through the security checkpoints just in time to catch the speech on a jumbotron that I could just barely see over the crest of the hill. Even then a TSA agent blocked off all incomers from getting any closer, so for me, Trump’s “This is your celebration” line was a fabulously ironic closing note for the whole campaign. (Readers, if anybody has experience navigating previous inaugurations, please comment!)

So, it was a bust. BTW judging by the lines coming out of there, Trump’s claim to a million and a half attendees– about double the population of my hometown of Boston– seemed crazy. If it tells you anything, around lunchtime I was able to get in and out of a Pret-a-Manger bathroom within 15 minutes. By comparison my mom went to the Boston women’s march, had to go to the bathroom, and couldn’t even escape the square. I’ll add the caveat that the attendance numbers are a huge dispute at the moment, so he can’t sue us for libel.

In any case, this was a made-for-TV event.

washington trump

WASHINGTON: one of the peaceful protests everyone ignored/Whitney Kimball

Also the “riots” were totally overblown. From what I witnessed over the course of a few hours in the afternoon, the number of media people nearly matched the number of anarchists mulling around and occasionally knocking over trash cans. The now-famous limo fire was the climax of a long, drawn out vandalism which was the main event throughout the afternoon. Eventually the boredom escalated into brick throwing and pepper spray, but the nearby tank stayed parked. All of this annoyingly overshadowed a much larger, entirely peaceful protest down the hill. The sanest conversation I had in the riot area was with a Trump supporter in his twenties whose mother had suffered under the Castro regime in Cuba and was annoyed with protesters’ comparisons to fascism. Other Trump supporters gave protesters credit for exercising their First Amendment rights.

And then there were the renegade guerilla window-smashers. A group whom DC local Kelly Rice described as “these like black ninjas”– who looked nothing like the regular protesters in rainbow-themed homemade protest apparel– allegedly ran through the streets with baseball bats and smashed storefronts like McDonald’s and Bank of America, but also non-symbolic spaces like the locally-owned breakfast place. “Who smashes the Atrium?” Rice wondered.

All in all, I dearly wish I’d had that day back. I’m hoping yours was better?

Michael: To be perfectly honest, if I had been in the United States I would’ve totally been one of the fire-setting, window-smashing kids in black. That’s part of why I am in Mexico instead. But I do kinda want a tattoo of that limousine in flames with the anarchy sign…

Whitney: Noooo! Those guys make protesters look bad. I hate McDonald’s, but a small business operator runs that franchise. And seriously, why smash a local breakfast place?

Also the kids sitting on the limo refused to offer any coherent message other than “it’s a bench now” or “it’s an insurance claim.” I’m down with limo-smashing, but for a greater good.

Michael: Eh, I’m becoming much less of a pacifist (in regard to private property) in my bitter old age. No one gave a fuck about Baltimore, especially cops killing Black kids, until they burned a stupid CVS.

Whitney: I agree that pacifism isn’t working, but I think the common enemy are the superrich, not other working class people. After spending a bunch of time with white supremacist groups over the past few months for my master’s project, I’m concluding that most people are generally okay with each other after they spend time together. We’re all getting screwed, but it’s not by the local CVS owner or the McDonald’s guy or the limo driver, it’s the corporate overlords.

But yeah, artistically, the burning limo is an A+. In life, I feel sorry for Muhammad Ashraf of Nationwide Chauffeured Services. Who knows, maybe he deserved it, but I still think a Fox News van or something would have been a better target.

Michael: CVS isn’t locally-owned at all.

Whitney: Oh shit you’re right. Ok, fuck CVS!!

