Indiana State’s chapter of the American Democracy Project sends more than 100 students to witness the inauguration of Donald Trump.
The sun begins to rise against a purple sky. It’s only 36 degrees, but the air is wet as it begins to mist. No cars are on the road and the city is asleep — except for the thousands of people who march through Capitol Hill’s neighborhood towards the National Mall.
A three-mile journey on foot from the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium — where many of their cars and charter buses were parked — was made longer by police barricades blocking off dozens of streets.
Among the hundreds of thousands of people trailing the streets of Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20 for the chance to witness the swearing in of Donald Trump as 45th president of the United States were 102 Indiana State University students.
Organized by Indiana State’s American Democracy Project, the $40 turn-around trip drove two charter buses of students on a 12-hour drive through Ohio and Pennsylvania to the nation’s capital, where they navigated the streets to the U.S. Capitol early on inauguration morning by following hundreds of black and white yard signs along the route displaying some of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous quotes about tolerance: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
“ADP is a multi-campus initiative that is on over 200 campuses across the United States,” said Carly Schmitt, assistant professor of political science and ADP campus coordinator. “Its purpose is to promote civic and political engagement among students.”
The students departed from campus the afternoon of Jan. 19 with excitement — many not knowing what to expect of the historical event.
Once they arrived in the city at 6 a.m. the following morning, many students tucked their maps into their back pockets and followed large groups of people straight into the heart of D.C. But Eli Hibdon, a junior from Effingham, Ill., planned to make a few stops before witnessing history.
It was Hibdon’s first time in Washington, D.C., but his sixth time seeing Trump in person.
He attended Trump rallies in Iowa, Bloomington, Ill., Springfield, Ill., and twice in Terre Haute. He even went to the violent rally in Chicago on March 11, 2016, where fights broke out between Trump supporters and protesters.
“Me and my friend were actually in the very front row when they announced that Trump wouldn’t be able to land his helicopter because it was too dangerous,” Hibdon said. “Then people started punching each other, dropping Swastika flags, and holding up Bernie Sanders signs. All of the police were outside of the arena holding back the protesters but on the inside there were no officers.”
Hibdon waited it out in the crowd until they could make it to the parking garage. When protesters stormed that too, Hibdon and his friend ran and hid in a nearby Giordano’s Pizza where they watched themselves on FOX News until things calmed down outside.
When Hibdon heard about the trip to the inauguration, he immediately signed up. Not only was it a chance to witness history, but it was an opportunity to explore a city he’s never been to before. He had already mapped out his route before arriving in D.C.
His first stop? The Washington Monument.
“There were only six other people in the field at the time,” Hibdon said. “It was really cool to see it without anybody else there.”
Clocking 17 miles and more 25,000 steps on his Fitbit, Hibdon visited the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, the Pentagon and 9/11 Memorial before circling back to the National Monument in time to witness President Trump’s inauguration speech on a 40-foot monitor.
“We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first,” Trump said.
“The crowd erupted and people were crying,” Hibdon said. “There was an overall atmosphere of excitement and hope for everybody that was there. I think everyone was just wondering what the new administration would bring.”
But Mustafa Mustafa, a junior from Sudan, Northeast Africa, had a different reaction to the newly inaugurated president’s speech.
“The Trump speech was the hardest one to listen to,” Mustafa said. “There were some really great things that he said about unity that made me feel hope. Those were my favorite bits. But then came the bit where he talked about getting rid of all Muslim terrorists.”
“We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the Earth,” Trump said in his speech.
“It was the loudest cheer that I heard that day,” Mustafa said.
As a devout Muslim, Mustafa felt compelled before the event to make a few peculiar preparations — silencing his prayer alarms, putting his supervisor on speed dial and even changing his background on his phone from the Sudanese flag.
“I didn’t want to put a target on myself,” Mustafa said.
Although Mustafa was cautious, he could not pass up the opportunity to see the inauguration of a United States president, especially knowing how big of a deal the event is in his home country.
“When Obama was going in for his second term, we followed the inauguration throughout the day even though there is a seven-hour time difference,” Mustafa said. “It was great being able to experience the environment in the States during the election and all of the political differences. Seeing all of that culminate together in the inauguration was perfect. You saw people from all ethnicities and backgrounds, and it didn’t matter why they were there. People could have been protesting or there for Trump, but it was great to see the diversity of America in that moment.”
Mustafa was one of the few students who scored tickets to have a closer seat at the inauguration, thanks to a stranger who offered him and his friends six tickets. The kind gesture not only offered front row seats to one of the most important political ceremonies, but also gave Mustafa a chance to see an honest representation of the American people.
Behind Mustafa and his friends was a young boy, around 12 years old, standing next to his parents as he yelled obscenities and led the ‘make school lunch great again’ chant when the camera veered toward Michelle Obama. The boy’s mother and father looked at their son and smiled.
“I just learned that there is good and bad in the whole thing,” Mustafa said, after recalling the scene. “There were people there who voted for Trump for all the wrong reasons and those who voted for all the right ones. I saw people with signs that said ‘We Love Muslims.’ I feel like these things cancel each other out. I came out that day not being too afraid or scared or angry or happy. Everyone was just yelling what they felt. It felt good to hear everything without a filter.”
Each student left Washington, D.C., with his or her own memory, takeaway or observations of that moment in history. It is ADP’s hope that their experiences motivate them to stay engaged in the political process.
“So even if they aren’t a Donald Trump fan, even if they didn’t vote, they experienced not just history but a key part of democracy,” Schmitt said. “We were hoping then by getting as many students as possible that when they came back they would be more engaged with what’s happening in the political system, political process, what Congress is doing, what the president is doing, and that in the future they will feel more connected to their government. We are really hoping that it will have a long-term impact on our students and their role as citizens.”
Since Trump’s inauguration, Hibdon ran his own campaign for 2017-2018 Student Government Association president. He hopes that with Trump’s background in business will be good for America’s economy.
Due to the travel ban, Mustafa cannot go home and, if the ban remains in place, his family will not be able to attend his graduation in May 2018.
“I think so often we get caught up in our own lives and we ignore what is happening around us, particularly young people,” Schmitt said. “But the fact is that all the decisions that are being made in government today directly impact the lives of young people and the trajectory of their own lives. So it is so important for students to be involved and understand what is happening in government. I am very hopeful that this experience will in some ways connect them and make them more interested and pay attention.”