On January 24, 2017, we invited three Central Coast millennials to the KCBX studio to hear their about their experience traveling to Washington DC for the weekend of January 19-22. They went to document the presidential inauguration and the Women's March on Washington. Moreover, the trio - two current Cal Poly students and one recent Cal Poly graduate - went with a mission; to make a short film on the events they witnessed and the people they met along the way.
Nesrine Majzoub, Daniel Hornett and Michallynn Hoffman formed a production company called Yellow Glass Media. Majzoub and Hornett came to the KCBX studio and Hoffman joined in on the telephone from Modesto.
MART: Welcome to the KCBX studio. So, why did you go to Washington D.C.?
MAJZOUB: We went to Washington D.C. specifically to try and gauge how the inauguration was going; we thought it was a really unique time in history. And as storytellers and people that are trying to start making documentaries for a living, we wanted to go to Washington D.C. to kind of capture all of the things that were happening this weekend, and provide the perspectives of people on all sides of the political spectrum. We've seen a lot of media come out about this election season and about the inauguration that is very obviously left winged, or very obviously on the right. And so we wanted to try and do something that really focuses on telling the stories of the people that voted, and why they voted the way that they did and try and show all sides of things.
MART: You thought that you would encounter these people at the inauguration?
MAJZOUB: Yes, we wanted to go to inauguration to try and speak to people there, specifically people who were Trump supporters, as well as the Women's March…[and to cover] any riots and protests and events that happened throughout the weekend, as well as people on the on the left side of things.
MART: And how about yourself? [to Hornett] Any particular reason that you wanted to go?
HORNETT: I think coming out of this election, we saw the nation just become really divided and I was really confused about why things were feeling that way. And so I was looking for something to bring people back together and to look for something that we can use, moving forward, to curb some of that hateful energy and some of the negativity and move forward in a positive direction.
MART: Ok. And Michallynn, how come you wanted to go to the on this trip to D.C.?
HOFFMAN: I want to be able to talk to people themselves and not be living it through the newspaper. I wanted to see what emotions are going to be like at the event and get more of their perspective on why it was important for them to participate - however they chose to - during this election.
MART: You guys went with a particular project...what is that project?
HORNETT: So, out of this, we interviewed people at the inauguration and at the Women's March, and we're looking to create a short documentary with a unifying message. Within a couple of weeks we'll be releasing that video... should be something 10 to 12 minutes long... showing the the human side of both political parties and why we're feeling so divided. But then also showing that there's a room to come back together.
MART: And Michallynn, what is your role in this project?
HOFFMAN: I’m titled “the logistics master.” I help us get everything coordinated and organized.
MAJZOUB: Michallynn has also been a fantastic camerawoman this trip... since there was only two days - two or three days of filming - opposed to with our past documentaries, we had a month of filming so we really needed all hands on deck with with camera work and whatnot, and so Michallynn ended up being fantastic with that.
MART: From what I gathered, you went in the role of journalists, in that you wanted to get a fair and balanced viewpoint. Did you have an agenda?
MAJZOUB: We did our best, especially in interviewing folks and especially with this film, it’s our goal for it to not be possible for people to tell what we believe in politically. We didn't think that it would be really fair to the story that we're trying to capture if we were to impose our own beliefs upon it. And so it's really our goal to show all sides of things as best, as we can, with the footage that we captured.
MART: Did you find that you really had to break out of your comfort zone in terms of approaching people that maybe you wouldn't normally approach or were you just on a mission to get as many voices as possible?
HORNETT: Everyone that we talked to was very approachable and very interested in talking and sharing their beliefs. We had a really good experience talking to people on both sides; everyone was friendly and happy to speak with us. It was not so much stepping out of our comfort zone...it didn't require stepping out of our comfort zone as much as I expected it to. We did have to refrain from engaging in a conversation a few times on both sides, just to keep ourselves neutral, even though some of the people we were interviewing really were interested in engaging in more of that conversation with us, especially when they found out we were from California.
MART: Right. The governor's address just aired, and one of the commentators pointed out that four million more California voters voted for people other than Trump. Is that why - from California - you mean that they automatically assumed you to be ultra-liberal or left?
HORNETT: Yeah, especially at the inauguration event. As soon as we told people we were from California, they kind of had an understanding that we were probably liberal-leaning, but they also... that didn't scare them. It actually made a lot of people ask us more questions about how we feel being there, and what we're seeing and what we're thinking.
