There were some 2016 that had hoped that this year, 2017, would be turn out differently. The idea was that the Donald Trump that we all saw in campaign speeches and at the Republican National convention was just a ploy. The idea that Trump was just using his words as red meat to get people out to vote but would become a more reasonable human being once actually inaugurated.
Any chance that this administration was going to be a ‘normal’ one disappeared as quickly as the helicopter that carried outgoing President Obama flew over my head as I stood on the National Mall. That rainy day in January – and no, the rain didn’t stop when Trump made his speech, it actually rained harder – made me decide to throw away the initial pitch that I sent NationofChange and write this:
A cold sense of dread had over come me. It’s the sense of dread only an old German might understand. This past weekend I witnessed first hand cheering crowds of thousands of Americans as jumbo-trons showed the new President lay his hand on the bible… During the speech which roughly 250,000 people watched from the Washington Mall and another 30 million on their TV’s, President Trump proclaimed that “A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions. It’s time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget — that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.” Coming from a man that campaigned with nothing but divisiveness those are some stunning words.
As a photojournalist that has been covering inaugurals since the Bush Administration this one was by far the most draining. Thankfully the next day was different.
While Trump had already escaped Washington DC for what would become the first of dozens of trips to his branded resorts, the #resistance entered the Capitol. Hundreds of thousands of women and men, many wearing the trademark pink pussy hat that would become a symbol of 2017’s protests took the Washington DC Mall. The Women’s March, to the chagrin of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, outnumbered the inaugural attendees by hundreds of thousands in DC alone.
It was, as I wrote then, ‘an awkward morning after.’ The women and men that took to the streets in our nations capitol weren’t out there just to express anger that their candidate lost – but to speak out against the policies that the incoming administration had promised to implement. From women’s right’s to the environment – it was by far the largest gathering of activists that I had seen since the 2004 GOP convention in NYC.
The day was more of a celebration than a funeral – which is what inaugural felt like for me. The celebratory attitude would quickly change to one of fear as the following week the President with little warning instituted his Muslim Travel Ban. That brought me to New York’s JFK airport where New Yorkers had shown up in droves with nothing more than a couple facebook event pages organizing them. People immediately started making signs on the sidewalk that normally they would kiss their family goodbye before leaving on a flight. Pizzas and hot coffee were delivered as the protests continued into the night.
Thousands stood and proclaimed that the Presidents ‘Muslim Ban’ was un-American. Thankfully after a couple hours a judge put a hold on it as customs clearly had no idea how to actually enforce the ban. Since then Trump has tried several more times but the judiciary has continued their fight against the unconstitutional travel ban.
Never doubt New Yorker’s ability to throw together a protest quickly as another, larger event was organized the following day within site of the Statue of Liberty in Battery Park.
A couple weeks later, some familiar faces for the larger political fight. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren spoke in Boston, Mass at a Our Revolution launch event. Ignoring chants from the crowd for them to run on a ticket together for President (one can dream) they expressed the progressive vision for the country that Sanders ran his campaign on. Sanders also focused in on fixing what he believed was the reason that Trump became President in 2016…
“In case you forgot, there was an election in November. And Donald Trump won. And I want to say a word about that… and not everyone here will agree with me… some people think that the people that voted for Trump are racists, and sexists and homophobes and just deplorable folks. I don’t agree. i don’t agree, because I’ve been there. And let me tell you something else that some of you may not agree with…it wasn’t that the Donald Trump won the election but that the Democratic Party lost the election.”
Soon after that it was back down to DC for more marches – first the Science March and then the Climate March. Both saw thousands more people take to the streets and parks of DC demanding that science funding and the environment not be slashed and burned under the new administration. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, unfortunately has since had other ideas.
But it wasn’t just women, scientists and environmentalists that demanded to be heard in 2017, on May Day in New York City, workers and immigrants. It was at this rally that I first came in contact with the newly emboldened counter-protestor. Wearing ‘Kekistan’ flags designed to look like Nazi-era German flags, they chanted “Helicopter Rides” over and over again referencing the method of murdering dissidents during the Pinochet regime in Chile.
From there NationofChange sent me to the Georgia 6th, working with my long time investigative teammate Greg Palast where we tried to get answers from candidate Karen Handel. It did not end well as you can watch in this piece that aired on DemocracyNow!. We were simply trying to ask her if she planned to steal the election. She’s now in the U.S. Congress.
It was then back to Washington DC for the fight to defend ACA also known as Obamacare. There I met an adorable child (Anthony) and his father who, if the ACA was repealed would lose his life saving treatments. Anthony’s Dad told me this:
“First, it’s sabotage. To let Obamacare die with everything that the GOP’s already done is nothing short of sabotaging a piece of legislation that’s already there… to let Obamacare die on a personal level endangers my son as well as thousands of, if not millions of other families across the country. Those that are strapped with having to make the decision of utility bills, way of life or health care… and that’s just unfair. That’s not something that should have to be a choice for anyone.”
Then in August, an already dark year took an even darker turn. In Charlottesville, Virginia, Heather Heyer was murdered when a white supremacist drove his car through a crowd of peaceful marchers. That scene caught the attention of the world press and even the President initially condemned it – at least for a brief moment.
But that wasn’t the only act of white supremacist violence that day. In a parking garage next to the C’Ville Police Department, DeAndre Harris was brutally attacked by 6 white supremacists. I caught it all on camera – and thanks to hundreds of internet sleuths three of the men are being prosecuted for the attack. It was not an investigation that the FBI had any interest in doing.
After C’Ville it was Tennessee and thankfully the hate was overwhelmed. The citizens of Shelbyville and Murfreesboro stood up to the planned “White Lives Matter” rally and the white supremacist groups folded thanks in part to their disorganization.
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