Letter from Washington: Another Day, Another Protest

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No Muslim Ban protesters in front of Charlie Palmer’s, where Paul Ryan was having lunch.

Anti-Trump demonstrations are a constant now in Washington, DC. They happen multiple times a day, the residents of this city and beyond having a limitless appetite to protest Trump’s Muslim Ban and other outrages.

You run into them in random, unexpected places – like Charlie Palmer Steak on Capitol Hill. The word had gotten out that Speaker Paul Ryan was having lunch there. A very well-organized protest appeared, marching past the windows of this high-end joint. Lobbyists chowing down on $60 Wagyu Strip Steak watched a parade of women bundled-up against the cold demonstrate against the Muslim Ban.

Who are you going to stand with? Lawmakers who send Syrian refugees back to war zones while they enjoy expense-account lunches? Or ordinary folks like those who came to protest?

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I am jaded, cynical, having seen scores of protests in DC. But the Trump protests have a different quality to them, attracting not just the young and disaffected but plenty of middle-aged, middled-classed people.

That was evident on a freezing Friday when another protest took shape across Constitution Avenue from the White House – one of at least three that occurred that day. The wind chill was in the 20s but that didn’t stop demonstrators signing a wall rejecting Trump’s bigotry.

That you can draw a crowd on a cold and dark Friday afternoon speaks to the strength of the anti-Trump forces. It’s supply and demand. Everyone wants to come out and protest so demonstrations occur on every day of the week. I talked to people who came out to this protest because they couldn’t make last weekend’s march. They felt compelled to show up for foreign friends and coworkers that were terrified by Trump.

We Reject Trump's Bigotry
An open letter to Trump, rejecting his bigotry.

It was cold. I biked home, going by a protest on the other side of the White House, demonstrators pressed against the fences, chanting into the dark night, though Trump was hundreds of miles away, brooding and tweeting from his Palm Beach mansion.

A few blocks away, a third protest was gearing up, a dance party that would take over Pennsylvania Avenue. Thousands would dance in the streets while thousands more would watch online. The revolution will be live streamed.

Resist banner and Washington Monument
Cyclist carries #Resist banner in the freezing cold.

Letter from Washington: Resist

Resist banner over the White House
Greenpeace hung this Resist banner on a crane overlooking the White House.

Strange days indeed, where I’m retweeting Van Jones. My politics don’t fit into an easy category. I’m socially liberal, believing that people should be free to do whatever they want, as long as they don’t harm others.

I also believe that government is too big and does too much, interfering in aspects of life (such as mandating health insurance) that it should stay out of. Nearly a decade of experience as a government contractor has just reinforced that notion. As I wrote in Victory Party, my award-winning short story (shameless plug!) about election night in DC, government is:

nothing but a big blind beast, stumbling across the American landscape, more likely to crush you than help you.

The economy is the most important issue to me; the biggest moral issue of our age is the lack of real economic growth, for it leaves millions unemployed and underemployed in the vast heartland of our country, a tragedy of abandoned towns and people, like a modern Grapes of Wrath.

In a fit of 2008 optimism, I voted for Obama but then switched to Romney in 2012, wanting a President that would focus on jobs. He doesn’t look so bad now, does he? Trump vs Clinton was a nightmare choice for me, literally Kang and Kodos. In a fit of pique, I wrote in independent Evan McMullin (I might have a thing for Mormons), knowing that blue DC was going overwhelmingly for Hillary.

Trump merchandise for sale outside Treasury Building
Few takers for Trump merchandise for sale outside the Treasury Building.

Like everyone else, I expected Her to win. When she didn’t, I was ambivalent, fictionalizing my response in Victory Party, my tale of DC on election night.

I am ambivalent no more.

What does it take to get someone as jaded and as cynical as me off the sidelines? A week of chaos from the Trump administration, from the graceless “American carnage” inaugural address to the dissing of the Women’s March and on to the Monday night massacre firing of the acting Attorney General.

Trump is a bully, now with the overly vast power of the federal government behind him. There’s never been a better argument for limiting the size and scope of the executive branch than Donald J. Trump.

I expected the evil – it’s the incompetence that surprises me. They have no idea how government works. And despite their purported social media savvy, it didn’t occur to them that public servants, such as the National Park Service, could push back anonymously using these same tools.

Rather than uniting the country around the need for economic growth, Trump has issued a series of bizarre and poorly thought out decrees. It’s government by tweet, straining this country’s democratic institutions beyond the breaking point.

Protesters besiege the Old Post Office
Muslim ban protesters besiege the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.

me at the Muslim Ban march
Me at the Muslim Ban March. I used Capital Bikeshare to get around and take photos.

The streets of DC have been filled with demonstrations the size and scope of which I have never seen before. And I’ve been out, biking around the city with a camera, capturing the moment. And participating as well, something I never thought I would do.

