Standing in the cold, surrounded by hundreds of people singing the Ukrainian national anthem, it occurred to me: it’s the same war. America and Ukraine are united together in the same struggle against fascism.
It was my second protest of the day. The first was at Crazy Aunt Helen’s, where the Proud Boys threatened to attack drag queen story hour. In response, people from around the region turned out to protect this Capitol Hill restaurant, lining the block with rainbow umbrellas and vowing nonviolent resistance.
The threat to Crazy Aunt Helen’s was not an idle one. The Proud Boys had attacked a Silver Spring bookstore the week before, a crime that had been extensively covered in the local news.
The DC City Council vowed that there would not be a repeat here. Scores of police were dispatched to Crazy Aunt Helen’s and the street in front of the restaurant was closed to traffic.
The community defense was organized by the Parasol Patrol, which shields kids from hateful and violent bigots at events like drag queen story hour. Volunteers purchased rainbow-covered umbrellas and were organized into two lines which stretched down the block. An organizer provided instructions for when the Proud Boys showed up.
“Do not engage. If you feel overwhelmed, back away. If you see someone else being overwhelmed, pull them away.”
There were also prohibitions against photography, to deny the Proud Boys battle intelligence and to protect the privacy of the Parasol Patrol.
But it was such a stirring sight to see a block-long line of rainbow umbrellas that people couldn’t help but take photos. Soon, folks were taking selfies and dancing to Disney music on 8th Street.
Marines from the barracks across the street came out for a look. Bored cops chatted amongst themselves. People lined up for bagels at Call Your Mother like it was any other Saturday and oblivious joggers traversed the scene. “Coming through!”
The great thing about a protest in DC is running into people you know. Amid the twirling umbrellas, I ran into fellow photographer friends, Capitol Hill residents and even some of the activists who trolled the 1776 Restoration Movement last summer.
DC don’t like fascists. But not just DC – there were people from Maryland and Virginia in the crowd, too. The whole region don’t like fascists.
And, in the end, the Proud Boys didn’t show. Drag time story hour happened without disruption and a beautiful snow began to fall, one of the very few of the season, as everyone left to enjoy the weekend.
A few hours later (and with a quick nap), I was outside the White House, watching hundreds of Ukrainian supporters march through Lafayette Park and up 16th Street. They chanted:
“Russia is a terrorist state!”
Demonstrators chanted thanks to America and vows that Russia would pay for its war crimes.
The march stopped in front of the Russian Ambassador’s Residence on 16th Street, shutting down the entire block. Chants echoed off the office buildings of this commercial corridor.
And then, hearing the haunting melody of the Ukrainian national anthem, it occurred to me: there is only one war.
In America, that war began on January 6, 2021, when Trump voters attacked the Capitol to install Trump as dictator for life.
The people of Ukraine have been fighting this war much longer, as they struggle to break free from another dictator, Vladimir Putin.
Democracy versus dictatorship. That is the war, a struggle being fought in two countries inextricably linked, from a hot war on the battlefield to a cold one on the streets.
Trump supporters, like the Proud Boys, long for an American Putin that will end elections that they can’t win. They want a strongman to crush dissent and murder anyone different. They’re rooting for Russia, an appalling crime.
And if you believe in democracy, you support Ukraine, for you know that if Putin succeeds, it will embolden tyrants around the world, including American ones (not just Trump).
The fate of our two nations are tied together. Victory in Ukraine means victory in America. That is why Ukraine must win.