Stories from our Alumnae Community
For the last year, we have been publishing our "Sharing Our Stories" series, designed to show how our AADC alumnae sisters are dealing with the changes in their lives resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and today's critical issues. This special story and photography are shared by Bonnie Gutman '72. We broadened our scope to include the extended length of this story and its accompanying photos because of the historic nature of the moments it captures. Here is her story, shared on February 4, 2021.
Please share YOUR story with your alumnae sisters by submitting your story to us at douglassalumnae@douglassalumnae.org.
Three Wednesdays in January

Bonnie Gutman ’72 Shares Her Story and Photos*
January 2021 immediately resembled that dreadful year 2020. During the first three Wednesdays of the new year, rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, a President was impeached, and a newly-elected President was inaugurated in a somewhat less than peaceful “peaceful transition of power.” History had conspired once again to position Washington, D.C., at the center of the news universe.  

My hometown since 1993, Washington, D.C., is always an exciting city. Politics aside, we proud residents enjoy great restaurants, world class cultural activities, outstanding educational institutions and winning sports teams. We are prepared for just about anything – from demonstrations to hurricanes – but like the rest of the country, we were stunned by what we saw happening in our backyard on those three Wednesdays.

My husband and I had moved back to D.C. in 2014 after multiple overseas assignments with the U.S. Department of State. Whether in “tough” places like Pakistan or more “peaceful” assignments like Malaysia, we had witnessed huge demonstrations of protestors sometimes shouting, “death to America,” but we had never witnessed this level of domestic hostility and rage. 

So, on a near daily basis in January, I set out to walk my town with my trusty camera swinging from my shoulder. My super zoom lens gave me a close-up view without getting too close for comfort. Here is some of what I saw and felt during that tumultuous month.
The first sign that something ominous was brewing was that businesses and institutions began boarding up their windows and storefronts. Here, plywood protects the pyramid-shaped glass skylights just outside the West Wing of the National Gallery of Art
The pandemic had emptied our streets for months on end, but just a day or two before that first Wednesday in January, tens of thousands of protestors gravitated to the nation’s capital. 
Thousands gathered at the Ellipse in front of the White House to hear speeches on that first Wednesday in January and then marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol. Flags were almost as ubiquitous as people. 
Some protestors breached the Capitol Building and climbed onto the portico where viewing stands had been constructed for the Inauguration. From four blocks away, I captured this photo of a rioter spraying chemical irritants on Capitol Police stationed one level below. 
The attack on the Capitol was horrendous. Five people died as a result of the violence of the terrorists.
A makeshift memorial appeared for Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who lost his life while defending the Capitol. Originally from South River, N.J., Sicknick had been a staff sergeant in the New Jersey National Guard. 
Yellow roses inserted in a barrier fence honored Sicknick and the other four who lost their lives during the assault. 
In the days following the attack, the city and nation mourned as the heart of our democracy and our city had been desecrated. In belated response, massive amounts of fencing, barricades, and barriers of all kinds surrounded the Capitol and other government buildings. Our free and open democracy was still free, but not quite so open, at least physically.  
It became nearly impossible to view the Capitol directly; fencing of one kind or other obscured just about every view. Here, the People’s House, as the Capitol is known, stands behind two rows of visible fencing. Just out of sight stood scores of armed military guards. 
The U.S. Capitol Building, the seat of the government’s legislative branch, sits behind fencing assessed to be technically unscalable. This fencing will remain in place until at least the end of March.
After the riots on that first Wednesday, thousands of National Guard troops were assigned to protect the area from more violence. In the end, more than 25,000 National Guard troops arrived to support the Capitol Police in protecting the Capitol and other government facilities. We had become a city under siege.

Virtually every intersection in the downtown area was blocked by military trucks and guarded by police or members of the National Guard. Bridges into the city were sealed off. Streets were open only to local residents who could prove residency. One afternoon, it took us more than two hours to maneuver a 1.5-mile crosstown route that would normally take 15 minutes. 

After the riots, our mayor issued a city-wide curfew and asked all residents and visitors to avoid the National Mall and Capitol area on the day of the Inauguration. We would not be permitted to access the areas that would normally be brimming with joyful citizens gathered to witness and savor the peaceful transfer of Presidential power.  
Thousands of National Guard troops arrived from 19 U.S. states to protect the Capitol in light of continuing threats. 
These young troops were happy to allow their picture to be taken, while helping assure that the workings of our democracy would continue despite earlier disruptions and continuing threats.  
I enjoyed chatting with the troops and thanking them for their service. They were happy to engage. Sadly, few knew the importance of the buildings and streets they were assigned to protect. I pointed out several landmarks and they welcomed this new knowledge. I was glad to help them embellish the stories they would tell of this deployment when they returned back home.  

After the second Wednesday of January, Impeachment Wednesday, attention returned to inaugural preparation for January 20. 
Walking by the Capitol, I watched and heard an Army Brass Ensemble practice, and even got to listen as JLo rehearsed her striking rendition of “America, the Beautiful.”
After a calm and beautiful third Wednesday and a new President was sworn in, D.C. and the country breathed a sigh of relief that the violence of two Wednesdays prior had not returned to disrupt inaugural proceedings.  
These spectacular Ceremonial flags – the Betsy Ross flag of 1777 (the two flags with stars in a circle) and the “Star Spangled Banner” flag of 1794 (the two with 15 stars and 15 stripes) – provided the historic backdrop to the Inauguration of a new President and Vice President.
Practically overnight, there appeared a stunning display of more than 200,000 flags to fill the space on the National Mall where viewers would usually stand to observe the Presidential swearing-in.  What genius: the Inauguration would take place not in front of roaring crowds, but in front of waving flags in a “Field of Flags” from 50 states, Washington, D.C., and five US territories!  What a meaningful audience and spectacular view!
Some of the flags that comprised the Field of Flags were still standing and visible to passersby the morning after the Inauguration, barricaded behind fences and protectors. 
The day after the Inauguration, crews immediately began to disassemble the flags and much of the fencing, but the security situation remained tenuous, so the barbed wire and other barricades protecting the Capitol are to remain until at least the end of March. Locals are not alone in bristling against any barrier to the People’s House, but security is paramount.  
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With a parting glance, this is a visual we no longer wish to see in D.C., or any other city in the U.S. But as a sad fall-out from those fateful three Wednesdays in January, such precautions are understood and even appreciated.
Bonnie Gutman ’72 was a Spanish-Education major at Douglass College. She spent a good part of her career in the U.S. State Department and is a long-time resident of Washington, D.C. She enjoys taking pictures of the sights and events in D.C. She is a supporter of the AADC and has attended her Class Reunions, and she still has her dink!

*Opinions and views expressed here are those of the author.