No Turning Back
“When the president began to speak, I knew it was time. I turned around.”
I passed through the throngs of protesters, past the black bloc with bandanas over their faces, past the hippies and punks holding signs decrying fascism, and arrived that frigid morning in January on the west front of the capitol building. It was 2005, and I was here to attend the second inauguration of George W. Bush.
I scanned the crowd for others like me, undercover protesters crashing the event with legitimate tickets. At the entrance, I entered a distinctly different group: well-heeled people in furs and winter finery, the fog of their breath rising from cashmere scarves. I knew that inside any crisp overcoat could be a secret anarchist, a radical, a kindred spirit. I thought I saw one, a girl with a striking face. But there would be no way of knowing until the moment came, hiding as we must under duress, under dress code, under dress coats.
We were there to stage a massive protest called Turn Your Back on Bush. Most of us that day had gathered at Malcolm X Park for a march or dispersed into groups along the inaugural parade route, planning to turn our backs when the president passed through. Though most protesters around the city would face the possibility of being pepper-sprayed or worse, they would be together. I would be among many yet mostly alone, in with thousands of ticket-holding Bush supporters on the capitol lawn to see the president get sworn in. I would turn my back on Bush during his inaugural address, and only then when more bodies had turned would it become clear who the other protesters were. I imagined we’d then send each other knowing glances and that I would finally have that feeling of being part of something I was proud of.
In the meantime we stood together, all ostensibly the same. Everyone rubbed their hands to keep warm, everyone shuffled uncomfortably through security. Only I rubbed my hands in anticipation. I alone sweated through each checkpoint, though the clandestine things I possessed were not in my handbag but in my head and my heart.
As we filtered onto the grounds and waited for the ceremony to begin, I studied my compatriots from behind. Trite as it may be, I was looking for signs of solidarity, something that could be communicated visually: a defiant comportment, intentionally disheveled hair, a piercing. Not one hair was out of place among the rows in front of me. It was a sea of fur coats with heads so well groomed they could have been wigs on stands. Where are my people? I thought as the crowd erupted in applause for Bush and Dick Cheney.
When the president began to speak, I knew it was time. I turned around.