PHS students travel to Washington DC to explore our government. (Holly Lake)
PHS students travel to Washington DC to explore our government.

Holly Lake

PHS Experiences the Inauguration, Historic Protests, and a Myriad of Perspectives

February 27, 2017

On January 20th, 2017, Barack Obama peacefully handed over the executive office of the United States of America to Donald Trump. While many watched this historic moment unfold behind a TV or computer screen, PHS seniors Holly Lake and Kourtney Roberts lived the moment in the flesh.

Flying to Washington DC with the group Close Up, Lake and Roberts spent a week learning about American democracy first hand. Exploring America’s capitol, they checked out national monuments, met with Washington’s Congress members, and witnessed the build-up and aftermath of Trump’s inauguration.

Being in the capital, especially for the inauguration, allowed Lake and Roberts to better understand American government while molding their own personal and political beliefs. Learning outside of a classroom appealed to both students.

“I wanted to experience learning everything face to face rather than in a textbook,” Roberts said. “Your thirst for learning is more present.¨

While journeying throughout the city of DC, the students also journeyed back in time, visiting the Lincoln Memorial, Mt. Vernon (George Washington’s home), and the Smithsonian Museum.

“It was like being in a book. It was really beautiful,” said Lake.

However, unlike the other Close Up trips that will be held throughout the year, their trip included Donald Trump’s inauguration. For Lake and Roberts, Inauguration Day was an obvious highlight in their DC trip.

“You were there seeing the next president of the United States being sworn in and it was just, it was really really amazing,” said Lake.

Lake and Roberts were a part of a huge moment as the inauguration was the climax of Trump’s highly controversial and media covered path to presidency. From the beginning, public figures, commentators, and journalists have been discussing his unorthodox ways; he’s been a major talking point for two years.

By four a.m., PHS students were standing in the mall of DC, staring directly ahead at the Capitol building, where, at 9 a.m., Trump would be sworn in for the next four years.

“It was packed with people, people on every side of you. I almost had a panic attack,” Lake said. She, among many others at the inauguration, was nervous for possible terrorist attacks or assassinations. “Everyone was expecting something really terrible to happen at the inauguration,”  Lake said.

Despite the risks, the inauguration drew in crowds of hundreds of thousands and, on the flipside, ignited an onslaught of historic protests across the states. Trump’s road to the Oval Office has displayed the diversity in perspectives of our country. Lake and Roberts symbolize this, as they each hold unique opinions on Trump, politics, and the direction of America’s future.

PHS students at the inauguration.        Holly Lake

With Trump as our 45th president, Lake is optimistic for the next few years. She believes he will deliver on his promises and begin to unify America.

“There’s so much hate towards him,” Lake said. She believes his ‘America First’ speech was purposefully uniting in hopes to mend the divisiveness in America. “He wanted to make it positive. He wants to be able to succeed and prove everyone wrong,” she said. “ I hope he does.”

A facet of Trump that Lake appreciates is his newness to the political sphere. She can see the “positive and negative” sides of Trump coming onto the governmental scene from a background of TV and business, rather than the traditional one of law or family history.

“He might not know what he’s doing but I think that will bring something new because in politics some people get elected to positions over and over and over again and nothing changes. I think he’s going to bring something new and change it up,” Lake said. “He’s kind of refreshing…crass but refreshing.”

Roberts agrees with Lake in a certain respect: Trump may serve as an asset, him not being a bigwig politician. Nevertheless, she still has her reservations about him filling in the presidency, and is uneasy about what the future will hold.

¨He’s not a corrupt politician, but I don’t know,” Roberts said on Trump’s new role as president. She is apprehensive for his actions and policies.

Roberts feels disheartened by the entire situation (the candidates, race, and election) and claims support to neither side [Trump or Clinton]”. For Roberts in recent times, negativity in politics has overridden the positive points. She was unnerved when she experienced overt racism and conflict at Trump’s inauguration.

“There were people yelling at a black girl on subway and racist T-shirts worn by Trump supporters. It was super upsetting,” said Roberts.

