A New Era, a New Resistance: Reflections on the Inauguration & the Women’s March on Washington, From Me to You

Gloom and doom. For many Washingtonians, this was the unpleasant sentiment that had descended on their capital, much like the clouds that had begun to settle above the city. I had arrived the day before the inauguration of President Trump, hoping to catch up with a few friends before the Women’s March on Washington. But I wasn’t prepared for how the city had changed since I left it last May — what seems like an eternity ago. At that time, it seemed all but assured that we would soon have the first female president of the United States sitting in the Oval Office. How very quickly the tables turn.

Many old friends and colleagues had already hightailed it out of DC, hoping to escape the wave of Trump fanfare that had besieged the city. For those that remained, I asked friends how they planned to spend the inauguration, given that most of them were decidedly not fans of the new administration. Most planned to hunker down as if a tornado was descending on the capital, turning their cozy pads into bunkers that they’d use to ride out the inauguration with the comfort of food and booze. If much of liberal America was in mourning, nowhere was this more evident than in DC.

img_2812

img_2806

Attendees of the inauguration gathered on the South Lawn of the White House.

I thought I would spend part of the day wishing Obama a farewell in front of the White House on his last full day in office. I wasn’t exactly President Obama’s biggest fan when it came to some policies like mass deportation and going after journalists under the Espionage Act, and thought that he could have done a better job of rallying Congress to get its act together, but I do think that ultimately, he did some great things that benefited some of the most vulnerable people in our country, and did it with dignity and aplomb — a measure of reserve that is unlikely in the next four years given Trump’s tendency for bombastic comments. For that, Obama deserves a strong measure of gratitude.

img_2814

A display posted inside the window of store in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, DC.

And yet, I didn’t get that opportunity. ‘Make America Great Again’ had hit the capital in anticipation of the inauguration with a sea of crimson MAGA hats, ‘Welcome President Trump’ signs, and misogynistic anti-Hillary buttons peddled by street vendors. Obama’s presence had already been vanquished from the capital. Most inaugural attendees were respectful (apart from a few misplaced yells of ‘Good riddance Obama’), but it was still a still strange spectacle to behold in a city that I once though I knew very well. Wealthy and elite Republicans — the kind who find MAGA hats tacky but attending inaugural balls glorious — muttered ‘rednecks’ at the newcomers who came to Washington on motorbikes and in jeans to welcome their new president.

And then, now former-President Obama was whisked away to St. Andrews Air Force base, and President Trump was sworn in. Much has already been said about the inauguration, from Trump’s post-apocalyptic speech to the minimal number of attendees compared to the throngs that attended both of Obama’s inaugurations — a number which Trump later decried as spin doctoring on the part of the media — to the administration’s wiping of civil rights pages on whitehouse.gov to the anarchists that shattered windows to former President George W. Bush’s inability to handle a poncho.

All in all though, by Trump standards, the number of bellicose comments made were kept to an expected dozen or so, and his first day got underway with as little hubbub as could be expected for such an unorthodox and polarizing president. I watched Trump being sworn in on Spanish television while eating pupusas at a restaurant where Salvadorian music was blaring over loudspeakers and hardly anyone spoke English. It was a glorious contradiction of everything Donald Trump has claimed to stand for, and the dramatic irony was almost too strong for me to handle.

It wasn’t all bad, those first few days. I caught up with friends and sought comfort in Georgetown cupcakes, a talk with fabulous females authors at the beloved Politics & Prose bookstore and a solidarity beer at Comet Ping Pong (the place which sadly became a site of unwarranted infamy when a man followed a trail of fake news to the restaurant, armed with a gun). These were just a few of my old haunts when I lived in DC and nostalgia was a wonderful coping mechanism as we entered the new, uncertain era.

img_2831

But then, it happened. 1.21.17: the Women’s March on Washington. Overnight, the city had transformed from crimson red caps to vivid pink hats in the shape of cats. It was a brilliant symbolic effort to take back a term that the-then presidential nominee Trump had made vulgar — to say the least — through a now-infamous Hollywood Access video.

The phrase ‘pussy grabs back’ was boldly playing out not only through these iconic knit hats, but also in the signs that plastered the streets of DC. The signs ran the gamut of emotions, from virulent rage to punderful slogans to empowering feminist iconography. The signs also reflected the diversity of issues and interests of women all over the country: climate change, immigrants’ rights, criminal justice reform, you name it. Intersectionality was in full speed at the march, and it was a welcome sight to behold.

My sign of choice? “Journalists rights are human rights.” I’ll confess that I just found it in a set of pre-made signs that some of my Amnesty International friends had made, but I knew the sign was meant for me. Photojournalists shouted in solidarity as I passed by them during the march, and I never felt more at home in defending the need for freedom of the press. Some might say that a journalist should not participate in a march of this scale. I couldn’t disagree more. Journalism is under attack, even though it is needed more than ever, and female journalists particularly so under this new era. We need look no further than what happened to Megyn Kelly to offer proof of that danger. It’s great to have activists on board in solidarity, but if members of the press — especially female journalists — don’t stand up for our rights, no one will.

