After The Coup Attempt And Ahead Of Inauguration, DC Residents Are Feeling On Edge
"I don’t even think people think about DC’s residents. It’s like we’re not even here."
The last few weeks — one could argue the last five years — have been a lot to process. While many of us around the country have been sent reeling by news coming out of Washington on a regular basis, for DC residents, life still has to go on. Even when there is, say, an attempted coup. We worked with photographer Farrah Skeiky to ask Washington residents how they are doing right now. It's a collective check-in text for fellow Americans who have been not just living the chaos through the news, but experiencing it firsthand through street shutdowns, National Guard checkpoints, and the occasional angry mob.
When Skeiky’s family moved to the DC suburbs just over 16 years ago, “nothing about the situation was appealing” for her. Now, having worked and lived within DC city limits for eight years, she feels the frustration that comes with being invisible. Newer transplants passively declare that “no one’s really from DC,” as the city’s Black and brown residents are priced out of their neighborhoods, she said. National news directly affects local news here, but local voices don’t make it to the national news.
“I’m grateful to share the perspectives of DC’s residents, all of whom have different interactions with the city through their work, their social circles, and their zip codes. This city changed my life for the better, and I will always champion the people who make it such a unique place to be.”
Sign up for our newsletter for more photographs from around the country and the world, as well as exclusive interviews.
Alex Clinton, 32, restaurant worker
"I’m upset because of the difference in reactions to the domestic terrorists this last week versus the violence against the Black Lives Matter protests earlier in the summer. The contrast between those two really speaks to how ingrained white supremacy is in our government, our law enforcement, and just how we are reacting to both of these things that are happening."
Ana Teresa Marin, 42, business owner
"I’m not doing cartwheels for Joe Biden, as I am not going to be doing cartwheels for any lifelong career politician. But honestly, that clown Trump is gone, and there is a deep relief that comes with that, especially when your family is directly affected by his thoughts.
"I’ve bartended for a long time, and I’ve always worked in the food and beverage industry, so inauguration has always been tied to work for me. With DC being such an overwhelmingly Democratic town, obviously when Democrats win — and I’m old enough to have been through a number of inaugurations — I feel like with such an overwhelmingly Democratic town, it’s party time, people are happier. But I will say this: There was nothing like when Trump won. The feeling literally descended on the city. Even Biden winning, with the way things have been during the pandemic, it’s different. At least in my circles, with the people that I know personally and professionally, people know that half the country still voted for that fool. Anything to have him out.
"I don’t want to get super-spicy communist on here, but I grew up, from the second I came onto this planet, being very aware. Purposefully my family has made me very aware of how this place really is. There were never any rose-colored glasses. But within that, I’m not a pessimist. There’s too many people out there doing the real thing. I’m hopeful."
H. Paul Davis, 56, landscape architect
"I’m thrilled that we have a new president, so I guess I’m kind of happy about that. It’s a very odd time. I’ve lived in DC for 30 years now. The first week I moved here was the inauguration of the first Bush. You could go right up to them. I was no fan of them, but I wanted to see an inauguration. And now it’s like a war zone so that’s upsetting. It’s upsetting that it’s so militarized, but it’s necessary.
"I’m from Louisiana, and I still travel to Louisiana quite a bit. I come from a very rural town outside of New Orleans, and I’ve lived here working as a landscape architect, so I’ve seen the extremes. This is a country that’s always been divided. Trump didn’t create this, he just emboldened it. I’m shocked by his behavior, and I guess that’s changed my opinion, and politics is a brutal game. So it doesn’t surprise me, because I think underneath people only care about being in power, and they’ll sell their souls to get here."
Kelsey: I’m very worried for the inauguration, especially because there is a Black woman who will be on the stage. I’m very concerned for her safety. Very concerned. I want her to be safe, and I want her family to be safe. And I don’t like saying that. I’m legitimately fearful for them.
Dana: When President Trump was inaugurated, I remember feeling disappointed, but I didn’t feel terrified. Even though I’m happy that Biden got elected, I can’t think about the inauguration or her sense of dread that something awful is going to happen. I feel like that isn’t the best way to start anything.
