Mixed emotions as Philly watches Trump’s Inauguration

From living rooms to libraries and classrooms to concert halls, millions of Americans spent their lunch breaks Friday watching Donald Trump become the nation’s 45th president.

But Celeste Zappala stood in the rain in Center City, a long way away from any TV, computer or radio. As Trump raised his right hand in Washington, D.C., to be sworn in, Zappala raised hers too in protest, joining a small but steadfast anti-war protest outside the U.S. Courthouse. There, she talked about her son, the most patriotic way she could imagine to mark the anointing of a new leader she fear will hurt her country.

“My son Sgt. Sherwood Baker was killed in Iraq looking for the weapons of mass destruction about a month after the United Nations said they weren’t there, so I am very aware of what can happen when a President makes a very bad decision,” said Zappala, 69, a Gold Star mother from Mount Airy. “I’m here today to lend my voice to the resistance to Donald Trump. I wish I had been much louder in my resistance to Bush. The price that my family paid and many families paid across this world was terrible. I won’t make that mistake again.”

The protest, organized by the Brandywine Peace Community, was one of several held Friday throughout Philadelphia to mark Inauguration Day. Students at Temple and Drexel universities and the University of Pennsylvania walked out of classes to voice their distaste with the new administration, while several groups including Black Lives Matter and Poets for Peace protested around City Hall and Independence Mall.

The competing protests are just a taste of the tumult the next four years hold, with a president whose election was among the most controversial in modern history, some predicted.

“Today is a kind of a catalyst for awareness and activism,” said Steve Kushner, 56, of Mount Airy.

Zappala agreed, saying she would rally again tomorrow at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and Thursday in Center City, to protest a Republican retreat planned here.

“He’s a dangerous person,” Zappala said of Trump. “I think he is going to lead us into scenarios of military alliances with the forces of fascism. I know that might sound a little extreme, but the way he continues to court Putin, and (far-right French politician) Marine Le Pen appearing at Trump Tower, and the attack on (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel and the criticism of NATO really, really frightens me. I don’t accept this man’s leadership. I don’t accept his ideas. I’m compelled to speak every chance I can.”

Vernell Marshall, 31, a mother from South Philly, joined hundreds of Trump foes near the Liberty Bell in an afternoon rush-hour demonstration that prompted police to close down Market Street. Marshall refused to watch Trump’s swearing-in after a “circus” campaign and election.

“I spent my day with my television off listening to reggae music,” said Marshall, who uses Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act, two things Trump has targeted for cuts. “I’m not with the whole organization that’s taking the seats right now, and I refuse to let my radiance from my house go toward him getting sworn in, so I just decided to groove out to a happy place.”

While protesters hit the streets, others gathered at the Free Library in Center City for a “civic engagement fair.” Around 11 a.m., about two dozen people browsed booths hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Green Party, SERVE Philadelphia and other local and national organizations.

Among the small crowd was Democratic U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans who, along with Philadelphia’s two other U.S. representatives, skipped the inaugural events in Washington, D.C. Evans said he was doing so to defend U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights activist from Georgia who came under Trump’s Twitter fire for questioning the legitimacy of his election.

“I think the important thing is all these people you see here are all good Americans, they are citizens,” Evans said of the Free Library event. “They are choosing in their way to celebrate what is taking place and everybody can celebrate it in the way they think is important. That’s what I’m interested in.”

Center City resident Henry Chau came to the civic engagement fair because he said he didn’t want to watch the inauguration.

“I’m hoping there will be things that one can get involved with on the local level where we can make a difference,” he said. “It’s just hard to see where we are in the country.”

Chau acknowledged that others may feel differently than he does about the direction the country will go under Trump, but said that as an Asian-American, he worries the new administration will roll back decades of work against discrimination.

“I see that it is possible and I’m feeling like I have to be on the lookout,” he said, recalling a 1997 incident in Kansas City, Missouri, where several white men chased him to scare him.

At the National Constitution Center, about 50 people gathered to watch the swearing-in ceremony on screens live-streaming the festivities.

“I felt like I wanted to just make myself really be in the midst of the irony of it all here in the Constitution Center, where we’re learning about both the principles and the ideals that founded our country at a time that I think could be one of the most disturbing times in U.S. history,” said Kushner, a music teacher at the Germantown Friends School, whose students visited the center Friday on a field trip. “I’m appalled at the results of the election. And I kind of wanted to come face it all.”

There was at least one Make America Great Again hat in the crowd, though.

Thomas Dintino, 16, a Trump supporter and St. Joseph’s Preparatory sophomore from Marlton, N.J., said he went to the Constitution Center in hopes of finding folks with opposing viewpoints to discuss America’s incoming leader.

“I think this election is going to go down in history, so I just wanted to witness it,” Dintino said. “In the next four years, I expect most of what he said to happen. I think America will be better than ever before.”

But those with opposing viewpoints weren’t up for debate.

“This is probably one of the most tragic presidential elections that I will ever experience, and maybe for this country for a very long time, in terms of the hate, and the separation that has shown throughout this country,” said Finn Kassell, 14, a Germantown Friends freshman.

Germantown Friends sophomore Raz Allon, 15, agreed: “It’s fine that he doesn’t like to talk like a politician, but he takes that to a whole new level, which disgusts me, honestly. Nothing about this election has been about his policies. It’s been about terrible things he’s said about people who have done good service to this country or just people who are trying to exercise their First Amendment rights.”

College students across Philadelphia organized walkouts at staggered times throughout the day to oppose Trump. About 100 students marched down Broad Street, chanting, “If we don’t get it, shut it down,” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” 

Olivia Ngo, 22, a Drexel University  student, marched “against white supremacy, against Islamophobia, against xenophobia, against all of the messages that have sent out by our president.”  

Ngo and her Drexel classmates joined Temple University protesters to create a larger mass of marchers. When collegians across the city unite, Ngo said, their opposition to Trump becomes louder. 

“The overall message is that students have power. University students aren’t complacent with the current government. They aren’t apolitical. They are political,” Ngo said. “And there’s a movement happening right now, right here in Philadelphia, across the city with so many universities.”

Temple freshman Chris Rinehart, 18, said he left class today to show he will not sit idly by during the Trump presidency. Rinehart, who is black, said he was recently the target of racial slurs and has been particularly piqued by a spike in hate speech on social media since Trump became the Republican nominee.

“Since the election, and since the whole campaign, more of the closet racists have come out. And I read comments on Facebook, and I see them. Man, I didn’t know people can be so hateful, and so ignorant,” Rinehart said.

Ditching class and taking to the streets will be the first of many demonstrations Rinehart hopes to participate in to resist the president, he said.

 “You can point back to the civil rights movement,” he said. “The more they did it, the more they accomplished.”

WHYY reporter Bobby Allyn contributed.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.