D.C. Dispatch: While Locals Hunker Down, Outsiders Pop Up in Washington

Security barriers near the White House have been up since last Friday.
Security barriers near the White House have been up since last Friday. Photo by Chris Walker
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 first dispatch.

The hard “p” in “Trump” makes the word carry through the air better than most.

As a result, you hear the word pop out in snippets of private conversations between people. You know that they’re talking about the president-elect, but you often can’t hear what else is being said. You’re left wondering: Supporter? Opponent? Are these people also in Washington, D.C., for reasons related to that word?

I wondered this many times yesterday, after landing in D.C. to cover the inauguration and hearing the word "Trump" pop out all over. It happened in the airport. On the metro. Several times on the streets. But without butting uninvited into those conversations – Hey! What about Trump? – it was impossible to really discern what people were talking about.

Three days away from the official transfer of power, I found it difficult to gauge D.C.’s mood in general. It was 4 p.m. and pouring rain by the time I emerged from the underground at the Farragut West station in downtown D.C. on January 17. Not many people were standing around, much less demonstrating when few others would notice or care. I scurried between awnings and building overhangs to meet a friend at her workplace, catching glimpses of security precautions that have already been installed near the White House in anticipation of any pesky troublemakers.

Because my friend’s workplace is along the main parade route, the sidewalk in front of her office was already lined with ten-foot-tall, see-through reinforced steel barriers.

“Those went up sometime over the weekend,” my friend said casually.

On the front window of her office, she and her co-workers had spelled out “46.1%” using yellow Post-it notes; that's the percentage of the popular vote that Trump won on November 8. It was a (very) subtle way for her company, a data and polling consultant that frequently works with the Democratic Party, to remind passersby that the president-elect did not win the popular vote. Hillary Clinton took 48.2 percent of that vote on election day — a stat that, unlike my friend, I had to look up.

Given the political nature of her work, I was sure that she’d be full of plans for the coming weekend. I was full of energy, coming into town with the anticipation of documenting some real action. The law office where I expect some of this momentum to build wasn’t opening until this morning, so I pressed my friend (who asked that I not name her because of her work) about what kind of scenes we might tangle with.

“Oh, I’m probably not going to the inauguration,” she said.

This surprised me.

And later that evening, it happened again: When I contacted AJ, another friend from high school, he also said that he was not leaving his house in D.C. on Friday.

click to enlarge Security precautions across the street from Jason Flores-Williams's law office. - PHOTO BY CHRIS WALKER
Security precautions across the street from Jason Flores-Williams's law office.
Photo by Chris Walker
“Really?” I asked. “Because it’ll be a clusterfuck, or because you’re legitimately scared?”

AJ, like my other friend, is hardly apathetic when it comes to politics. A local business owner, he’s also active around social-justice issues, particularly LGBTQ rights.

“First, I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of a crowd. He’s an egomaniacal narcissist,” AJ told me over the phone. He wouldn’t even say the word "Trump."

And, yes, he also had concerns about his safety. AJ had gone to the White House on November 8, and claims to have seen an appalling celebration of sexism, racism and xenophobia. “The Trumpkins represent the worst of America,” he said flatly. “It’s not just that they frustrate me. They’re crazy enough that they’ll throw the first punch.”

It was a curious situation: The people I know who actually live in D.C. are forgoing anything having to do with the inauguration on Friday.

This is hardly a representative sample size, I know. But I also realized it was as valuable an insight into the temperament in D.C. as any. Some of the people who work and live in a city that breathes politics every hour of every day are exhausted by spectacles. And it will probably be other people like me — the outsiders — who bring much of the adrenaline, the fear, the loathing that will shape the course of events this week.

My data-analyst friend, it should be noted, does not have the same view of Trump supporters as AJ and had very different reasons for believing that her time will be better spent on Friday away from the parade route or any demonstrations.

“Participating in actions that don’t have very clear policy aims and aren’t part of a broader strategic movement is not the best use of my time,” she carefully explained. “I say that because I work in politics and do data analysis that gets used by campaigns and political committees."

“I think solidarity is important,” she added. “It can change someone’s life to know that they’re not alone in their views.”

But while she’s concerned about changes that might come under a Trump administration, she’d rather concentrate on definable goals and tangible results. She and a group of nine friends plan to meet weekly over the next four years to work behind the scenes, using some of the same methods that were effective for Tea Party organizers on Capitol Hill during the Obama administration.

So there's the irony: My friends in D.C. are asking the reporter from Denver to tell them about how things go down on Friday. And the outsiders may shape events far more than those who have to stick around D.C. and deal with the consequences after this coming weekend.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker