Washington, DC — A spectacular banner drop took place at Union Station on January 20 when two women climbed flag poles and strung wires between them. “Don’t Trump Our Communities #BlackLivesMatter #J2018” billowed in the breeze in front of the iconic rail station edifice while tourists and travelers snapped pictures with cellphones.
Police arrested both climbers, Emmelia Talarico and Kolence Fonce, and took them into custody after they completed the banner drop and voluntarily descended. Police also arrested four supporters assisting from below.
The action was held on the anniversary of the Donald Trump’s inauguration, when 234 protesters were rounded up and arrested. While charges were dropped for some, prosecutors pursued multiple felony charges against about 200 hundred people. Fifty-nine of them are still fighting to defend themselves against decades-long prison sentences.
Banner drop organizers Defend J20, Black Lives Matter DMV, SURJ and No Justice No Pride also focused on Black women as prime movers out in front of the struggle for equality and liberation. They linked the election of the country’s 45th president last year with the rise of white supremacy and fascism.
The banner drop took over an hour to complete. While the two climbers inched safely up the flag poles, separated by a guide wire, about 75 allies occupied the space under the banner. Police responded and threatened arrests after marking off the area with yellow tape. After a brief discussion, activists and J20 allies agreed to leave the cordoned area once the banner was unfurled and police read a second warning over a bullhorn. They left the area and went on a short protest march around Columbus Circle, returning to watch the climbers come down from the flag poles. After they descended, DC firemen used a ladder truck to remove the ropes and banner.
Allies gave out cupcakes in support of the action with J20 messages on mini flags about the ongoing Inauguration trials. The action was not only in response to the arrests of 234 protesters during the inauguration resistance protests, but also to illuminate the struggle of Black women in DC communities.
April Goggins said that the banner drop should cause people to stop and “see and ask questions about what J20 is and what happened to the J20 defendants” arrested on January 20 last year. “Fighting against fascism also means not falling victim to being quiet,” she said. “Sometimes it’s made to chill is to saying we’d think twice about resisting.”
The banner drop action was also to let police know that the coalition of groups that organized it are not intimidated despite the mass arrest at the inauguration. “Part of this is to tell the police we’re going to come out in force. We know they weren’t going to like this,” said Goggins. And to the police, she said directly, “A year ago, you tried to scare us into not resisting anymore–and it didn’t work.”
Those arrested were charged with failing to obey a police order, a misdemeanor, but were released from custody by Saturday evening.
The first jury trial for six defendants from the J20 arrests was held last month, and concluded with a not guilty verdict for all of them on all counts. Last week, prosecutors dropped charges against 129 defendants. There are still 59 defendants awaiting trial.