Updated: May 2, 2022
I went to bed relatively early on November 8, 2016. I wasn’t convinced by the prediction that Hillary Clinton would be our next president. I didn’t know Trump would win, but it certainly remained a possibility in my mind. I had done all I could to get the people I supported elected. I had driven people to the polls that day. I stayed up to see the WV returns come in, which were really bad. I think only two of the people I worked for won. I was tired. I went to bed. I’d find out who our next president would be in the morning.
My husband came to bed late. He woke me up to tell me Trump won. I wasn’t surprised.
Soon after, I had a desire to attend the inauguration. That’s stupid, right? Why would I want to go to Trump’s inauguration? I couldn’t answer that question. I just kept coming back to this really weird and intense feeling that I needed to go.
Not too long after election day a friend of mine from Kentucky asked me if I was going to the Women’s March, which was scheduled for the day after the inauguration. As I understood it at that time, it was a huge anti-Trump protest. I had already publicly commented on social media before the election that whoever the next president was, I was going to spend a lot of time in DC pushing for the issues I care about. And by the way, I have. It's no secret that I thought both Clinton and Trump were deeply flawed candidates.
My heart wasn’t with the Women’s March for some reason, but since I had this weird draw to the inauguration the day before, I said yes. I’d do both.
As Inauguration Day crept closer and closer, I kept trying to talk myself out of the idea of going. It was such a stupid thing to do! Why go? What are you going to do? I had no answers for those questions. None. But, I kept the constant feeling that I needed to go.
Without a solid plan, without a solid place to stay, I had committed myself to go to Washington, DC for both the Inauguration and the Women’s March. My friend worked it out for me to stay with her and some friends. She scored a place to stay in someone's basement apartment for free somewhere in the Georgetown district. The girl who rented the apartment wasn’t going to be there, but wanted to support “Bernie people”. She hadn’t arranged it with the landlord, so we had to be really quiet. I assumed that this person was someone my friend knew well. Nope. They had met on the internet and made this arrangement.
I knew I needed a good sign. I like signs. All political events are better with signs. I’m fairly creative and typically have outstanding signs, if I do say so myself. I like my signs on foam board. They are more sturdy and hold up well in the rain or snow or wind. So, I took my plain white foam board to DC., and markers and a stick and screws and a screwdriver to attach the sign. I’ve done this before. You need a stick to hold your sign so you can have a free hand to do other stuff - hug, hold a cup of coffee, raise a defiant fist in the air. Plus, the stick lets you get your sign higher, so people, and TV cameras can see it better. A good sign holds a bit of political magic. It creates opportunity.
As I drove to DC I still had no clue what I was doing, but it felt like the right thing to do. By this time, I had just given up second guessing myself. I had logically talked myself out of going multiple times, only to come back to the intense “feeling” that I needed to go. I was on the six hour drive to DC.
I made it to DC and had my reunion with my Kentucky friends. They are incredible women that I met in Florida a few months before when we were there to campaign for Tim Canova, who was challenging Debbie Wasserman Schultz (DWS) for her seat in Congress. DWS was a key figure in rigging the 2016 primary against Bernie Sanders. We couldn’t stand her. That was a bonding experience. We lost that race, too.
So, we spent some time catching up, very quietly talked trash about superdelegates and DWS and how it was their fault that Trump was going to be our president.
As it got later, I felt the need to make my sign. I got my foam board out and… nothing. Nothing. Not one great idea came to mind. Well, there was this quote I had heard that kept coming to my mind, but it was way too long…. Wasn’t an option.
I kept thinking, googling images, brainstorming. I didn’t like anything… except that quote I heard…
OK. I’ll look up the quote and listen to it. Maybe I can do something with it. It was from an interview between Sarah Silverman and Bernie Sanders the month before about where we go from here. Silverman said something that prompted Bernie to push back on her characterization of Trump supporters. Here’s the link to the interview. The quote starts around 27:00, but to get the backstory, start around 21:00. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mP5xavI0d_o&t=1829s
It’s a powerful interview, but Bernie's quote that stood out to me, and tugged at me as I was trying to think up a message for my sign was this, “People say all the Trump supporters are some kind of idiots. They’re not! They are in pain, and they are hurting! And, we damn well better stand up for them!”
Powerful. True. Too long to put on a sign. Back to the drawing board.
Suffice it to say that eventually, I just gave in and wrote an abbreviated version of that quote on my foam board. I screwed it onto the stick and went to sleep. I had no idea what was waiting for me the following day, no idea what had drawn me to Donald Trump’s inauguration.
One of my basement mates was up super early. She was into the anti-Trump stuff. I wasn’t. I headed out a bit later - again with no solid plan. I wandered up to one park where there were progressive speakers. People liked my sign!
I walked to another event. People liked my sign. But, I instinctively knew that hanging out with like-minded people was not what drew me to DC that day.
I walked to some restaurant to get lunch and watched Trump be sworn in as President on their TV screen.
My gut was still prodding me to do “something”, but I had no clue what. I knew the parade would be starting in a bit and I decided that I was going to walk down to the parade route with my sign. People that I was with warned me that I would get beat up. I didn’t think so.
I also decided to write Donald Trump a note. That note was never delivered to him, but it basically called on his better angels to lead the country.