MAJZOUB: A lot of people seemed one, really surprised but also really enthusiastic about a potential piece of film that is showing both sides of things. Because I would imagine a lot of the media that will come out from this weekend, that isn't directly tied to a news source, will be just like this is what the liberals are doing or this is what the conservatives are doing. And so a lot of people were like, wow, you're from California and you're doing this, that's really neat. What do you think about this? And I think that was a really cool experience to just be having those conversations with people that I wouldn't have met or talked to, people living in states that I've never traveled to. It was a really unique experience for us to engage in those conversations. And for us, we weren't there to debate or really to share our thoughts on it. We were just there to capture their thoughts on it. But it was still so unique just to sit there and be able to listen. And some of the moments were a bit trying, where in my head, I was like, ‘no, I don't agree with that.’ These are all the reasons why I think that's wrong, is what I'm thinking out in my head, but it was still so unique. To be able to see the people behind the votes, and to understand why they vote the way that they do, and it definitely brought out a lot more empathy in my mind for people on either sides.
HORNETT: And it definitely made me want to engage in those kinds of conversations with people more, because it seemed like they were so willing and interested in having those conversations and being open to hearing from the other side. And that made me a lot more comfortable moving forward. I think asking people about stuff like that.
MART: Great. OK. And Michallynn, what about yourself?
HOFFMAN: Yeah like Nesrine, I had to hold my tongue a couple of times. Because there were other questions I wanted to ask, delve more into, that weren’t quite on our target list for questions. Gee, I could have spent, you know, an hour talking to each person instead of five to ten minutes. It's so interesting to have a quick connection with people and be able to have that dialogue really comfortably, which is really an inspiring experience.
MART: Sticking with you, since you're the logistics person, let's start with the moment you touched down in D.C.; bring me along with you on your journey.
HOFFMAN: Well, we ended up touching down in Newark, New Jersey because it was much cheaper and then got a rental car...at Hertz we were greeted by the ladies, ‘so you have the smallest and cheapest car? Yep, that's us.’ And then because we're all under 25, only one of us was allowed to drive the rental car. So I drove us down, for I guess about four hours. Nesrine was my mighty navigator. And then we made it into Bethesda, where we met up with Andrew Robinson, who is a Cal Poly graduate and is now working for a congressman in D.C. We stayed at his family's house. And then that evening we went into D.C., saw everyone setting up and took some cool shots of the Capitol building and the Mall as it was getting dark.
MART: And this is Thursday night?
HOFFMAN: This is Thursday night, and we had left Wednesday around 11:00 p.m. out of SFO.
MART: OK, then, Nesrine, take it up from Friday morning?
MAJZOUB: Friday morning we woke up, don't remember what time it was but we woke up pretty early to try and get to inauguration on time. I think we were running a bit late that morning and stressing out...do we have all the equipment we need? Do we have everything that's going to get past TSA? Which Metro route should we take? And so Andrew - the person that we were staying with - was a huge help, just because he knew the area, he knew which Metro station would be the least busy and he was a really a big help to us and so we got on the Metro. It wasn't as crowded as we thought it would be. Got on the Metro just fine, got off the Metro just fine. There were a lot of gates - kind of protecting protesters from getting into the ticketed area. There was a lot of protesters coming through. So we had to walk a roundabout way to get to our ticketed section for the inauguration. And once we got there we went through TSA, and TSA took more things than we thought they would... because we thought we had looked at the list quite thoroughly, but apparently we couldn't take our hard water bottles in and they took away our extra batteries, for our Tascam audio recorder, which was a bit of a point of stress. You know, they didn't say they would take those things but...
MART: Why do you think they took those?
MAJZOUB: I don't know. They sent out a list of things not to bring into the ticketed areas, but TSA and the police officers must have changed their mind. I guess for safety reasons of some sort, which can’t argue with too much, it was a safe event, and that's really what matters. But it was stressful getting through, making sure we had everything we needed. And from there we started interviewing people as they're walking into the ticketed section. There was just a sea of red hats and it was full of Trump supporters and from what I saw, I don't feel that we really encountered many, if any, liberals that were in the ticketed section for inauguration. I'm sure there were more in the public area, but we interviewed a bunch of folks for the couple of hours that we had before the ceremonies really began, and then settled into our ticket area to watch the event happen. And then I interviewed a couple of folks after inauguration was over. And then we took a lunch break, and that's when the riots started to happen. And so we decided - if we're going to be journalists this weekend, we might as well go towards the danger. And so we took the Metro down to where the protests were happening and stayed that the riots for a while to get some footage of what was happening down there.
