Away from the thrum of armed-and-armored police, out-and-proud "deplorables," and the most fervid anti-Trump activists, Baltimore-based art activist group FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture offered up a meditative act of protest the night before the inauguration.
Around 6 p.m., members of FORCE and Luminous Intervention projected a series of portraits of sexual assaults survivors and related quotes about how president-elect— and, as of the next day, president good and proper—Donald Trump reminds them of their abusers onto the side of the Walter E.WashingtonConvention Center: "In this man's face, I see the ex-boyfriend who chased me through the streets"; "This man's voice tells me to stay silent, to not defend myself, or I will be punished"; "This man has the grabbing hands of the stranger when I was five"; "This man is the threat that follows as we walk home alone at night." These statements were all affixed with the hashtag, "#wewillnotbesilent."
"The purpose of the action is to both name [Trump's] behaviors as abusive and create space for mourning in the face of what is a traumatic event for people who are survivors of violence," FORCE co-founder Hannah Brancato explained.
The projection was a "coastal collaboration," said FORCE co-founder Rebecca Nagle, with Oakland-based group Disclose, based on a video Disclose created. Jadelynn Stahl, a member of Disclose, is also a member of the leadership team for FORCE's Monument Quilt, a traveling art installation by and for survivors of rape and abuse.
"We've been comrades in the fight to upset rape culture for years," Nagle said. "We were both talking about doing actions during the inauguration."
Not long after the projections in Washington, D.C., Disclose projected the same thing on the Oakland Police Department building. During Trump's swearing-in, FORCE hosted "a Twitterstorm" so that "survivors can tell their stories," Nagle said.
FORCE and Luminous Intervention first intended to project onto the front of Union Station on Massachusetts Avenue. The location had been scouted and chosen because there was a Trump donor dinner inside, but a large police and security presence and other preventative measures forbid access to that side of the station.
"Security was blocked off in a way that made it physically impossible to do it—the entire front of the station was blocked and barricaded with city buses," Nagle said. It had not looked like that when FORCE scouted the location earlier, she added, and they had not anticipated such extreme measures, which included a chain of buses creating a wall, and on top of the roof of Union Station, a few snipers. It was impossible for them to get close enough to do the projection, and so after convening an hour or so before the projection was set to begin, they took it to the nearby convention center instead.
As the slideshow rolled along, passersby and some in solidarity gathered or stopped across the street and took photos and video of the projection. About an hour or so later, the projection stopped, and FORCE's Nagle and Brancato gathered everybody there in a circle, thanked everybody for coming, and asked everybody to share "something they came with" and "something they left with."
Answers from those in the circle generally suggested the group moved from a kind of existential dread and rage and that they left with, for the moment at least, some sense of ease and pride—anything that could be done to voice dissent was a good thing.
Not long after the projections and not too far away, guests arrived at the National Press Club for The Deploraball a churlish pro-Trump event that advertised an "open bar, light hors d'oevres, fun people, cool music, and great people of all backgrounds." The full spectrum of anti-Trump partisans, led by the activist coalition DisruptJ20, met the surreal crew of Trumpies at the door with chants of "Nazi scum" as they set fire to those dog-boner red "Make America Great Again" hats. Police used pepper spray and possibly tear gas on the protestors—it still is not exactly clear— ensuring a far more chaotic end to the evening than FORCE's subtler but unignorable command of the night.