Journey to Justice

A view from Washington: Bracing for change without the hope by Celina Dunlop

By January 19th 2017 every trace of Barack Obama, his family and the eight years of his occupancy will have been removed from the White House.

Washington D.C. is still looking magical, aglow with Christmas bunting, immense wreaths and pine trees festooned with scarlet ribbons, glittering baubles and fairy lights. Children are dressed in their newly purchased party best. But with three weeks to go until Donald Trump’s inauguration, the atmosphere is somber.

This city is overwhelmingly Democrat, Hillary Clinton won here with 90.9% of the vote. The gloom is a cloud of pessimism. Here the talk is of the impact the new administration will have on domestic human rights. Abortion rights are seen as an inevitable casualty, that it won’t be long before there is no such thing as a legal abortion in the United States. Repatriations are anticipated. The Energy Department may be abolished. The Supreme Court Justice who replaces Antonin Scalia will be another hardliner and while Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is still a formidable liberal voice for women’s rights she is 83. Both she and senior Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, aged 80 and the crucial swing vote on many important libertarian rulings, may think of retiring within the next four year. Gay couples who had planned to marry later in the coming year are bringing their weddings forward to before January 20th, fearing that President Trump will limit their right to wed. In many states Muslim women are expressing strong fears that wearing traditional dress in public will make them targets. Already there are reports of a rising tide of intolerance being unleashed. Of people no longer feeling a requirement to be “politically correct”, abandoning what many see as common decency towards others. Prejudice has been given permission to exist in a variety of forms, including anonymous notes found in the mail boxes of people who are Muslim or LGBT, “We don’t need your sort here”.

In Washington D.C. instead of wishing each other “Happy New Year”, people softly exchange the greeting “It’ll be very different next year”, which carries the unspoken message “Good luck, it’s going to be bad”.

At this time in 2008 the whole city was buzzing with the electricity of shared excitement. Everyone was boyed by the coming inauguration. Every spare space in every home was earmarked to host visiting friends and relatives. There was much discussion of how the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) would cope with the huge numbers pouring into the city. Souvenirs where everywhere and being worn by everyone. Even in 2012 for Barack Obama’s second term, the level of excitement was palpable and the shops were doing brisk trade in the impressive variety of memorabilia from postcards and bumper stickers to Bo cuddly toys. For Barack Obama collective creativity produced iconic imagery and amusing keepsakes. For all previous inaugurations there has been a lively sense of occasion in the nation’s capital and of being part of history in the making.

This time Metro simply omitted to print Donald Trump’s image or name on their traditional Inauguration Day commemorative travel card. Washingtonians are bracing themselves for the anticipated arrival of those who did vote Trump/Pence. They will have little in common with the host city. The shops have a variety of unimaginative (and in some cases unintentionally sinister) grinning Trump images on memorabilia: sweat- and t-shirts, mugs, key rings, magnets and of course ‘Make America Great Again’ baseball caps. But they’re staying on the shelves and hangers. Nobody is wearing Trump branded clothing. What are selling however are items bearing the likeness of Barack Obama and the soon to be former First Family. There are pens commemorating his time in office (President Obama 2009-2017) and 2017 calendars of the former first couple, as well as reproductions of merchandise from the 2008 campaign. That’s something new, an outgoing president out selling the president-elect.

There is however one hub of genuine and profound excitement in the city: At the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), families, often of three generations, queue with barely contained excitement (see photo below). Tickets have been sold out since the museum opened in September 2016. No matter how long the line for entry is, how inhospitable the weather, or how long the journey to get here, everyone is chatting animatedly and taking selfies, thrilled to be among the 600,000 visitors who’ve made it to this beautiful new building with its skilfully designed and extensive exhibition. The NMAAHC was planned back in 2003, before an Obama presidency was ever imagined. The timing could not have been more perfect. The lower levels of the museum now take the visitor on an utterly absorbing journey from the origins of the slave trade to the election of the first African American president. This is a fitting monument to triumph over adversity.

Meanwhile, Washington D.C. is a city preparing to host the most joyless inauguration anyone here can remember.

Celina Dunlop, JtoJ volunteer


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