MART: OK. And tell me about that, why were the riots happening?
HORNETT: ] It was really interesting, it wasn't organized in any way at all. It was a lot of people with a lot of different movements all coming together and protesting together.
MAJZOUB: We saw a lot of signs...Free Palestine signs…
HORNETT: Black Lives Matter...
MAJZOUB: Tons of different social agendas in people's minds. By the time we got there, it was also I think simmering down a bit. We had already seen on the news, when we were on our way there, that people had already started to get arrested. And we had seen some people leaving the area, but there was still a few hundred people sticking around and protesting, and the riot police were there and whatnot. But it was pretty chaotic by the time we got there.
HORNETT: Yeah, we did walk up and there were people burning Trump T-shirts in trash cans in the middle of the street. And so we were looking at that and getting footage of the crowd surrounding them, and I turned around, and a police van pulled up and as soon as it stopped, I heard this big crash...the windshield of the police van had been shattered and then it floored it in reverse, the tires screeching. And luckily no one was behind it. No one was hurt but that was that was a real moment of chaos for me. That was when the riot police started to come into that scene, and the protesters sort of moved down the block. So we moved with them. And things were were fairly peaceful from there. I think that the violence was really just a small number of people.
MAJZOUB: There was one person wearing an Anonymous mask, just kind of standing in the middle of an intersection and holding an American flag, and it was a really interesting moment. Most of the time, though, people are really just wearing gas masks to protect themselves from whatever might come out of the riot police. And because of the inherent violence of that time of the riot, there were lots of people with scarves or bandanas around their face, a few gas masks here and there.
HOFFMAN: Yes. And then after that we split up into two groups and Nesrine and Dan were getting an interview across the street. Andrew and I were hanging out and waiting for them to rejoin us. And then all of a sudden we see a pack of people sprinting in one direction. Of course, we sprint with them and then all across the block, there was smoke over the entire intersection, and it was really eerie because we didn't know what was causing the smoke... if it was a bomb or something on fire. And it turned out that a limousine had been set on fire, and then tear gas and concussion bombs were set off after that. So it was one of the most wild experiences that I've been in...it really felt apocalyptic. News cameras are rushing in, and you know, people are flooding the streets and more riot police are showing up, and it was really dramatic.
MART: So you saw a lot of other journalists that were covering this?
HOFFMAN: I think there were some from CNN. There was one guy from NPR. Unidentified crews but they had better cameras than we did.
MAJZOUB: It's also interesting, [at the Women's March] we were in a media booth and whatnot for people with press passes, but at the riots it was just kind of free for all, go wherever you wanted, take the footage that you need … and so it was interesting. I would say at least 30 percent of the people that we encountered at the riot were having cameras and likely for a media outlet of some sort. I remember there was a couple of protesters that were trying to get a chant going, and they stared at all of us - a line of cameras - saying we don't want people taking pictures, we want people to protest with us. The day and age of being able to cover events so quickly and take photos digitally and record audio digitally or lots of people doing Facebook Live videos... just being able to cover that immediately. It was a good chunk of people doing that rather than actually protesting, which was kind of an interesting side story.
MART: Right. So it's almost like there it's a small group of protesters and then a large group of media.
HORNETT: Right. That's really what it felt like.
MART: OK, let's move on. What happened next?
HORNETT: We called it a night after the riots, we had our fill of the excitement, so went home and rested. And then the next morning, we were heading to the Women's March. We didn't get quite as early of a start as we did on Friday, but we headed down to the same metro station in Bethesda. And where we had no problem getting into the Metro for the inauguration ceremony - [on the day of the Women’s March] the line was around the block to get into the Metro building at that stop...filled with people with pink hats and signs, and I saw a little boy holding a sign that said ‘I heart my nasty mom.’ It was incredible to see the amount of support and the energy that was at that event. Even at this stop, not even in the same state.
MART: So did you have to wait to get on the Metro?