Mexico City/Michael Anthony Farley

MEXICO CITY: Dancing anti-Trump Socialists in Centro/Michael Anthony Farley

Michael: But we digress. Overall, things were more orderly (but still passionate!) here. Mexico City had several anti-inaugural protests on J20, most of which were centered around the American Embassy and the nearby Ángel de la Independencia monument. It’s hard to get a sense of crowd size, what with all the comings-and-goings, but I’d estimate at least 1,000 people were in the streets at any given time. A handful of American flags got burned, some protesters built a fake wall in front of the Embassy’s terrifying-future-looking security barriers, and a lesbian couple were dressed as a KKK Nazi and “Latino concentration camp” prisoner. But the mood was weirdly much more convivial, compared to Trump protests I’ve attended in the U.S., which can feel like funeral marches. After assembling in front of the Embassy, we marched about 2 ⅕ miles to the city’s historic center, where everyone from goth kids to abuelitas would lean out of balconies or storefronts and cheer.

Corinna: Sadly, I may have missed out on all that fire; I went to the Women’s March on New York City this past Saturday. It sounds like Mexico City and D.C. were the equivalent of a wet-tongue make out, while New York was one big hugging sesh.

NEW YORK/Corinna Kirsch

NEW YORK/Corinna Kirsch

Here in Manhattan we had grandmothers; tykes with pink hats and cat ears; people  with their boyfriends, girlfriends, partners; very well-designed protest signs; and a guy who prepared for the march by carrying around a full box of pizza. New Yorkers know how to turn protest into a well-mannered march. I’m sure it was different for other protesters in New York, but being out on Saturday, for me, had, on one hand, the effect of lounging out in Prospect Park on a Saturday—if we were all crowded like sardines to fit into city-block-size containers, of course. The Women’s March on New York City was the family-friendly event of the weekend.

All types of New Yorkers came out in huge numbers—approximately 400,000—to express their support for progressive causes. Yes, all types of New Yorkers challenged the direction our country is taking. Yes, all types of New Yorkers cheerfully sang “Dump Trump!” in the streets, without fear. Huzzah! New Yorkers, we are the many, the proud, and a bastion for social good.

New Yorkers, keep marching, not just this once, but all the time. Here we have protesting, normalized. I’m looking forward to showing up in the streets every week if need be.

Michael: Be careful what you wish for, as far as normalization goes. At one point, while marching down Paseo de la Reforma (a major office/government skyscraper district) I ducked into a luxury mall to pee, and even though you could still hear people chanting from the mall and see countless people through the windows, no one batted a second glance in that direction. Protests are so common in this neighborhood they’re like noting the weather. I guess that’s a good thing, though. I’d love to see America’s Left turn into such a well-oiled disobedience machine. And on the street, of course, all bystanders were super supportive. 

NEW YORK: A shower of flowers, gifted to protesters awaiting the march./Corinna Kirsch

NEW YORK: A shower of flowers, gifted to protesters awaiting the march./Corinna Kirsch

Corinna: One anecdote on the lovefest that was Manhattan this Saturday revolves around this guy. We’re at the corner of 2nd Avenue and 40-something, well above the overflow for the march start. Expecting a march, we were given a standing-room only situation. Unsure of how many blocks we had to go before being given the go-ahead to walk, with the march officials invisible, somewhere off in the distance, we moved two blocks within an hour—max. As we’re standing with the hundreds, maybe thousands of other sardines on this block, comes out this Tom Cruise in Risky Business bro, showering the protesters with his own type of support: pink flowers. We could have been in an opera, showered with single flowers, but during the performance, not after.

Great, New Yorkers who weren’t protesting support the protesters. But…would this same, flower-giving gesture have taken place during a #blacklivesmatter march? My magic eight-ball says “Doubtful.”

Michael: By that you mean, Burning-Man/Berlin-Love-Parade-Kooky-Acts-of-Kindness aren’t showered on BLM protesters? Totally true observation. But can you imagine the Leftist-think-piece-machine infighting if they were?

Corinna: Ah, good point. Whatever contention that might provoke, I wish the “caring-yet-silly” aura of the marches were mentioned more frequently.

