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D.C. Dispatch: On the Ground for Trump's Inaugural Weekend


While Donald J. Trump continues his "running war" with the national news media over attendance numbers at his Jan. 20 inauguration as the 45th president of the United States, it is beyond dispute that nearly 500,000 people took to the streets of Washington, D.C. over the weekend to protest the billionaire's election.

Part of similar gatherings that numbered in the millions around the world, demonstrators held signs and chanted slogans in support of protections for religious, racial, sexual identity and gender expressions—as well as women's health and reproductive rights.

That said, it was also a weekend of unexpected grace—for those who looked for it.

"I really don't think the divide [between conservatives and liberals] is as bad as the media makes it out to be," said Travis Thompson, a Sandpoint native and Trump supporter who helped organize the D.C.-bound motorcycle group 2 Million Bikers for Trump.

Thompson said he arrived at the conclusion after spending some time at Trump's inaugural and then the Women's March on Washington.

"They were conversations where both people could discuss different ideas and still leave feeling [like they were] better off," he said.

Thompson found an unexpected ally in Van Jones, left-leaning CNN political commentator and Women's March speaker, who warned of the danger in despising ideological opponents.

"Liberals and progressives, we've got to be better liberals and progressives," he said. "I'm tired of us—and I've been guilty of it—putting down red state voters and saying that they're all stupid and they're all uneducated."

Other speakers at the Women's March struck less harmonious notes. Madonna said she "had thought a lot about blowing up the White House," a comment she later walked back and claimed was taken out of context.

Jones and Madonna were just two of many Women's March speakers, which included feminist luminaries like Gloria Steinem alongside Hollywood and music superstars like Scarlett Johansson and Alicia Keys. The crowd grew impatient as the rally stretched an hour past the scheduled march time. Cold, weary of standing and in many cases unable to access bathrooms, the crowd began chanting, "March! March! March!"

When the marching finally began, the crowd movement turned out to be more of a shuffle, but organizers said they had their goal even before the walking began. Crowds eventually gathered on the Ellipse near the southernmost gate of the White House, where many chose to leave their signs demanding equal rights and protections under the law. According to NBC News, more than 200 anti-Trump protesters were arrested Jan. 20 following incidents of vandalism and occasional clashes with police around D.C. By contrast, not a single arrest was reported related to the Women's March on Washington.

Overall, the inauguration weekend festivities remained an exhilarating experience for Thompson, a chance to enjoy a moment he believes represents a positive cultural shift. He and his companions met an elderly woman who had been separated from her group.

"She basically became our adopted friend for the day," he said.

As an organizer for a large, pro-Trump biker group, he also received attention from major media outlets, including NBC News, ABC News, People Magazine and Agence France-Presse. Initially hesitant about the reporters' intentions, Thompson said he ultimately followed through with interviews for each organization.

That said, Thompson said he faced initial suspicion when he attempted to engage the leaders of other pro-Trump biker groups.

"I'm just going to try and help everyone out, because for me, it's all about the big picture," he said.

It's anyone's guess whether America will achieve a renewed sense of unity that Thompson or Jones seek. With a historically unpopular president at the nation's helm—Time magazine places Trump at a 40 percent approval rating, the lowest of any recent incoming president—pundits said it was easy to side with pessimists. Jones, in his Women's March speech, urged Americans to resist that impulse.

"This movement has an opportunity to stand up for the underdogs in the red states and the blue states, to stand up for the Muslims and the dreamers and the black folks, but also to stand up for coal miners who are going to be thrown under the bus by Donald Trump," he said. "When it gets harder to love, let's love harder."

—Cameron Rasmusson