An enduring conflict with Trump’s path has been the controversial remarks he’s made. Multiple times he’s been called out for being sexist, racist, and xenophobic. Like many others, Roberts believes Trump is an instigator when it comes to “disrespectful behavior”.

“I know racism is everywhere, but, living here it’s not especially a huge thing. It was mindblowing to see that it’s accepted and okay and that that’s what they believe and now they can do that,” said Roberts on what she glimpsed at the inauguration.

Another concern of Roberts lies in Trump’s actions towards women.

“He scares me. Especially being a woman, all the things he’s done in the past and all the things he wants to do, like defund Planned Parenthood. Obviously I’m a woman, and that’s not good for me,” Roberts said. “Maybe if I was a white male I’d have nothing to worry about.”

During Lake and Robert’s trip, the historic Women’s Marches were happening. Reaching numbers as high as 470,000 in DC (NY Times), people banded together to march for equality, not only in regards to  gender, but for race and religion as well. Among many of the peaceful protesters, were those opposed to Trump.

“The Women’s March was cool because it was empowering. It was about everyone coming together and that was important,” said Roberts.

Even though PHS students didn’t attend the protests, they saw the extremities that people took to display their opinion and speak their voice.

“It sounded really fun and it wasn’t violent at all,” Lake said.

Close Up allowed Lake and Roberts to witness American citizens participating in their government. American democracy, for the people and by the people, came to life at the inauguration, protests, and capital buildings.

AP American Government and Politics teacher, Tim Knudson, attended a different Close Up trip a few years ago with a former student. He had a similar experience, one with an intimate and honest look into the United States’ system of government.

“As far as government is concerned. I believe we need to appreciate the constitutional principles more as individuals,” said Knudson on his biggest take away from the trip. Appreciating Constitutionality, Knudson is proud that no matter how incredible, strong, or weak one is, we have an overarching Rule of Law, applicable to everyone.

“I like a society where the weak aren’t dominated by the strong,” said Knudson.

During both Close Up trips, (Lake’s/Roberts’ and Knudson’s), students were at the core of involvement. For Roberts, this striking involvement of this age group reified her belief in the United States.

“I have a lot of hope for our generation, we will make a difference,” Roberts said.

Knudson also believes the new generation will change the course of America. And with more education, he believes America’s system will become more fair and representative.

“People talk about ‘oh kids are dumb right now’, and they’re not,” said Knudson. “Even the slacker kid now knows more than the relatively educated kid twenty years ago.”

With an emphasis on education, which is what Close Up provides, Knudson can see a brighter and better future.

“I think we’ve actually hit an ebb. We’re as low as we can get right now,” said Knudson, explaining that from this point on, as a society and in politics, we’re growing upwards. “I’m seeing more people talk about stuff. Ten years ago that didn’t happen. People didn’t talk about current issues very much and part of that is social media.”

By the end of the end of the week, the PHS students flew out of the capital with a clearer sense of perspectives, politics, and government in action.  

“I got to be in a crowd and experience that and everything they were, what they believed in –  their beliefs rather than mine,” Roberts said of the rewarding trip. She feels more cognizant of the people and opinions that surround her.

Lake, also in the maelstrom of politics, appreciated the diversity in perspectives but decided that politics can become too overpowering and nebulous.

“I think politics can be very messy so I would never want to be a part of anything political, but I do think [politics] is kind of interesting because it has to do a lot with behavior and the mind, with trying to read people,” said Lake.

Roberts can agree: politics can help understand where another person is coming from and what their actions will be. However, both students realize that politics do not make up a person. It’s merely a byproduct of their beliefs and opinions.

“If you’re a good person [political party] shouldn’t matter,” said Roberts.

By the end of the trip, Lake and Roberts identified the underlying and most unifying aspect of American government: the people. In protests, at the inauguration, at the monuments and memorials, the American citizen was always centerstage. Close Up provided the PHS students reality of our government, hopes for the future, and the importance citizens play.

 
“I felt like a real part of the country,” said Lake. “I felt involved.”

 

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