MAJZOUB: We took a $50 Uber, we split it with some of the people that we were traveling with, and even that Uber ride took at least 30-40 minutes to get into an area that would be walkable from where the march was happening... just because there was a lot of police closures because the president and maybe the vice president were doing a prayer service on Saturday morning because there was a nice church nearby... and so there was a lot of areas that were closed and roped off so that we couldn't have that Uber driver couldn't drive us to where we needed to go. And there was a lot of traffic as well. But we made it to the march on time. If we had to wait in the lines for the Metro I don't think we would have made it, truthfully. And then we got to the area where the women's march was happening. And Michallynn, take it from there.
HOFFMAN: Yeah, it was night and day difference between the energy that we had felt that inauguration, versus the energy we felt at the riot, and then coming into the march because there were hundreds of thousands of people there, it was hard to even walk down the street... everyone smiling and there is babies there, there is old ladies in wheelchairs. And hanging out and chatting and they were having their voice heard and not an ounce of violence or hostility. I think it was about 500,000 people in D.C. for the march that day and zero arrests, versus the riot...maybe a thousand - probably less than that - and 272 arrests.
MART: That is dramatic. OK. What's your takeaway from the totally night and day difference?
MAJZOUB: I think the night and day of the energy was also- we have to, at least, relate part of that to us having a bias with supporting the Women's March, I want to acknowledge that bias at the very least - but the energies were extremely different. It was very pleasant and positive... and people at the inauguration were having a really good time; people there that wanted to support Donald Trump were having a great time. It seemed a lot of positive energy there as well. But I think coming out of the weekend, as a whole, it was just so valuable to speak to people on all sides. And I think that's something that I hadn't really done too much of. I think most of my sphere of friendships are usually around the same types of political beliefs. And so it was really interesting to hear all sides of it and try to empathize and connect that way and I think there is just so much disconnect that we heard from people on the left versus people on the right and vice versa... where those conversations aren't really happening... which is totally understandable because it's so difficult to have these conversations when people really believe something that deeply... but to be able to just listen to other people and see the value in having those conversations was, I think, really important to me on a personal level.
HORNETT: And I think moving forward, I really saw a lot of room for conversation. When we were talking to a lot of the Trump supporters, the things that they were bringing up, what they were looking forward to, was this political outsider coming into office, and returning the power to the people as they see it. You know - bringing jobs back, taking care of our country first. And these are the things that were important to them, whereas when we were at the Women's March, it was so much more about the social policy issues, and the language that our new president has been using. And so I don't think that these things are mutually exclusive at all. I think that there's a lot of room where people can come together and we can acknowledge that both might be a positive thing. People are just so separated by what they think of the other side, that they're not even having these conversations yet.
HOFFMAN: Being able to recognize people’s humanness, regardless of how they voted, and to realize that everyone is going about life the best they can, and in a way that protects the people that they love. And that's what it comes down to... it’s not out of disgust for other people, it’s out of the desire for their own lives to be bettered.
MART: So wrapping up, what do you really want to convey?
HORNETT: I saw a sign at the march that I think kind of sums it up for me and that's ‘Bring Politics to the Dinner Table.’ Don't be afraid to have those conversations that might be uncomfortable, and that might put you in a position that you're not used to being in, or you might have to confront something kind of ugly. But you also might have to question your own beliefs, and you might come out of it with at least with a new understanding, if nothing else. And that's what I took away from it this weekend, and that's what I hope that our project can bring. I hope that our project is the first step in starting those conversations, and gets people to recognize that that is a valuable thing and it's ok.
MAJZOUB: I think a lot of what I learned this weekend was that there are very good reasons for people to be angry politically at the other side or at the administration for whatever reasons. And I think while we talk so much about trying to compromise and communicate with each other, with our film that we're trying to put together, it's not to invalidate those feelings, because there are some very, very real reasons for people to be angry on either side of the matter. But I think recognizing the fear that we both have on either sides. A lot of people on both sides of the political spectrum were afraid of a lot of different things and kind of recognizing that fear, recognizing the anger, and just trying to seek out next steps for unification. Because it's easy to talk about, oh how are we going to unite our country, but what are we actually going to do about it? So I think the first step is really just having those conversations, even if they're tough or they require a lot of listening. I think listening is sometimes the biggest part because it helps you understand the other side... and it's more impetus for you to be listened to next as well.
MART: And Michallynn?
HOFFMAN: What Nesrine and Dan said.. talk and listen. And I think also, make the effort to be informed because there's so many choices for where you can get your news sources. And it's important to go beyond, maybe what you're comfortable reading or what makes sense to you. And try to get a better understanding of what other people are learning.