Editor's note: Chris Walker is in Washington, D.C., covering events around the inauguration — and keeping an eye on Westword cover boy Jason Flores-Williams, who promises to be in the thick of the action. Here's Walker's second dispatch.
There were no arrests made in Washington, D.C., during President Barack Obama’s first inaugural address in 2009.
That will not be the case this year.
On Wednesday morning, I stopped by the law office that Jason Flores-Williams, the provocative Denver attorney, had rented on Pennsylvania Avenue a mere block from the White House. He was already advising a couple of activists who plan to get arrested on Friday, January 20, the day of Donald Trump's inauguration.
“As long as you can get me out of jail by the middle of Saturday, because I want to participate in the Women’s March,” said one of the female activists with a nervous chuckle.
I can’t share any specifics about those activists’ plans now, but Flores-Williams will be their attorney, representing them pro bono. He has some self-serving interests in doing so; one of the primary reasons Flores-Williams is in D.C. is that he’s shooting a pilot episode for a television show in which he embeds with activists resisting Trump.
Jason Flores-Williams, looking for trouble.
By 11 a.m. on January 18, the law office was teeming with production-crew members and high-strung TV types, discussing things like shooting locations, contracts, releases and B-roll.
That’s when I decided to roll out myself. But I came away with an alluring tip about an action planned for later in the day: Members of the LGBTQ community and their allies were planning to meet up in the posh enclave of Chevy Chase, north of D.C., and throw a dance party in the street in front of the home of VP-elect Mike Pence (who famously said that gay couples represented a “societal collapse”).
I found a Facebook event page for the action, but its credibility wasn’t clear. Still, this sounded too good to pass up. And sure enough, at 6 p.m. I exited the metro at the Friendship Heights station, and there they were: about 200 demonstrators in glorious, colorful costumes.
“I’d LOVE for Daddy Pence to come out and sign this,” said one dancer, showing me his sign:
Another local named Sarko, who’d donned glow-in-the-dark face paint, said she'd come alone to the event and was energized to see how many people had shown up. “I think this is great, bringing people together. And I think that, for a lot of people who are disgruntled and don’t know what to do, this is a great way for them to plug in and set up resistance,” she told me.
Then a CBS cameraman piggybacked on my interview, blasting an LED light into Sarko’s face as she answered my questions. So much for avoiding the rest of the press in D.C., I thought. I’d estimate that there were thirty to forty reporters in the crowd, all of whom gravitated toward the most fabulous costumes, lining up to take pictures like they were ordering food from a counter. It momentarily took away from the authenticity of what started as a fun, grassroots effort that seemed to have come out of nowhere and carried a powerful message along with it: D.C.’s LGBTQ community is going to give Pence hell during the next four years and have a damn good time doing it.
But then the sound system arrived and the party really got started. On the back of a pickup truck, a PA system crackled to life, blaring Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” With a rousing cheer, the group took over one side of a two-way street to march to the house that Pence has been renting since the election.
The mass was on the move. Shimmying, twerking, whooping, smiling.
Police showed up immediately, but to their credit — because there’s no way that this demonstration had obtained proper permits — the officers simply escorted the march, with patrol cars in front of and behind the demonstrators to protect them from motorists.
I knew we were close to Pence’s house when I saw the flashing lights ahead. And as we passed the police cruisers, we saw a barricade manned by Secret Service agents at the entrance to a smaller side street called Tennyson.
“We’re turning this intersection into our dance pit!” yelled one of the main organizers, Firas Nasr.
Police officers and Secret Service agents man a security barrier at the entrance of Tennyson Street.
Neighbors emerged from surrounding houses with expressions ranging from amusement to annoyance. When I noticed a woman and a child walk up behind the Secret Service barricade, I went over to ask her a couple of questions. “So, how close are we actually to Pence’s house?” I said.
Four or five Secret Service members immediately jerked their heads in my direction, probably sizing me up, wondering who I was to be asking specific questions about the location of the VP-elect’s home.
The neighbor glanced cautiously at the agents besides us, and when they didn’t say anything, she replied, “It’s like ten houses up.”
She went on to say that the security barrier had been in place 24 hours a day for the past two weeks, but even though she didn’t have a choice in the matter, “the Secret Service have been reallyyyyy great.”
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Behind us, a dancer climbed up on top of the truck with the speaker system and twirled with his hands spread in a Y shape above his head. “DADDY PENCE, FUCK PENCE. DADDY PENCE, FUCK PENCE,” shouted people around him.
“Well, this has certainly added some excitement to your neighborhood, hasn’t it?” I said to the woman.
“Oh, it’s just getting started,” she replied.