As Van Jones points out, it’s no longer a question of Democrat vs Republican. It’s whether you believe in democracy or not. If you do, then you must resist.

Solidarity at the White House

Letter from Washington: Public Servants, Not Trump Servants

President Trump is “locking down” government communication, including social media, at federal agencies. A crackdown is occurring at the Department of Transportation, HHS and other agencies. Press releases, tweeting and even public speaking is banned – temporarily, they claim. Trump loyalists are being embedded to monitor the work and communications of public servants.

Public servants are called that for a reason – they work for the public. It’s a service, paid for with your tax dollars. Federal employees do not work for a single faction. They serve all of us, no matter which political party we support.

They are public servants, not Trump servants. Their work belongs to us. They have an obligation to communicate to the citizens who pay their salary.

I worked as a contractor in the communications department of a large federal agency. Among my duties was updating the social media account. As long as I avoided certain hot-button issues (like climate change), I was allowed to write and post to Facebook and Twitter without review.

Was this because senior management was interested in more important matters? Or didn’t think social media was important? A little of both. Press releases went through rounds of reviews because they could be printed out, marked up and distributed. The ephemeral world of social media didn’t lend itself to such micromanagement so was left alone.

It’s also impossible to monitor, as the rogue Badlands NPS account revealed. While there are tools to manage social media, my agency didn’t have them. We didn’t know how many social media accounts we had, who ran them or what they were doing with them. Different components of the agency had set them up, without informing HQ. Passwords to social media accounts were widely shared and given to interns and even contractors, like myself.

I felt we should communicate more, not less. There were some fascinating stories inside the agency where I worked. Technicians developing tools to alert the public to severe weather. Scientists uncovering the secrets of the lightless deep ocean. Researchers helping farmers plan for drought.

There should be more government communication, not less. Every government employee should be allowed to communicate with the public on the subject of their work. Conservatives should demand this – don’t you want to know what your money is being used for?

Information wants to be free, wanting to escape its bounds and find its way to readers. Just look at the 2016 campaign, during which embarassing DNC documents were leaked by the Russians.

The Trump action will ultimately fail, the tools they used against opponents now turned upon them. Once the feds discover how easy it is to go rogue, an alternate universe of federal information will be established in cyberspace, outside the control of Trumpian minders, a Wikileaks of climate reports, scientific research and gossipy accounts of government life, ultimately achieving the aim of making government information accessible to the people.

For what better way to get people to read something then to tell them that it’s banned? 😉

 

Letter from Washington: Hope at the Women’s March

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Inauguration Day ended with me running in fear down K Street, as the DC police fired “flash-bangs” to clear the mob of anti-Trump protesters.

Anarchists had set a limo on fire and were trying to stop the fire department from putting out the blaze. The explosions made me jump but it was being in the middle of a crowd that suddenly turned tail that was so frightening. It was run, or be trampled.

I needed a large bourbon when I got home.

The next day was the Women’s March on Washington, the first stirrings of opposition to President Trump. No one was sure how many people would attend.

The crowd turned out to be three times the size of the inauguration, nearly half a million people crammed into the streets of DC. The march was so large that they couldn’t march, the route being filled with people from mid-morning until night.

Women's March

Not being a fan of crowds, I was going to meet some friends after the march. But they couldn’t get to me and I couldn’t get to them, separated by a few blocks and a couple hundred thousand people.

On Inauguration Day, I rode my bike down H Street, virtually alone. Now, a day later, tens of thousands of people streamed down this street by the White House. Rounding the corner on 15th St, I ran into a vast and immeasurable horde of women in pink hats pouring up from the Mall. I’d never seen anything like it, not even during the Obama inauguration of 2009.

I wanted to get to Freedom Plaza so I could get a photo of Pennsylvania Avenue and marchers stretching to the Capitol. But I couldn’t get there, feeling like a salmon trying to swim upstream. A never-ending crowd marched down the inaugural route, doing their own alternative parade, cheered on by protesters occupying the bleachers lining the route.

Women's March on 14th St

I dipped into one little corner of this vast throng, before turning to go back up 14th St. There’s a little crest on the street. Looking behind me, I could see the crowd stretching down 14th all the way to the Mall, where thousands more were marching. More people than I’ve ever seen in my life. Every few minutes, a vast cheer would rise up, echoing off the office buildings.

In contrast to the Inauguration Day protests, everyone was happy. There were no arrests. No one was masked. People smiled, took photos together and laughed at the signs mocking Trump.happy protesters

The celebration went on into the night, demonstrators with signs parading around the White House for hours after the official end of the march.

I met friends for dinner afterward, going to an Irish bar a dozen blocks away from the protest. Far enough where I thought we could get a table. Wrong. Every seat of the bar was filled with women in pink hats. The TV was turned from a basketball game to CNN. When the broadcast showed video from the march, the crowd cheered, their voices filling up the bar, the sound of a vast protest movement coming to life.