Dozens of police officers blocked off the corner at 12th and Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C., gripping their batons and big canisters of pepper spray, their faces obscured behind shields, as nearly 100 activists who had already been arrested were cordoned off behind them, waiting to be processed
Protesters lined the other side of the street. More and more arrived, chanting, yelling. "Let them go!"
A trail of pink smoke cut through the air. There was the sound of a "sting ball" grenade and several officers opened up with long orange streams of chemical warfare pepper spray. Many people reported that rubber bullets were also fired.
"Because, today...we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People."
Earlier, a woman who said she lived in the neighborhood stood at the battle lines screaming at both sides, her body wrapped in an American flag, her face burned by pepper spray, now caked with milk of magnesia.
"Why are you doing this?" she wailed.
"For too long, a small group in our nation's Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished—but the people did not share in its wealth."
Officers ran at people, holding their billy clubs in both hands at throat level. (Dalton Bennett, a Washington Post reporter, was thrown to the ground).
They tackled a woman on the street and used tall Clydesdale horses to menace anyone getting too close to the tackled protester.
"The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation's capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land."
Before the melee began, the streets of D.C. were weirdly empty, a ghost town, nothing like what we had seen in previous years, especially Obama's record-setting first inauguration.
"We're not seeing big crowds," said Lacy MacAuley, an organizer for DisruptJ20 (a collection of activist groups that came together for the inauguration protests) and D.C. resident. "We haven't seen any area where we the protesters don't outnumber Trump supporters."
The ever-growing melee in Northwest D.C. around 12th and 13th streets NW began small enough. I was wandering around at the makeshift headquarters for DisruptJ20 when I saw a small group of five young people wearing all black start to walk away with purpose. I followed them. They pulled on their masks, but suddenly appeared lost. "Where are they?" they asked.
I started to scan the street and saw it, the mass of black shirts they were looking for. We all ran toward them. By the time I reached them, they too were running, chased by police on cycles—motor and bike—swerving almost as if to mow them down. A protester threw a trash can into the street. It rolled into a motorbike, forcing it to stop. A sign from in front of a store went flying through the air.
Other officers came in from the other side. The group—which had allegedly been using Black Bloc tactics of property destruction and the like and, it was announced later, will likely face felony charges—was cornered. That's when they went crazy with the pepper spray and the batons—for the first time of the day (earlier, activists had chained themselves together to block a checkpoint into the inauguration and the police had not arrested anyone).
"What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. Jan. 20, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer."
Suddenly, a man appeared walking through the crowd with followers, and the mood changed, briefly.
"I am the president of America," the man said. He wore a boot on his head and had a long gray beard and Rasputin eyes. "I am also an amateur hostage negotiator."
His name is Vermin Supreme and this year he actually did run for president, as he has every year since 2004 . He has promised a free pony for every American.
A little later, when the air again filled with pepper spray and what seemed like a gas, he got right in front of the police line and squawked out the National Anthem, Jimi Hendrix-style, through a bullhorn.
Another officer sprayed gas into the crowd and sting ball grenades sounded around the corner, where the heat of the action had moved. Lines of riot police faced the protesters, some of whom threw bricks and concrete.
"Officers did not deploy tear gas and did deploy pepper spray and other armaments," D.C.'s Interim Police Chief Peter Newsham told Democracy in Conflict. "A full accounting of the control devices deployed will be made available when we have it."
"The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action."
The same multinational corporations Trump railed against in the campaign had their windows smashed—Starbucks, Bank of America.
"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."
The day ended with a limousine burning in the streets, a new symbol of our unity.
"Your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way."
The guerrilla chaos that filled the air like the pepper spray on Friday washed away the next day as half a million people, brimming with righteous anger, solidarity, and community, poured into the city for the Women's March.
At one point, after the march officially ended, a barricade blocking off Pennsylvania Avenue leading toward the White House was knocked down. Marchers made their way to the fence on the other end, where Secret Service agents stood waiting. An African-American woman walked up right beside them. "Whose house? Our House!" she chanted, her fist raised in the air.
Democracy in Crisis is a new column designed to take the prefix "alt" back from the racists and hold the Trump regime accountable. Alternative weeklies like Baltimore City Paper have always reported as outsiders and Democracy in Crisis will continue that tradition, cultivating sources in the agencies and committees where policies will become reality, making liberal use of freedom of information act requests and public meetings acts to get beyond the lies that the administration seems intent on using as a modus operandi. The column will expose any creeping authoritarianism and norm-violations and call them out with outrage when warranted, and gallows humor when possible.-Baynard Woods