Dana: It’s probably been really, really rough to be a political thriller writer. Any idea you had, just turn on the news and it’s like, Crap, there goes my draft. I feel for them.
Christine: This was a chocolate city first. You look at old history with Maps, and it was mainly a Black city. Look at the people who moved here, especially the recent statistics from the general election in the presidential election, 93% voted Democrat. I’m living in Chevy Chase a lot of people think “wow you’re a Black girl in this extremely white neighborhood with a mired past in which they kicked out all the Black people.” But now they have worked on that, they have recognized that, and they are working on those issues. DC has some errors, but in that way it’s done [some] things right. It’s got a great healthcare system in which we’re actually doing our vaccinations right. Out of three states, we are the nonstate doing our actual vaccinations on schedule.
Dawne Langford, 48, documentary producer
"I have a hard time quantifying it to only DC feeling under siege, not only geographically but in regards to sanctity of democracy, has been somewhat alarming. But also not surprising.
"There’s probably more of a confirmation of the systemic inequality and oppression that I’ve always been quite vocal about. The stage has been set more accurately, and it’s more obvious to more people now. Although we’ve suffered a lot of loss and a lot of unnecessary deaths and damage, and we’re still fighting to correct so many wrongs from even the Reagan administration, I feel like there are more people that have come into a deeper understanding of what this country really is."
Arnold Robles, 53, grocer
"Everyone’s on eggshells and the city is locked down. The amount of military that I saw downtown, the amount of guns — rifles and assault rifles — it was just a lot. I don’t know the last time that happened, definitely way before my time. It’s terrifying. As a gentleman that’s half Native, half Latino, I watch my back every day. Am I going to see a Trumper? Am I gonna see a Proud Boy? It’s alarming. "
Alexander Prucha, 28, grad student
"It’s this weird limbo. They brought in a lot of security now — it seems now that they’re prepared, but again we saw that Capitol Police and other federal law enforcement were allowing these insurrectionists to come into the building. Not to say that it was an inside job, but obviously there were/are people in law enforcement that sympathize with these people. My plan is to stay home, stay out of it, and I’m gonna be sitting on my stoop watching things go down and listening to the radio. I’m worried that this isn’t all going to go away after the inauguration. Trump will still be around. He is still going to have his sycophants and they’ll still be bending over backward on doing Olympic-level mental gymnastics to justify what this absolute clown is doing."
Al Goldberg, 46, owner of Mess Hall; Jodie Goldberg, 44, fundraiser; Aden Goldberg, 13, seventh-grader; Isaac Goldberg, 9, fourth-grader
Jodie: I’m definitely feeling scared for our family and our country. We’ve lived here for 18 years, and we always felt safe being in the nation’s capital. There’s a comfort knowing that this is the safest place in the country to live, and that notion quickly crumbled when we saw the events that took place last week. As more news comes out about the people who were aiding the insurrectionists, it feels like a scary time for our country.
Aden: Even though people are still ready for the inauguration and want Biden in office, people are also scared that what happened at the Capitol is going to happen again, and I totally understand because I don’t want anyone harmed.
I have more knowledge about white privilege in this country and also how messed up we are in our country, whereas, some other countries view us as the big strong United States that’s so popular, but actually we’re crumbling. If we don’t do something soon, then we’ll fall apart.
Al: As a business owner in the hospitality industry, aside from the differences in the morale and the pomp and circumstance, there’s a huge difference to this year with the economic impact that this particular inauguration will have on the district. This will be a huge drain on resources. Ordinarily, it’s a boon for hotels, booked restaurants, all the caterers, and the black-tie events in the evenings. Every firm along Pennsylvania Avenue has a huge blowout party and they spend tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars on a catered event where they invite all their clients, their staff, for a parade viewing party. It starts very early in the morning, goes into the afternoon, then people go home and take a nap and then go to the inaugural balls in the evening so there’s a lot of money to be made. This isn’t solely attributed to the events of last week, but combined with the nature of COVID, that’s a real difference to the city that can’t be ignored.