I had gathered with friends at the start of the march not far from the National Mall — along with the 500,000 some estimated other women and men from across the country that had gathered in the nation’s capital. We waited with bated breath for the speeches to commence, but we didn’t have to wait long. America Ferrera. Gloria Steinem. Janelle Monae. The mothers of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and other young black men lost too soon to police brutality. California Senator Kamala Harris. Representative Maxine Waters. Angela Davis. Michael Moore. Scarlet Johannson. And the march’s main co-organizers Linda Sarsour, Tameka Mallory, and Carmen Perez — along with countless other activists, organizers and celebrities who helped make the march possible — were some of the fierce ladies who spoke at this historic gathering. They agitated, they united, they inspired us. All of us.

img_2920

My favorite speaker though might have been young Sophie Cruz, who was wise beyond her years when she boldly got up on stage with her family to encourage — in both English and Spanish — children to stay strong in these frightening and uncertain times for immigrants: “Fight with love, faith and courage so our families won’t be destroyed…I am here to tell the children, please do not be afraid. We are not alone.”

Was the rally perfect? No, there were some pretty big logistical issues, the primary one being that since there was no designated lane for emergency vehicles, we had to part like Moses and the Red Sea every single time an ambulance or police car passed through the crowd, pressing up against each other like sardines. But then again, the march’s undoing was in its own success. The main organizers had been hoping for 250,000 attendees, and got more than twice as many participants as expected. That’s a very, very good problem to have.

But eventually, after three hours of robust speeches and performances and exhausted cries of ‘Start the March! Start the March,’ we did just that. We took off in all directions, and I got separated from my friends at some point along the way, but we women converged on downtown DC like no other force in recent history, chanting down Constitution Avenue, gathering in unity circles on the National Mall, and finally, culminating in peaceful protests outside of the White House. The message to Donald Trump was loud, clear and beautiful. And despite the enormous number of participants, not a single person was arrested. That’s an incredible testament to the power of peaceful protest, and the wonderful cooperation of DC law enforcement. I was never more proud of DC than I was that day.

img_2880img_2891

And it wasn’t just DC. 250,000 showed up in Chicago, between 500,000-750,000 in Los Angeles, and countless thousands more in sister cities across the nation. In total, an estimated 1 in 100 Americans showed up to march across the U.S., and hundreds of thousands more across the globe in Paris, London, Mexico City, Delhi, and more. And with a small contingent in Antarctica, the women’s march came to every single continent on the world. Now that is empowering.

But, in Donald Trump’s belittling of the march the very next day (though perhaps recognizing his mistake, he quickly turned around and expressed his support for the right to peacefully protest…though how genuine that subsequent tweet was, I cannot say), I was reminded of the very important work that needs to be done to turn the goodwill and camaraderie of the march into concrete action.

trump-tweet-screenshot

For some, that next step is running for elected office as a local school board or city council member. For me, it’s rolling up my sleeves as a reporter and tackling hard-hitting issues to inform the public at a time when the administration openly lampoons and derides the media. Journalists will need to be more ethical, more representative, more accurate, and more bold than ever before. It’s certainly not going to be easy for any of us, especially in this climate, but there’s no time like the present to get to work.

In sum: we are loud, we are nasty and we will not go quietly into the night.

 

 

 

 

Until We Meet Again, D.C

In the span of three days, I went from 25 degree F weather to 65 F, from craving hot chocolate in blistering D.C cold to sipping my mother’s homemade smoothies produced with berries fresh from our humble orchard in sunny California. Talk about a jarring (yet welcome!) change of pace.

This was my third time ‘studying abroad’ in a sense, and I have to say, that lump that wells in your throat as you part with a friend for the indefinite future or the emotions that boil over when you walk by a place you may never see again, the surreal feeling of hopping off the plane in your home state and being suddenly jerked back to reality…it never feels any less odd or jolting as the years go on.

But now, with the frenzy of finals over, D.C thousands of miles away, and ample time to reflect upon my experience, I’ve had time to parse through this whirlwind of a semester and figure out what truly mattered the most to me. At our last coworker dinner together, one of the fellow interns asked me: “What was your favorite D.C memory over this past semester?” Being the finicky person that I am, I couldn’t settle upon just one. And so, I’ve compiled a list of the very best moments that can sum up, in a nutshell, my UCDC experience. Until we meet again, D.C. Hope you enjoy!

5. Road Trippin’ in Virginia, Maryland and Philly

As my dad was temporarily working in Virginia while my brother was studying in Philadelphia and I in D.C, we got to have an unusual family reunion on the East Coast  by road tripping through Philadelphia, Maryland and Virginia. Getting out of the hubbub of D.C into idyllic Maryland for a good ole jousting match at the Renaissance Festival, touring the streets of Philly with my brother(still didn’t get my authentic Philly cheesesteak though! Boo…) and exploring caverns in rural Virginia was one of the highlights of my D.C experience. Anyone studying or working in D.C should ride a MegaBus up to Philly or rent a ZipLine car for the day and take a scenic drive through Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley–you won’t be disappointed, I promise.

