Our team of seven students equipped with cameras and recorders landed in the heart of Washington D.C. on Jan. 18 unsure what to expect.
Our first morning was filled with spontaneous interviews with passerbys on the street, including a Republican Texan who traveled to D.C. to support “Gays for Trump,” a black man who has made a living following the Trump campaign selling merchandise and a woman on a self-described pilgrimage to thank Obama. Just hours later, we found ourselves at one of the largest anti-Trump protests the night before the inauguration.
The demonstration consisted of peaceful chants and artistic expressions of anger —including dance circles and light projections of anti-Trump slogans such as “Not my president” and “Impeach the predatory president.”
But there were moments when anger turned physical. A woman, who protesters mistook as a Trump supporter, was spit on. Fights broke out among Trump supporters and protesters. Police wore riot gear and pepper sprayed those who pushed against the barricade. In the frenzy, a member of our team was pepper sprayed.
We reported alongside professional journalists from The New York Times, CNN and Fox News. We were awestruck until we saw them shoving their mics at people who had just been assaulted and flashing their cameras at women on the ground who had just been pepper sprayed. This is the field we have chosen to represent and pursue. As young journalists, we’ve heard about the ugly side of media — yet we hadn’t experienced it first hand.
Nearly a third of the crowd were members of the press, each in competition with each other. Every time a water bottle was thrown or an object was burned, a swarm of video cameras and microphones rushed to the scene to get the scoop. Waves of press brought with them protesters and police and a simple thrown water bottle turned a rally into a riot.
The next morning, all cameras turned from the protests and onto Donald Trump as he was inaugurated as president.
Protesters chained themselves together across the ceremony entrances, while members of our team moved through metal detectors and barricaded walls into the viewing area. Moving to their spots, they were met by a group of older women who called them “liberal scum” upon learning they are members of the media from California.
This was not the first nor last time we faced criticism for being a part of the media — it was only until we told them we were students that their defenses would soften slightly. President Trump’s long wrought campaign against mainstream media was championed by many that we came into contact with. They scoffed at our press passes and rolled their eyes. Even between members of the media — it was a competition, a race for the most shocking footage, the next sensation, regardless of accuracy or fair representation.
The hostility hushed as Trump’s looming words echoed through the speakers.
“Today, we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people,” President Trump said.
Trump supporters in the audience roared, but away from the eyes of the media — outside the fenced off security lines, checkpoints and police blockades — people cried out in protest.
Hundreds gathered in front of a stage on Pennsylvania Avenue during the inauguration where Black Lives Matter New York hosted a demonstration to speak out against police brutality and calling for change under the Trump administration.
“Right now is not a time to mourn. It’s not a time to ask why. It’s a time to rally organize and fight back,” said Black Lives Matter of Greater New York president Walter “Hawk” Newsome Jr. “The help isn’t coming from the government of the White House. We need to understand that.”
Underrepresented communities often know too well the lack of support from both the media and federal government, yet they spoke out loudly only blocks away from the White House, drowning out the sound of the new president of the U.S., still there was little to no media present.
The following day, the sea of red “Make America Great Again” hats were replaced with thousands of “pussy hats” — pink knitted beanies that were iconic symbols of the Women’s March on Washington.
“We represent the powerful forces of change that are determined to prevent the dying cultures of racism, hetero-patriarchy from rising again,” said speaker, social activist and UCSC Professor Emeritus Angela Davis.
The streets of D.C. were packed so tightly with participants that we, like thousands of others, were unable to move more than an inch in any direction for upward of two hours — a hazard most media outlets failed to address.
Marchers were unable to reach restrooms and ambulances couldn’t get through the crowd to reach those in need of medical care — like a teenage girl who fainted next to us, who was supported by a stranger and a friend. The protest itself brought out more than twice as many people as initially anticipated, and the organizers found themselves unprepared and ill-equipped.
Nonetheless, protesters we interviewed held a positive view of the march even after being gridlocked. They made the best out of being stuck together, offering each other food and water while telling tales of what brought them out to the streets that day.
We returned to our hotel with aching feet and sleep deprivation, only to turn on TV news stations and see the many versions of the news — some of them very different from our own coverage. Portrayals of identical events skewed to fit the agendas of each of their audiences.
As members of the Santa Cruz community, we were pulled out of our liberal California bubble into the center of both political extremes. We witnessed as Washington D.C. became the national intersection of multiple truths — from those who cherish Trump’s arrival to those who fought long and hard against it.