Inaugural Demonstration

After the protests that followed the 2016 Presidential election, a friend of mine posed a question, perhaps a rhetorical one, about their purpose. I told her what people here in Seattle had written on their placards, but I didn’t have much first-hand information. Inauguration Day, though, provided another opportunity.

For people who may not remember the ’60s, the words “march,” “protest” and “demonstration” probably sound like pretty much the same thing. We’re three hours behind the “other” Washington here, so obviously, by the time most folks got off work, it was too late to have much of an effect on the events on the East Coast, let alone the results of the election. We mostly demonstrated, rather than protested. But demonstrated what?

There’s not universal agreement. I provide a link below to a group with an extensive menu, but some issues attract more allegiance than others. Here are four purposes that I think may have motivated us:

1. A clear need, in view of continual references by Mike Pence to a “landslide” victory, to remind our new administration that 68% of of the registered electorate did not cast votes for them, but still expect to be represented nevertheless.

2. A suggestion that America’s real greatness lies not in her material wealth, or the power to exploit, or to subjugate or to deceive others.

3. Reassurance to people in other countries that not all Americans agree with President Trump’s world view. This is important to me in particular because I travel a bit.

4. What I think we could call the Problem of the Good German. After the end of World War II, Europe seemed packed with people who had not been Nazis, no, not at all, had not participated, who in fact had taken risks to help their Jewish friends, but of course had needed to do so in secret. Unfortunately, all evidence of their good deeds had vanished.

Demonstration is a way of not collaborating. You may get your picture on the evening news, or at least in some law enforcement files. If it turns out that the United States avoids plutocracy, resists plundering the world’s environment and continues to work toward social justice, you will have at least gotten some exercise. The administration and the new Congress could decide to behave like decent human beings, despite all their boasts. If not, then their enemies list is the right place to be.

If you’re going to demonstrate, it’s only polite to advise the City that you will be attending, so that they can provide an appropriate police presence. I signed up with Socialist Alternative Seattle. Their program would include a rally at Westlake Park, without mention of the two-hour march from Beacon Hill proposed by other groups. The park is half a mile from my house; I had already been past it a couple of times earlier in the day, on a trip to the library.

The contingent from Standing Rock had arrived early. Their drum circle, plus some amplification, persuaded me to keep going, a bit further down Fourth Avenue. I fetched up near the See’s Candies shop. Indigenous peoples were in the spotlight — there were many from the local Duwamish Tribe, who are not yet recognized by the Federal Government. The crowd helped to compensate by acknowledging them several times, mic-check fashion.

Individual speakers cited threats to various communities based on factors like race, nationality, religion or sexual preference. Concern for environmental protection seemed to move most of us. Discrimination seemed unlikely to affect me much individually, but I promised to stand in solidarity with the others.

Feisty City Council member Kshama Sawant spoke, criticizing not just Republicans, but Democrats as well, not sparing recent actions by our popular local senators seeming to favor Big Pharma. The take-home message was about unity.

I left after a little more than an hour, pleading advanced age. Besides, I get to demonstrate again tomorrow, because my spouse has promised to take me along on the Womxn’s March to Seattle Center.

Also in attendance had been at least 18 motorcycle cops, quietly drawing overtime in front of P.F.Chaing’s, joined later by a few on bicycles. Officers on horseback rode through the little alley between See’s and the old Nordstrom building. Anarchists, tightly wrapped in black, filed silently past me at one point.

There was a helicopter hovering to the north of us for most of the time, though it left once and came back. It may have flown over to the University of Washington where there was another protest, this one against a speech being given by a white supremacist. A young person was shot there at about 8:25, on what was still, here in Seattle, the first day of the Trump presidency.

— Scott McKee