Dazzled by the jaw-dropping Luray Caverns with my brother Jay.

Dazzled by the jaw-dropping Luray Caverns with my brother Jay.

In front of the iconic "LOVE" statue at the University of Pennsylvania campus.

In front of the iconic “LOVE” statue at the University of Pennsylvania campus.

4. Smithsonian Teachers’ Night 2013

Every year, the Smithsonian hosts a Teachers’ Night event in one of their many museums, showcasing all that the Smithsonian has to offer and proving curriculum materials (and appetizers and alcoholic beverages) to thousands of K-12 educators. Each section of the Smithsonian puts on their best show and my unit, the Asian Pacific American Center (APAC), dazzled teachers with an array of snazzy educational posters and tales about our upcoming exhibition. They were sold. Seeing the curiosity on their faces and  the desire to educate their kids about Asian Pacific American issues made my heart beam with pride. Also, providing dozens of teachers curriculum materials per minute while live tweeting and photographing the event wasn’t  easy, but we got the job done. Good job APAC! Teamwork at its finest.

Putting on a big smile with fellow employees as we hand out materials at Teachers' Night 2013.

Putting on a big smile with fellow employees as we hand out materials at Teachers’ Night 2013.

3. Research Presentation aka ‘Capstone Forum’/Internship Graduation Day  

The moment had come: The semester was almost over, and it was time to present the summary of my research project to the whole staff. This project was my baby (a whole 45 pages!) and summarizing it in a brief presentation seemed like a daunting task. Yet I managed to do it with a sense of accomplishment and bittersweetness as I realized that my internship was coming to a close. I came to feel at peace though as I said my goodbyes, munched on goodies baked by  coworkers, read the heartfelt cards that our supervisors wrote to us, and was sent off with the rest of the interns with the best farewell anyone could have asked for.

Being given a warm send-off from my internship: a day replete with baked goods, fancy certificates, and good spirits.

Being given a warm send-off from my internship: a day replete with baked goods, fancy certificates, and good spirits.

2. 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial

This was before the stress of classes and the weariness of internships set in. Back when all the students were getting to know one another with ease and friendly smiles, and just grateful to be there to witness this historic moment, listening to powerful speeches by the likes of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton while soaking together in the pouring rain in solidarity. D.C set the bar pretty far with this incredible welcome, and it hasn’t failed to disappoint me since.

Standing alongside a fellow UCDC friend among thousands while honoring the memory of the late Dr. King.

Standing alongside a fellow UCDC friend among thousands while honoring the memory of the late Dr. King.

1. National Christmas Tree Lighting

Having Michelle Obama recite a Christmas bedtime story to thousands of viewers and then listening to heart-stopping, lively renditions by greats such as Train, Mariah Carey and Aretha Franklin? And, to cap it all off, hearing the President himself honor fallen leader Nelson Mandela while the White House flag stood at half-mast for the fallen leader in the background? The White House Christmas Tree lighting was nothing short of incredible.

Our spirits were ever so-slightly dampened (literally and metaphorically) by the rain pouring cats and dogs over our heads, particularly when we had to lower our umbrellas so all the audience members could view the mega TV screens telecasting the event.  However, we pressed on, whistling and cheering in support of the performers when it was too blazing cold to remove our gloves and getting up and dancing to the tune of the Christmas jingles at other points.

The beauty of the National Christmas tree against the night sky truly takes your breath away.

The beauty of the National Christmas tree against the night sky truly takes your breath away.

As an aside before I tune out of this blog post : It’s funny–mid-way through my internship, I swore that I would never again attempt to juggle a nearly full-time unpaid internship along with coursework. Despite the fact that I enjoyed my internship, the stress compounding from impending midterms and papers, on top of the ache in my feet and body after waking up at 6 AM everyday for my 9-5 job, left little desire for me to do a repeat of the same.  And yet here I am, looking up internships on Idealist.org during my (last?!) semester at Berkeley, doing what I swore not to do. I guess it’s the same principle as students who devote themselves to student group upon student group, despite their grueling academic schedule: you may complain along the way about STRESS STRESS STRESS, but when you find an organization embodying principles or work that inspires you to get up every day, you don’t want to let go of it, and once you’re without it, you seek another intellectual stimulating and challenging activity that fulfills your passions.

As I head off to graduate in a short few months in this still dismal economy, I doubt that I’ll secure a job or fellowship that makes me feel that way right away, but I’m going to keep trying. But for now, I’m going to take pleasure in the fact that I have no pressing-concerns for the next week or so, indulge in a House of Cards Netflix binge and attempt to whittle down my ever-growing stack of ‘must-read’ books. And for all of you students about to finish your final exams, I suggest you make the most of your long break and do the same.

Happy Holidays everyone!