Mexico City/Michael Anthony Farley

MEXICO CITY/Michael Anthony Farley

Michael: One nice thing about the protests in Mexico: the sense of Mexicans and US Citizens being in this together. Mexico is none too happy with its own president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who recently privatized the nation’s gas supply to corporations. This, combined with Trump’s anti-Mexico rhetoric and economic policies has led to a crazy spike in prices here, as the value of the peso has slipped. It’s funny, because Peña (a neoliberal who’s seemingly pro-globalization) and Trump hate each other, but it was great to see Americans and Mexicans marching together to say “we understand, we both have shitty presidents.”

Whitney: Lol. Were there any popular slogans or pussy hats? How do Mexico City residents feel they’ll be personally affected by the Trump administration?

Michael: One of the bi-national protests’ slogan was “Tu generación construyó el muro, nuestra generación lo destruirá.” Your generation built the wall, our generation will destroy it.


MEXICO CITY: Mexican and American protesters in a solidarity bloc outside the US Embassy/Michael Anthony Farley

But there are so many slogans here (which rhyme better, obviously)! One of the things I love most about this city is its active Leftist political culture. There are multiple songs about general strikes in Spanish! People here protest so much they have reusable protest flags, not flimsy cardboard signs destined for the landfill.

I totally forgot that I saw this one pussy hat until I made the above GIF. I didn’t make it to the women’s march the next day, otherwise I am sure I would’ve seen more! Plenty of feminist-socialist flags at the J20 demonstrations though!

Corinna: I’m so interested in what a reusable protest flag looks like. I’m wondering if people here in the states are getting more and more used to protesting, based on the number of people I saw using cardboard signs. If you never protest, you might be more willing to spend some money on making an entirely new sign out of new materials. Maybe it has to do with recycling. Or people having plenty of Amazon Prime boxes lying around to make signs.

You don’t need a sign to be effective. As I arrived to the march, an elderly woman, who, like my own grandmother, shuffles slowly when she walks with her neck twisted toward the ground, kept up a chorus of “Dump Trump” throughout the crowd. I want to be her when I’m older. She’s my hero.

Michael: There were so many good older lady role models in our protest too! It was so inspiring to see older people march for miles holding banners about climate change and reproductive rights, next to transwomen demanding better rights for migrants, next to students with banners in solidarity with workers. Here, there seems to be a lot less of the weird, ineffectual Leftist balkanization over identity politics and specific issues than in the US


Mexico City/Michael Anthony Farley

But speaking of flags, my reusable “FUERA TRUMP” protest flag cost me less than the USD equivalent of $.75 thanks to Trump’s own vitriol towards Mexico, which is putting the Peso’s value in a tailspin. In answer to your question, Whitney, The majority of Mexicans are already feeling the effects of his economic isolationist policies via inflation at home. People are also resentful (or resigned) to the fact that it’s become prohibitively expensive/complicated (and likely to get much, much worse) to visit friends or family in the United States, largely thanks to our stupid visa system. I’m always embarrassed when I forget about this and invite people to visit me back in the States, especially considering the ease and warm welcome with which we can come here.

Whitney: Also, have you been meeting a lot of ex-pats down there?

Michael: I’m actually a little disappointed about how relatively few Americans turned out for the march. Don’t get me wrong—there was a sizable contingent marching behind a “US-MX Solidarity” banner, but that crowd’s numbers were also inflated by Mexican, Canadian, and Japanese friends. Over 700,000 American citizens live in Mexico City—more than most U.S. cities, including Washington D.C., Boston, and Baltimore. When you compare the number of Americans who protested here to the numbers in those cities it’s a little disheartening. Just a few days after Trump was elected in November, thousands of people took to the streets in Baltimore, for example.

That might be because a lot of immigrants to Mexico City (myself included) come from countries with politics we’d like to escape. And escapism is so, so tempting. And to be fair, I also know a lot of non-Mexican citizens are terrified of being deported as a result of protesting, since there’s an ambiguous law about foreign agents interfering with politics, which can lead to expulsion. None of us want to get banned from Mexico, because we love it, which is a big part of why we’re so anti-wall to begin with! Legal troubles here are scary, but it’s a chance myself and dozens of other foreigners were willing to take.

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