A week after the Capitol Riot, I packed my bags and prepared to travel to was to Washington, D.C. for my 7th inauguration.
Unlike previous inaugurations, everything had changed. With the county sluggish from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the events of January 6th made our path forward more precarious.
As I arrived at JAX and said goodbye to my husband, I had no idea what I would encounter in the next 10 days. The first sign that things had changed was at the gate of my JAX to DCA flight. Stationed at the entrance to the plane were TSA agents who informed all passenger to keep their IDs out and be prepared to be searched. Once on the plane I noticed two air marshals pre-seated in the cabin. Upon arrival in D.C., the airport was swarming with law enforcement agents and military personnel. I was relieved to see that my Howard classmate, Rebecca, had made it to the airport. We decided to wait for our driver at our old breakfast spot Ben’s Chili Bowl.
During breakfast, Rebecca warned me to prepare myself for the scene I was about to witness in downtown DC. She informed me that every corner has the National Guard stationed on it. Later, as we drove through the tunnel to the JW Marriott, I was shocked to see wired fencing and barricade everywhere. Instead of the usual sights of patriotic decorations and celebratory signage, the Capitol looked like a heavily secured fort.
Once I got settled into the hotel, I grabbed my camera and recorder to go and ask the central question that was on everyone’s mind: where do we go from here?
I started with the barista at the coffee shop across from the hotel. I asked him what he thought it would take to heal the country. He said that he lived in D.C. all of his life and he had never seen it as divided as it was. He said the situation was hopeless.
I stopped to talk to a woman in a shipping office who said she was just happy to have a job again after being unemployed for 8 months.
I spoke with a lobbyist who had his masked pulled down under his chin and said that he expected nothing from “the swamp.” He said that January 6th was somewhat of a turning point for him, he was packing up and moving back to Nashville to be with his family.
The US Capitol building looks more like a war zone than a beacon for democracy. Store fronts remain boarded up throughout the city and the wall erected around the White House remains.
Throughout my time covering the inauguration, I proposed the question to as many people as I could. In summary, most folks I spoke to agreed that there needed to be a reckoning before there could be a reconciliation. “No one will be held responsible, so what does it matter. The impeachment will be a waste of time and nothing will change”
On the morning of the inauguration, I finally found the answer to the question of where do we go from here.
It came from Amanda Gorman, the youngest person to deliver a poem at a U.S. Presidential Inauguration:
“The Hill We Climb”
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
but because we will never again sow division