Isaac: My whole life, I’ve been like, It’s OK, the Capitol will be safe because people are protecting it. When people got in, I’m getting scared that a lot of people might be hurt, and I’m scared that if someone gets hurt, like the police or someone who works there, or someone else, I don’t like people dying in real life. It’s OK in movies because it’s fake, but in real life it’s scary. I’m mad because someone started all this just because they lost the election.
Leo Murray, 25, photographer
"I feel like we should be doing a lot more as a city to make sure that shit doesn’t happen again. As you can see now, everything is back to normal, and I don’t like that. Because if that was us out there, doing what they did, we’d be getting locked up today, for sure. All the Trump supporters, all the people who started that, were staying in this hotel and that hotel right here. The day after, they were sitting out here laughing like nothing was wrong, and that’s an issue to me. They were our customers. Like I said, if that was us, police would be pulling up in paddy wagons arresting us. It’s nonsense if you ask me. But it’s expected."
"I’m a bit surprised, but overall it’s just the theme of America and the area itself. But definitely anxiety along with everyone else that lives here. I’m super anxious about the inauguration. Everyone in the area is pretty sick of everything government right now, and we just want everything to go back to whatever normalcy I guess there was. Honestly, the United States hasn’t changed too much over the past four years. It’s just more blatant and in your face. The last four years has desensitized a lot of people to how outrageous and terrible racism is, systematic racism, and how distracting it is.
"I don’t even think people think about DC’s residents. It’s like we’re not even here. So I think people get wrong that we’re real people and understand how loving people are in DC, especially ones that don’t come and go with “red and blue.” Especially with corona, I never see anyone without a mask, period. Just know that we’re here: We’re actually people, we cannot vote, and we are a community and try to take care of each other as best we can."
Will Fung, 39, restaurant industry employee
"I’m nervous. It’s getting closer and closer to the location of my home. I’ve got the Capitol on the west side of me, and the National Guard setting up on the east side of me, so I’m in the middle of all this traffic.
"I’m talking to my friends and neighbors and finding out what they plan to do. We’re starting to see some MAGA people camp out around Lincoln Park. They have fires raging in the night, it’s just not fun. It’s a visceral thing. Tons of friends and family have sent us messages asking if we’re OK, but I don’t think people really understand how real it is living right in these blocks. You can’t really avoid it. People say “Oh it’s the Capitol, no one‘s around there” but really I live a mile from there. People who don’t live in the area don’t understand that it’s very real, and it’s not just what you see on TV."
Tammy Gordon, 48, public relations
"I’m outraged at the attack on our town and our government. I’m shocked at the failure of security that we’ve all taken for granted at our federal buildings, and I look forward to the transition.
"I’m cautiously optimistic about the inauguration this week. From a domestic terrorism standpoint, I’m worried about not only attacks on our National Guard troops that are protecting us, that somebody would try to do something against the new administration or that people could just try and disrupt or attack our neighborhoods.
"I never worried for my safety at an inauguration before. A lot of us work in and with politics and no matter who wins, there’s always a peaceful transition of power. That’s something that’s unique to our country, and I think I’ve always taken it for granted and now I see how precious that is.
"The past four years opened my eyes to how much larger the problems we face are and how systemic they are than I previously thought."
"Being someone that was born in DC and has lived here for such a large portion of his life, I’ve always known that going near the Capitol was almost impossible, especially as a Black man. To see so many privileged white people be able to attack the police, storm the Capitol — this sacred building, one of the most sacred buildings in the country — I was just angry. A lot of my friends were checking in on me, because they know that I’m always at protests capturing images. I saw a lot of people making jokes about it, and some of the jokes were funny, but it just feels so personal. I was about to get arrested a few weeks ago, just for taking photos. Seeing so many of these people able to just take advantage of police and run into the Capitol is just ridiculous to me. And it’s literally against the law. I can’t believe I watched that."
