Washington, D.C., is resembling a military fortress for the inauguration of Joe Biden, the people barred from the seat of We the People. No thanks to the president’s cult of conspiracists who for the first time in American history, brutally attacked the U.S. Capitol as Congress was set to certify a presidential election.
This devastating moment for our country has me reminiscing about my last visits to our nation’s capital to participate in the largest single-day protest in U.S. history in 2017 and to witness the inauguration of the nation’s first black president in 2009.
We watched Barack Obama take the oath of office from a chilly grove of leafless trees from the heart of Washington D.C., the National Mall, a landscaped park spanning two miles from the Capitol to the Washington Monument. Four acres are dedicated to a memorial for Martin Luther King Jr. who gave the “I Have a Dream” speech here in 1963. Thrilled, my daughter and I sank into the embrace of Black women in long down coats. These women were Obama’s congregation, voicing affirmative “mmm hmms” and “amens” to his calls for personal, civic and global responsibility. We felt the weight of slavery, oppression and racism lifted, at least for one day.
Eight years later, I was one of two dozen ReSisters on a jet from Alaska’s capital to the nation’s capital and the Women’s March, set for the day after the presidential inauguration of a corrupt, mean-spirited and divisive reality TV host. We watched, stunned as he instigated chants of “Lock Her Up” at the 2016 Republican convention against opponent Hilary Clinton.
I avoided the National Mall and the inauguration, embarking instead on a walking tour of the protests around the District of Columbia. I was soon distracted by an elegant yet understated building on the corner. It’s shape reminiscent of, but not quite Victorian, with bay windows and a witch’s cap roof covered in smooth Roman bricks in intricate geometric patterns.
A modest sign read: Woman’s National Democratic Club. People ambled in and out. I crossed New Hampshire Avenue, dipped under an ornate copper bay and into a vintage oak entry way. A couple of longtime members sat at a card table, a stack of blue ball caps before them. One lady, wide-eyed and shaky, handed me a cap, above the bill in red letters: Let’s Make America Gracious Again.
The club was established nearly 100 years ago along with the ratification of women’s suffrage. It supports progressive candidates for public office. Member volunteers work on Democratic strategies and campaigns. A painted portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt is in the foyer, the upstairs library named after FDR’s right hand woman. I snapped an iPhoto of a framed black and white of Eleanor in head phones, hosting a women-only press conference when women journalists faced severe discrimination. Touring the rooms full of antiques, I sensed the spirits of female leaders from decades past. Downstairs women painted signs for the next day’s march (Love Trumps Hate) encircled by full length paintings of First Ladies, including Hilary Clinton in a long black dress.
I wandered into a largely empty room with a stage, lectern and flat screen on the back wall. A few women, some wearing pink pussyhats (knitted in the shape of cats’ ears), scattered in rows of bamboo chairs as Donald J. Trump took the oath of office across town. Platters of tea sandwiches sat on tall round tables. No one seemed interested in eating. The lady who handed me the blue hat wept. It felt like a funeral.
Over the four subsequent years led by a serial liar, America became more unsafe, unfair, and unstable at home and disrespected abroad, culminating in hundreds of thousands and counting of lives lost to a virus exacerbated by the President’s inattention.
And then, the deadly storming of the U.S. Capitol by armed white supremacists and conspiracy theorists incited by President Trump. The Capitol and the National Mall now surrounded by high fences and circular barbed wire for this week’s presidential inauguration. Troops in camo gear add to the third world dictatorship atmosphere. The New York Times likens it to images of Washington during the Civil War.
This Inauguration Day the ladies of the Woman’s National Democratic Club will virtually raise champagne glasses to the Biden Administration, especially Kamala Harris, the first woman and woman of color to be elected vice president. By then, the first president to be impeached twice will be no longer immune to the litany of legal actions against him, along with the specter of impeachment by both houses of Congress.
9/11 changed air travel. It remains to be seen if Donald Trump has changed our freedom to attend significant national events for good. Perhaps the new administration will guide the path to making America more gracious again.
• Katie Bausler is a writer and host of the 49 Writers Active Voice podcast with authors on these troubling times.