WASHINGTON, D.C. — Scattered in the crowds of countless people dedicated to celebrating or protesting this weekend in the nation’s capital were more than several travelers from the local community.
The inauguration of the 45th President of the United States Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, the Women’s March on Washington and related events brought crowds of varied political views to Washington, D.C. over the weekend.
Newly elected Sussex County Clerk of Peace Norman “Jay” Jones, Jr. was in the capital to attend the Armed Forces Ball.
“It was the last one that Trump and his wife appeared at,” he recalled.
Mr. Jones, an Ellendale firefighter, arrived to Washington, D.C. via bus with about 40 other firefighters from Delaware. The group was dropped off two blocks away from their destination once they arrived to the city.
“Where we had to walk was interesting. We passed a lot of protesters, but everyone that we saw was so friendly. They were all peaceful and friendly. The media is the only place I saw negative protesters,” Mr. Jones said.
Instead of negativity, Mr. Jones said he found strength and humility in the guests at the ball. In attendance were not only the group of firefighters, but also police officers, other first responders and military personnel.
“There were a lot of high ranking military people and several wounded warriors there. Seeing them there and the stuff they went through in battle,” he said trailing off. “I remember seeing the face of one of them on Facebook completely burnt and here he was walking around in his Class A uniform.”
Members of the military thanked Mr. Jones and others throughout the night for being a firefighter.
“It was humbling,” he said of the encounters. “It caught me off guard.”
He described the ball as “a once-in-a-lifetime” event, but the excitement didn’t completely hit him until President Trump was announced and music introduced his arrival.
“That’s when, boom, it hit,” Mr. Jones said.
“Being that close, it was like a moment everybody was waiting for. The President’s military band played. It was almost like, well, I don’t want to say Christmas morning, but really it was like kids opening presents.”
President Trump spoke to the crowd and teleconferenced with soldiers in Afghanistan during the ball. He, Vice President Pence and their wives danced with military members before ending their own night.
Harrington resident and Army veteran Elizabeth Brode went to the same ball along with her husband Derrick and the group of Delaware firefighters.
“It was really actually surprising. We went over on a bus and didn’t have any issues. There wasn’t any of the issues like they were showing on television,” she said.
The group of Delaware firefighters may have been the only firefighters in attendance, she added proudly.
When President Trump arrived, she was about five feet away.
“He talked mostly about support for the military and veterans which personally is important to me to hear a president say that and support for what they go through, their spouses and first responders,” she said.
“He was very positive. He wasn’t over the top like you see a lot on television. It was really nice to see him in a different light than is painted on TV. He was very appreciative of our military and first responders. It’s something you’ll never forget. I’m from a tiny town in Texas and now a tiny town in Delaware. Whoever would have thought I’d be at the inauguration of a president. It was exciting.”
Women’s March on Washington
The next day, more locals joined the descent on Washington, D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington, an event which drew out more than three times the crowd found at the inauguration event just a day before, according to crowd counting experts.
Milford resident and social media strategist Lisa Flowers was in the crowd with her son, Alejandro. A regular visitor to the D.C. area, this was different.
“It was awesome. But it was really, really, really packed. I’ve never been to an event where there were that many people. You couldn’t walk. We ended up being probably a mile away from where the stage was and we couldn’t move forward. It was crazy, but in a good way. It was pretty cool,” she said of the experience.
Because of the crowd, Ms. Flowers said they couldn’t walk in the actual march so they joined in on a side street marching parallel to the Women’s March “right alongside everybody else’s march.”
The crowds also caused slow trains and, eventually, low resources as food trucks and other businesses began to run out of food and water.
“As we were making our way parallel on the route, we could hear the marchers on the regular route getting started and their sounds reverberated across the buildings in D.C. The organizers, for the short time frame that they had, did a fantastic job in informing everybody of things to bring, how to prepared… I was very impressed,” she said.
She and her son are the second and third generations to march on Washington. Her mother made it to a similar march in the 1980s.
“I think it’s important that you show up. And have a voice. But taking action really makes a point,” she said.
“I didn’t march in protest; I marched in solidarity. For me, it was the beginning of a movement. You have to be prepared for what comes next. You have to be an informed voter and know it’s a marathon, not a spring when it comes to making change. For me, it was worth driving over.”
Ms. Flowers hopes the Women’s March on Washington sparks awareness and a push for volunteerism and new political voices.
“I will say that there were others who were more negative and that’s their right to do so. I think it was a wake-up call for all those arm-chair cheerleaders that you have to get out there and wake up. If you want change, you have to vote and take action. And hey, some of us need to run for office,” she added.
Jennifer Antonik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org