Portajohns, A Church, and An Uneasy Feeling / by Hannah Harley

On January 19th, I traveled to D.C. in preparation for the inauguration of our 45th president. Over the past five months, I've photographed the fringes of the campaign through desolate office scenes, homemade signs, and supportive lawn decorations. I've also kept a detailed research notebook, tracking the oddities of the campaign (like an article comparing Chelsea Clinton's wedding to Ivanka Trump's). And it seemed that it was fitting to follow it the whole way through - all the way to Washington. 

I was joined in D.C. by my friend, Rachel Rioles. If you followed the blog back in 2014, there was a lot of her on here, traipsing around European art museums with me. She was there for my first brush with Dali (in which I promptly cried tears of joy... what an incredible painter), and I was there for her first sight of the Mona Lisa. We weren't planning on seeing any art over the weekend, but we knew it'd be an emotional journey. 

I'm not shy in my dislike of Donald Trump. Through the campaign series, I tried to keep an even representation of both parties. But my disdain for Trump and his policies has only grown into such a powerful, emotional response that I can't pretend to have any artistic unbiased creativity left. It's all been a pretty biased ride as of late. 

 A child swings with his friend while a helicopter patrols overhead - January 20th, 2017

A child swings with his friend while a helicopter patrols overhead - January 20th, 2017

January 20th felt fairly apocalyptic. The trains were empty, and even the grand Union Station felt pretty abandoned when we walked through at 10:00 am. There were hundreds of portajohns, arguably the cleanest ones I've ever seen, barely used. (But then again, my standards for portajohns are pretty low after a decade of travel softball. A couple hundred girls can really decimate two portajohns over a couple days.) Rachel and I walked around the area, following the parade route and the protests, hoping to find people and things on the fringes that would provide some creative spark to spur on the next four months of my graduate career.

Occasionally, we ran into a gaggle of white people - six or eight white folks in a semi circle at a street corner, almost all of them dressed in nice coats and khakis with the iconic red hats. Generally, we would overhear some grumbles from them about the protestors, calling them sissys and snowflakes. But other than that, we found ourselves surrounded by the protestors and hurried D.C. natives, who just seemed eager to get to wherever they were going. 

 Another deserted scene, right off the inauguration route - three supporters buy Trump merchandise from a street vendor. One of the supporters laughed about the origin of the garments with me and Rachel, thinking we were Pro-Trump, saying, "Everything's from Mexico - can you believe it??"

Another deserted scene, right off the inauguration route - three supporters buy Trump merchandise from a street vendor. One of the supporters laughed about the origin of the garments with me and Rachel, thinking we were Pro-Trump, saying, "Everything's from Mexico - can you believe it??"

The highlight of our day was a little safe haven called St. Mark's. The protestors' route marched past this beautiful cathedral, which is how Rachel and I stumbled across it. People with warm and worn faces greeted you in the two blocks surrounding it, encouraging you to visit their church if you needed a warm up, a clean bathroom, and some coffee. They provided all of it for free and offered a politics-free place to be on a day that was quite overwhelmingly political. 

Rachel and I donated to their cause and enjoyed their hospitality. The coffee was delicious and the snacks were much needed. And it was, with only one exception, free from the politics of the day. 

While there, I felt truly proud to be an American. That feeling has become a more sorrowful feeling, to know that Trump's rhetoric has inspired the normalization of hateful actions and words across the United States. I have not had pride in this new America, in the America that's working to become 'great' all while vilifying and demonizing immigrants, the disabled, women, Muslims. But in this basement of a church, there were people sporting the red Make America Great Again hats and protestors sitting at the same tables, drinking coffee and eating snacks. Even in a loose sense of togetherness, this was a beautiful expression of it.

 The outside of  St. Mark 's is decorated with welcoming signage

The outside of St. Mark's is decorated with welcoming signage

Sure, these people weren't debating healthcare or abortion, but they were showing that two extreme views can still be in the same room and not be shouting obscenities. Sometimes, it's the little victories that make you realize that bigger things are possible.  

One of the most fascinating things I found on the fringes.. The portajohns. Most of them were supplied by a company called Don's Johns. Prior to the start of the day, Trump's inauguration team ordered that they be covered up. As Fox News stated, "It's the great port-a-potty cover up for President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration." (See the article here.) Apparently, the title of the company was too close to the president's, so great care was taken that every single portable toilet's brand was covered up before the start of the festivities. How much government money did we spend on securing Trump's feelings? Paying people to cut out adhesive to cover each of the four stickers on every single portajohn? And for the adhesive itself? It couldn't have been exactly cheap, but that's how concerned Trump's inauguration team was with the correlation of Don's Johns to Donald Trump.. By the end of the day, the protestors had removed quite a few of the coverings, making for an evening more interesting story. Sure, it's not the big story on the day of Donald Trump's ignaguration, but boy, has it held my attention. 

 The johns outside of Union Station at the end of the day - Jan 20th, 2017

The johns outside of Union Station at the end of the day - Jan 20th, 2017

All that being said - Trump is an abhorrent human being. He is vicious in his hatred and throws tantrums like a small child. His supporters and the people who voted for him have helped to give him some of the greatest power in the world - a power that I do not think he is worthy of. While we should be open to discussing politics with our friends and neighbors - especially those with different views than us! - I struggle to understand how this hateful rhetoric could be normalized, particularly in a country that prides itself on its inclusion and diversity.