It was the latest socially distant protest in the District, where activists used to regular waves of demonstrations have been forced to show dissent in new ways amid stay-at-home orders and a climbing coronavirus death toll.
Thursday’s demonstration, organized in part by the liberal Center for Popular Democracy, began with a line of cars winding its way around the White House with their flashers on in what one organizer said was meant to resemble a funeral procession.
They called it “the people’s motorcade,” as sedans and SUVs wound through downtown with signs taped to windows and bumpers declaring, “Trump lies, people die,” and “Trump is the virus.” Others demanded more personal protective equipment such as masks and face shields for front-line workers.
“One of the saddest things about this epidemic is we’re dying alone, and we can’t memorialize and lift up someone’s life together in the way that we’re used to,” said Jennifer Flynn Walker, senior director of mobilization and advocacy for the Center for Popular Democracy’s action network. “So, we realized we’re not just going to do a car protest. We’re angry at Trump, but mostly we’re trying to save the lives of our neighbors and our friends.”
A golden-haired inflatable chicken built to resemble the president — known as the Trump chicken — joined the procession strapped to the back of a pickup.
After surrounding the White House, the cars drove down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Trump hotel, where several protesters pulled over and hoisted the homemade body bags from their cars.
They lined them up on the sidewalk outside the hotel as several demonstrators spoke.
Unlike typical rallies in which speakers address a crowd through megaphones or from a podium, activists listened to each other speak and shared their own stories over a Zoom call that allowed them to stay connected while remaining in their own cars.
Several demonstrators brought their children and families along for the ride.
Kristin Mink, a middle school teacher and longtime activist best known for her confrontation with former Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt, said she told her 4-year-old they were participating in a parade.
“We have now been home for almost a month, and it can feel very secluded. It’s so hard to have our voices heard in a way that feels tangible and physically fill the streets in a way that feels safe,” Mink said. “But the fact that I live in the D.C. area, I wanted to show up in a way that felt like we were still making a statement to the government. In a way that was putting people first.”
Though the number of passersby was limited, Flynn Walker said the group encountered one man who shouted at them as he filmed the cars. Most others — walking in the rain or driving in their own cars — offered gestures of encouragement, she said. Masked pedestrians raised their fists, other drivers honked their horns.
“When the president lies, people literally die, especially given his most recent advice that people drink disinfectant or inject it or whatever,” Flynn Walker said. “Something I learned in the HIV/AIDS epidemic is a virus really can be political. A nonresponse is akin to letting people die. And that’s the message we wanted to send.”