WASHINGTON, D.C.— The weather seemed to fit the occasion.
The Rev. Franklin Graham told the thousands flocked in the National Mall that rain symbolizes blessings from God in the Bible. Others interpreted the gloomy skies as a dark omen of things to come.
Regardless of the rain, Donald Trump took the Inaugural Oath of Office Friday, cementing him as the 45th President of the United States. President Barack Obama’s administration has washed away, replaced with streams of an uncertain time for millions.
And Washington, D.C.’s, reaction in its wake, much like many cities in the United States, reflected 2016’s overarching theme — polarization.
The forgotten American
Washington, D.C., native Nehemiah Walker sees Donald Trump though a different lens than most of his peers. Eighty-eight percent of African-Americans voted for Hillary Clinton, but Walker etched Trump’s name on his ballet.
The 25-year old holds a controversial view on the real estate mogul. Since 2009, Walker has established a routine for Inauguration Day. He “wakes up and gets this money” by selling souvenirs such as American flags, buttons and posters.
This side job puts bread on the table for Walker, and he sees some similarities between himself and his new president. In his mind, they’re both entrepreneurs, though Trump didn't earn his massive net worth by retailing trinkets for $1. Still, Walker believes in Trump and feels somewhat connected to him because of his message.
“We need a person that’s more in tune with the average American,” Walker said as he jockeyed between answering the question and looking for potential customers. “A lot of people may disagree, but Trump was never spoon-fed because he ran a business, and running a business means you have to spend money. I’m happy that we don’t have any preppy college kids from Harvard or Yale in the White House anymore. He knows what the struggle is about.”
He’s right, to an extent. Trump didn’t attend Harvard or Yale. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, another Ivy League school. And though Trump’s wealthy background is obvious, his approach and vision has always been geared towards the average American since he announced his campaign.
In his inaugural address, Trump tailored his message to his electorate — working class American citizens. Rust Belt and Midwestern states characterized by declining manufacturing factories, outsourced jobs and collapsing infrastructure overwhelmingly voted for Trump, an indication he taped a strain politicians failed to with this demographic in recent years.
Much like in his nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, in his inaugural address, Trump painted a picture of the elite benefiting themselves only. He continued this trend in his first words as president by assuring an “America first” mentality under his leadership.
“Today's ceremony, however, has very special meaning because, today, we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people,” Trump said in his speech. “...so to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words: You will never be ignored again.”
Fearing her president
Those words Trump proclaimed — sentiments of safety, prosperity and inclusion — seemed egregious to Kimberly Hernandez. Amid a crimson sea of “Make America Great Again” hats, Hernandez’s hijab distinguished her from the crowd.
The 22-year old trekked more than 2,000 miles from California to Washington, D.C., to witness the inauguration of a man she despises.
As a Muslim woman with Syrian and Mexican parents, she is “terrified” of a Trump presidency. And though her fear took a bit of a back seat while she snapped selfies at a historical event, she doesn’t believe she’s secure in Trump’s America because of his coarse rhetoric.
“I’m a minority in every way possible, and I don’t think it’s going to be beneficial for me at all,” Hernandez said. “He’s against everything I believe in.”
Hernandez supported Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Democratic primary and then compromised with Clinton — “the lesser of two evils” — in November. Neither of them blatantly targeted minorities with verbal warfare, and neither were endorsed by extremist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
Hernandez said she dreads Trump’s supporters more so than the man himself. And statistics indicate she has a reason too.
As of Dec. 16, 2016 — The Southern Poverty Law Center's most recent update — more than 1,000 hate crimes have transpired nationally since Trump’s Election Day victory. Many believe Trump has opened a Pandora’s box of vitriol, emboldening his supporters to emulate his accusatory tactics.
Walker said the next four years will be a period of adjustment for both the country and Trump as he acclimates into his presidential position. But Hernandez believes Trump’s attitude and persona he displayed on the campaign trail will spill into the Oval Office with him.
“This is who he is. This isn’t something you can switch on and off,” she said. "I don’t mind if someone is a Republican and has a different view point than me, but for him it is very different because he’s is so outspoken about his opinion and his hatred, so much so that he somewhat gave other people permission to do the same.
"He’s targeting a certain sect of people because they’re different and that’s not a good example when you are the president.”
'Expressing our love'
Shortly after Trump’s inaugural parade, Washington, D.C., splintered into opposing sides. Protests in varying peaceful forms — signs in different languages, people speaking into mega phones and elaborate murals — sprouted in the light rain.
But as the sun fell, the volume increased and the violence expanded. At least 200 people were arrested. With an hour left of daylight, protesters ignited a car on K Street.
Protests become violent in Washington D.C. Video by Paige Pauroso.
The demonstrators migrated farther down the street to the steps of the Washington Post newsroom. Activists armed with a myriad varying chants, such as “no Trump, no KKK no fascist USA,” interlocked arms and starred off against police and National Guard dressed in riot gear.
Many protesters used their voices to decry other issues, such as the Flint Water Crisis and climate change. One Native American woman cloaked in tribal robes and headdress openly challenged the police for “standing against the will of the people.”
Other protesters, such as Eric Jackson, 23, stood by and simply watched. Though he was not an active participant in the protests, he agreed with them, saying Trump would not represent himself and other African-Americans well.
“We’re just expressing our love, expressing our opportunity,” Jackson said. “What happened, happened. Now, we’re displaying how we truly feel about it. People are angry, and whether that is justified or not — I don’t know their background — but I know when other people come together, it can be really powerful.”
'This gives me hope'
More demonstrations seeped into the following morning as the city prepared for the Women’s March on Washington. Organizers originally prepared for an expected 200,000 participants, but were greeted with more than half a million,
Meghan Johnson, 42, said she was overjoyed to see the turnout of the event. Traveling from New Jersey, Johnson said she brought her daughter, who will attend Rutgers University next fall, to the march so she could be around like-minded people. Because of the remarkable attendance, she said she is a little more optimistic of what the next four years will be like.
“I hope Donald Trump sees this and is somewhat convicted by it,” Johnson said. “Bringing my daughter to this was encouraging to me because now she can see she is not alone. This gives me hope that our nation will be able withstand whatever Trump does in office.”
Elon's SGA Executive President Kyle Porro and some of his officers made the almost five-hour drive to D.C to march, and he said he was moved by it. Like Johnson, Porro said he is ecstatic that so many people voiced their concerns towards their government. As a prominent leader on campus, he said he will bring many of the lessons he learned to his everyday life.
"This whole march started because people believed their government wasn't listening to them," Porro said. "As student government, it's our job to be reaching out to our constituents and really being vocal in the community. This march showed me that we — SGA — have to do everything in our power to keep the conversation going so that everyone is heard."