Coalition Opposes Safety Net Cuts, Prioritizes Housing and Health Care
As the nation prepared to witness the swearing in of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, the ANSWER Coalition held a day-long rally that drew thousands of protesters. Meanwhile, other protests led to altercations with police.
Demonstrators holding signs and participating in chants stood alongside the supporters of Trump in massive lines to get through security checkpoints throughout the day, some having to wait for up to four hours. One of the roughly 30 planned protests that took place within the inauguration checkpoints, the ANSWER Coalition began at 7 a.m. at the Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
The coalition’s name stands for “Act now to stop war and end racism.” According to the coalition’s event webpage, the inaugural protest was aimed at bringing about a “real political revolution” and standing against a “racist, sexist bigot.” Speakers at the protest emphasized a need to stay united in the face of the hateful rhetoric espoused by Trump in the lead-up to the election and inauguration.
Shenae Dixon, one of the many speakers at the ANSWER protest, represented the New York Workers’ Center Federation and put forth demands for the security of marginalized communities during Trump’s administration.
“So what we’re demanding is, we want safety without policing. We want to end the criminalization of workers, immigrants, gender nonconforming people, people of color,” Dixon said. “We want community control, we want to have the ability to make our own decisions in the policies and institutions that affect us the most.”
Another speaker at the protest, Janika Reyes, added to Dixon’s demands.
“We also demand investing in humanity, not investing in mass incarceration, not investing in the police. We are going to invest in our education, not privatizing public schools. In health care, making sure these cancer patients get their medicine. We are going to invest in public housing. No more will we live like rodents in a cage,” Reyes said.
Participants in the ANSWER Coalition protest showed support for communities they believe may experience oppression during Trump’s administration. One attendee, Ashley Marcoff, who came to D.C. from Ann Arbor, Michigan, said she was there because she is passionate about fighting income inequality.
“I grew up in a kind of poor city and I’ve seen the way income inequality affects people who work hard and still can’t afford to feed their family,” Marcoff said. “And I just don’t feel that anybody who works 40 hours a week should be on food stamps. And I don’t think that anybody who is working so hard deserves to be that stressed over where their next meal is going to come from.”
Though the ANSWER protest at the Navy Memorial remained peaceful in nature, with organizers leading protesters in song and anti-Trump chants, other protesters who appear to be unaffiliated with ANSWER engaged in violent and destructive demonstrations.
Protesters from the group, clad in all-black, had entered the initial inauguration security gates and were chased back out by police. The pursuit continued from block to block for about an hour. Some of the demonstrators pried bricks from the street with crowbars to throw at law enforcement. Just before 2 p.m., the demonstrators’ bashing of windows and destruction of property led to the police use of flash-bang grenades, pepper spray, smoke and water cannons.
Bystanders on the corner of K and 12th Streets NW heard a loud blast, which prompted people to run away from the source in confusion. Observers and peaceful protesters attempted to help several homeless people sleeping in the area to get up and safely out of the way of runners or large windows that might be targeted.
Extra shelter capacity and extended hours usually reserved for cold-weather conditions were utilized for the entirety of the weekend. However, plenty of people remained on the street.
“We usually have to put people out of the shelters when it’s a couple degrees warmer than the hypothermia alert threshold,” complained a shelter employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing retribution from their employer. “Yet, when people are coming in from all over the country, we suddenly find the resources to get folks off the street. If you don’t keep the shelter open, [visitors] may have to see people that are not doing so well.”
Those who took advantage of the extended low-barrier and emergency shelter options were also not impacted by the various protests.
There were 222 people arrested and detained, according to the National Lawyers Guild, which offered legal assistance to demonstrators. A Metropolitan Police Department statement said that two officers sustained minor injuries.
Meanwhile, the ANSWER Coalition’s protest remained along the parade route, with participants chanting anti-Trump messages during the parade. Some demonstrators at the coalition’s protest knelt with fists raised while the national anthem played. These included Alena Chavez and Raini Vargas, two students at San Francisco State University who traveled to D.C. to protest.
“We came out here to stand in solidarity with everyone — women, people of color,” Chavez said.
“Queer and trans people, people of all religions,” Vargas added. “You can tell by the vibe right now, of everyone in the world, that we’re just kind of thinking the same thing. No matter what we’re here for, we’re all thinking the same thing.”
Vargas also said that coming from a low-income family and being a first-generation college student led her to protest the inauguration and the elitism that Trump represents.
“Watching my parents have to struggle — they never thought in a million years that college was going to be this expensive. And the fact that he wants to cut social security, he wants to cut Medicare, cut retirement…” Vargas said on Trump’s proposed policies. “I see my dad, my dad’s 74 years old, he’s watching this happen, and what’s he going to do? ‘If that’s our only source of income, how are you going to take those benefits away? I’ve worked my whole life not to get retirement.’ It’s sad, and this is a huge tragedy.”
Marcoff said the spirit of the protest was a show of support for opponents of the new administration whose voices need to be heard.
“I’m out here to protest for people who can’t be out here themselves and show people that they’re not alone in their opinions and beliefs, and that it’s OK to stand up for what you believe in,” Marcoff said.
Ben Burgess contributed reporting.