I headed to the parade route. As I approached the security area, I thought I would have to leave my sign behind, but a security officer told me I could take it in. He reminded me that we have freedom of speech, including signs, and that everyone was welcome at the parade. I would, however, need to remove the sign from the stick. No sticks allowed. Great points, Officer.
I tentatively meandered down Pennsylvania Avenue looking for the perfect place to watch the parade. The kind and civil rights minded officer was correct about the signage. I saw several protest signs. One made me laugh out loud. It was held high over a protesters head and said, “Free Melania”!
I will tell you that I was shocked at how few people there were. I saw an African American woman standing by herself. She was the only African American I saw on the parade route. She looked very professional, not like a protester, but, I correctly assumed that she would be a safe person to stand beside.
Not too long after that a couple lawyers from California joined me on my other side. We were there for a very long time. I think it was about two hours we stood. Two hours is a long time, so like anyone, we began to talk and get to know each other.
The African American lady was a DC professional and a Republican. She worked for the Bush administration, I think in the White House. She gave us some insider gossip, which was fun to hear. She had been to many inaugural parades of both Democrats and Republicans. She described Obama’s first inaugural parade as being packed 6-8 people deep on each side and described the excitement. She also shared that she didn’t love Trump, but hoped he would be a good President.
The California lawyers were very nice and much more excited to be at the parade than the lady beside me. One asked to read my sign and said something like, “Wow, you get it”! Although, I don’t think he was in pain and hurting, to be honest. He seemed quite rich and quite powerful. He told me that he liked Bernie, wasn’t sure he would have voted for him, but he respected him. He said that the Democrats chose the wrong candidate. Tell me something I don’t know, dude.
He said very nice things about how much he appreciated me being there with my message and that this type of thing was what the country needed. We had our photo taken together and then other people started reading the sign and wanting their photo with me and the sign. We talked. We found common ground. The sign had created an amazing opportunity for me to connect with people. There was a little bit of magic in that sign. I remember one person decked out in MAGA gear stopped and read it. He said, “that’s the nicest protest sign EVER”! We had our photo together.
Finally, the parade arrived. It was much shorter than I expected. The lady beside me said that sometimes presidents get out and walk and come over and shake hands with people at the parade, or wave. I told her I had a note for Trump that I’d like to give to him if he approached. She warned me not to try. “You’ll end up on a list,'' she warned. The warning was for naught. Trump never exited his motorcade to join his supporters. The parade ended. We began to exit.
I was so pleased with my decision to come to DC, to write THAT quote on my sign, to come down to the parade route! I had pushed myself past barriers that I had put up for myself, and the result was absolutely wonderful. I felt very encouraged by my discussions with Trump supporters. It was a great experience.
As I was exiting the parade route I saw vendors selling Trump and MAGA gear. I don’t take issue with vendors, because they don’t care what they are selling. If Clinton had won, the exact same vendors would be out there selling pro-Clinton gear. They aren’t political people. Well, this theory is basically true for every vendor in DC except the one that I was about to meet.
I was just a little bit past the security gate, walking out with my sign. I was taken aback when this very rough looking guy in a red MAGA hat started yelling. Initially, I didn’t know he was yelling at me. He threw out harsh expletives, forcefully threw a T-shirt he was holding down on his stand and very aggressively walked directly at me swearing every few words. I remember hearing, “All Trump supporters are idiots?!”, “F** you!”, “you f***ing Hillary b****!”, and on and on and on.
I said, “read the sign”. He read the first sentence, “People say all Trump supporters are idiots” and started back with the expletives.
I said again, “READ the sign”. Same thing. More aggression. Bystanders were hanging out now to intervene, I assume, or watch a Bernie supporter v. Trump supporter street fight.
For the third time, I said, more assertively now, because I was really getting tired of being cussed at, “READ THE SIGN!” He just got angrier. I knew that he had made assumptions about what the rest of the sign said and his brain wouldn’t let the rest of the message resonate.
I turned the sign so we could both read it, turned shoulder to shoulder with him and read it out loud with him - “People say all the Trump supporters are idiots! They’re NOT! They’re in PAIN! They are HURTING! And we damn well better STAND UP FOR THEM!”
The energy changed immediately. I turned to him, our eyes connected and... we saw each other.
We saw each others souls in that second, I believe. I saw exactly who he was and I think, I hope, that he saw exactly who I was. He was someone who was hurting and in pain. And I was someone willing to stand up for him, despite his MAGA attire.
It was a powerful moment. He reached out and grabbed me into the most treasured bear hug anyone could experience. We didn’t just hold each other. We held hope.
I have no idea how long our embrace lasted, but I know that it still exists for me. I don’t know this man’s name or where he lives. But, I think of him often. He is the epitome, to me, of a person that needs his government to work for him. We all need that, but some more than others. So, when I hear people trashing Trump supporters and saying how stupid they are, I defend them. We must stand up for hurting people and bring them together to create a government that will work for all of us.
Bernie Sanders didn’t teach me that, but he sure as hell underscored it for me.
I think this was what was calling me to DC. This is what prodded me to drive six hours and immerse myself in Trump supporters. It was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had and I will cherish that hug from the MAGA guy for the rest of my life. I hold hope.