Trump’s inauguration weekend brought a little under a million people to Washington. However, the majority descended upon the city not to celebrate the incoming president, but to march in protest of his lies and bigotry. The inauguration weekend also brought to Washington the attention of media from around the world to witness a half empty national mall and assemblage of so called “violent” protesters.
Sadly, despite the demonstrations being mostly peaceful, mainstream media outlets (in keeping with tradition) chose to focus on the few acts of violence that were carried out by a minute percentage of men and boys in attendance. As someone who witnessed the burning of the limousine and trash cans, the breaking of an SUV’s windows, and throwing rocks at police cars I can testify that it was the work of only a handful of people among thousands of peaceful protesters.
I never felt like I was in any danger, except by the police. When I saw the person fling a brick at a cop car my first thought wasn’t, “They’re gonna throw a brick at me next” it was, “I better get out of here before the cops start using tear gas, flash bombs, or concussion grenades”. When a young man, no older than 16, was breaking the windows of a government SUV some protesters pleaded with him to stop but they were drowned out by the commotion of flashing camera’s and excited journalists wanting to catch the few moments of ‘action’ to then bombard the nation with chaotic imagery.
A few blocks away, a Black Lives Matter activist welcomed free hugs in front of the line of riot police. Students staged a sit-in by playing a game of cards, preventing the police line from advancing but also being ignored by national media. Their efforts were reinforced by thousands of people behind them creating a human wall of peace, compassion and solidarity.
Unfortunately the isolated instances of violence were enough to spark articles titled, “Inauguration Day Marked By Arrests of Hundreds of Violent Rioters” or “Police injured, more than 200 arrested at Trump inauguration protests in DC” despite the fact that only a handful of those in attendance engaged in violent behavior and that most of the arrests were based on a policy of arresting everyone in the vicinity including lawyers, medics, peaceful activists, and journalists.
This is not to say that those who engaged in acts of violence hold no responsibility. In their blind determination to send a strong message to the capitalist system, antifascist groups compromised the integrity of the peaceful movement by coordinating the destruction of symbolic private property such as a Starbucks storefront and bank windows. Even though these actions were a projection of very real and legitimate grievances shared by many of the protesters, the violence had undeniable affects on the attendance at the Women’s March on Washington.
Having heard from a few women, mostly with families, who were too afraid of possible riots to head downtown with their children. It is a sad fact that many felt scared by the violence perpetrated by the property destruction, and inflamed by mainstream media. While those who did make it to the Women’s march the next day witnessed an awesome convention of hundreds of thousands of people from all different backgrounds to peacefully voice their disagreement with Trump’s policies on everything from women rights and immigration to environmental issues.
When viewing coverage of the inauguration weekend it is important to consider that more violence has happened at sporting events and pumpkin festivals than at the inauguration day of a president who represents a legacy of inequality, oppression, and outright abuse. The woman’s march brought over 500,000 people, had modest security, and had zero arrests or reports of violence during the whole day. All in all, an amazing feat of nonviolent organization!
From the organizational perspective, one of the biggest challenges was controlling the diversity of strategies proposed by different groups and individuals. In the activist world, the destruction of public and private property is seen as a highly controversial form of protest. However, a minority of organizations regard the destruction of property as legitimate expressions of dissent. What is rarely discussed is the gendered implications of these actions and their effects on the narratives and goals of parallel movements. This wasn’t the first time a peaceful movement has been manipulated by deliberate destruction of property and it certainly will not be the last, but it serves as a great example of how a few young men can affect the national narrative of an overwhelmingly peaceful weekend.
So yes, the anti-fascist and anarchist groups should not have engaged in the destruction of public property. Yes, there needs to be more uniform coordination, planning, and training among activist groups to insure discipline at demonstrations. Yes, violence is not the answer. But we cannot let an entire movement be hijacked by a handful of people, most of whom are just acting out for some time in the spotlight.
To those who felt compelled to act violently, I ask you to take a moment and ask yourself if breaking a window or burning a Trump t-shirt was cathartic enough to make it worth sabotaging the amazing demonstration of solidarity and nonviolence that was assembled in the face of hate.