Monet Khanyahl, 20, student
"I know that everything is going to be fine in the long run, but I’m from a small town that’s known for its KKK ties, so I kind of already know what happens when white people get angry. I remember when they were happy with Trump and when they were lining up the streets. It’s not the KKK, of course, but it’s their grandchildren.
"I grew up with grandparents that were from the South. I’ve always heard stories about how the United States is kind of horrible, so it doesn’t really shock me. People were shocked when Trump was elected, but I kind of knew what was going down.
"When I came to DC, I was expecting everyone to be rich. I didn’t know until I looked it up that a lot of DC’s residents were Black. To me, I always thought “that’s where the president lives, so that must be where rich people live.” It’s true. In California, the parts where I’m from, you don’t really see a lot of rich Black people, but I saw a lot of rich Black people. It kind of felt really good. Hopefully, one day, my life will be not rich, but well off. To be in a place where you see all these people who are well off and look like you is kind of crazy."
Sujay Vithal, 28, management consultant
"I’ve come to love the city, and to see people desecrate the Constitution of the United States — a lot of the world looks up to the US for democracy, and it was just sad to see.
"Before the events of last week, I was really excited to be in the city for this historic moment. When Joe Biden got elected, it was just a feeling of excitement in the city. I went to the White House that evening, with my mask of course, and it was just a great feeling. Right now, after last week, I’m holding my breath to make sure everything goes off smoothly."
Jermaine Ogenia, 30, artist and athlete
"I’m not surprised at all. It’s kind of funny in a sense that a lot of people are starting to see it now.
"Since President Obama got elected, a lot of people were very unhappy that a Black man became president and I feel like Trump was a response to that. And now that the Trump presidency is over, it’s uneasy. I feel like people got to see the wild side of racism and white supremacy and that it doesn’t help anybody, in any way, and especially during a pandemic. I feel like that’s making this one kind of special because there’s two monsters on top of each other.
"I would say there’s probably not any place in the world that a Black person can go and they don’t have to check how the racism is? Am I gonna be safe? Am I gonna be OK to go here? Can I actually enjoy myself here? That’s just the reality of how life is. It doesn’t change it any."
"I’m a former bartender, and I hope to be one again after the pandemic since I’m out of work. During the Obama administration, you saw a lot of people who wanted to be in community with each other. With the Trump administration, you see more entitlement. People are keeping to themselves and aren’t open to meeting their neighbors. It’s put a cloud over the city. And it’s mostly to the detriment of the Black and brown community. We don’t see people happy. This summer after the George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Aubrey protests, you saw people on the streets every day. We’re sad, but we’re dancing. We’re sad, but we decided now to feed each other. We’re sad, but now we’re trying to organize and build. I think that’s a testament to the city, and to what people forget. We are a community of people. Not just Capitol Hill. We’re not just government buildings. We’re a whole community of people who are affected by things that are happening globally."
Zahra Haider, 34, branding and marketing manager
"I’m much more critical of the democratic process, much more critical of the historic checks and balances of our country. The rules seem to be very different for white supremacists and white people in general, and there’s a stark contrast between how law enforcement and the law in general treats Black people, Indigenous people, minorities, immigrants, refugees — that’s all come to light and at the forefront of the last four years. Whether it was the Muslim ban or with Black Lives Matter protests, children in cages — even though they were in cages during the Obama administration as well — it’s just all kind of in the spotlight with this previous administration. I’m less confident about what my role as a US citizen should be. I’m less confident about the kind of future that we’re hurtling toward; environmental disasters, crippling student loan debt, what kind of future are we trying to make our children inherit? The possibility of holding elected officials accountable seems less and less each day, and it’s incredibly sad and I hope that there’s a real concrete change that comes with this administration.
"There’s a bunch of people who decided to leave DC after last week’s events, and I thought about it, but wow, what a privilege to be able to even consider that option because my heart goes out to all the essential workers who have to deal with white supremacists in the areas that they work. They’re going to deal with added harassment on top of what the stress of their job already is going to be. How are they going to get to their jobs? Will they be paid overtime? Are they safe?"