Washington D.C. prepares for election night unrest

The nation’s capital was quiet Monday as businesses boarded up, preparing for potential unrest as Election Day approaches.


Katie Goodale

The Jefferson Memorial sits empty in Washington DC on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. With the elections only one day away, many downtown businesses have boarded up their storefronts and are listed as closed. Residents have heard rumors asking them to stock up on groceries for the next week in anticipation of riots. There were few tourists gathered on the National Mall as the Smithsonian museums limit tickets due to COVID-19.

Rylee Wilson, News Editor

The Ethics & Politics Initiative, a donor-funded enterprise of The Daily Iowan, sent a photographer and editor to Washington D.C. to capture the nation’s capital on election night.

WASHINGTON — Geneva Conrad Arrízon Pfifer, a student at American University in Washington D.C., made her way to Black Lives Matter Plaza on Monday, hoping to see some of the energy in the city ahead of Election Day – but the boarded up windows in the city made her nervous for what could come Tuesday night.

“At American University I think we’re all hoping for the best but expecting the worst,” she said. “I mean if you walk a two-block mile radius, it’s all boarded up. It’s kind of scary – it looks like “The Purge”. This isn’t supposed to be what reality is like, but unfortunately it is and it’s kind of hard to comprehend.”

Washington D.C. was quiet in the hours before Election Day, with tourists kept away by the pandemic and many of the city’s famous landmarks and the capitol complex blocked off.

“I just wanted to come see what all the commotion was. Tomorrow is Nov. 3, a pretty big day for our country’s history,” Arrízon Pfifer, 20, said. “I’m not sure if I feel comfortable coming out tomorrow, but I wanted to come out today and show my support.”

The White House was hardly visible through a tall fence that surrounded the perimeter of property, which has been in place since protesters took to the streets in June. Businesses across town braced for possible protests in the wake of Tuesday’s election, boarding up doors and some closing for the day.

At Black Lives Matter Plaza, a barrier has blocked the view of the White House since June. The fence has become a memorial wall commemorating the lives of Black Americans killed by police, where protestors have placed signs, flowers, photos, and posters.

While a few people had gathered in protest in front of the wall on Monday, they were far outnumbered by the few dozen reporters in the area.

Nadine Seiler, 55, from Waldorf, Maryland, said she stood outside the fenced-in White House to protest racial injustice and the Trump administration, and to tend to the pictures and art on the fence five days a week.

On Election Day, she said she plans to protest in front of the White House, but she expects protests no matter the outcome at the polls.

“Regardless of what happens, people are going to come out,” she said. “I don’t condone the violence, I myself am not going to be involved in the violence, but I understand people protest however they need to protest, if it is a legitimate redress.”

Some on the streets in Washington were concerned Trump would claim victory in the election before results from battleground states indicate a clear winner.

“I know he’s going to try to claim victory,” Seiler said. “If at any point he’s ahead, I expect him to claim he won. His people, the Fox News and the right-wing people, are going to run with it.”

David Mastio, Deputy Editorial Page Editor for USA Today and a staunch conservative, told the DI a landslide victory for Biden could quell some unrest. Mastio said, in his opinion, Trump is a threat to democracy.

“I’m hoping that Biden wins big, and in that case I don’t think there will be very much unrest. If Biden doesn’t win big, Trump is able to claim victory on election night before millions of votes have been counted, and they’re democratic leading votes that haven’t been counted,” he said. “I think there is going to be unrest and maybe violence. I think the small business owners who are boarding up in D.C. probably have their finger on the pulse of what the public’s feeling better than people who live up in ivory towers like me.”

Gail Choate, 62, from Boca Raton, Florida, took in the sights at the plaza on Monday. She said she traveled to the nation’s capital to witness history in the making.

“I feel like these elections are really, really important, not just in terms of who wins, but our whole system,” she said. “So, I didn’t want to be sitting on my couch texting friends Tuesday night. I thought ‘where do I want to be when the results are coming out?’ And the answer was in front of the White House.”

Johan Bergenas, a University of Iowa alum working at Waxman Strategies in Washington D.C., said he’s worried about the safety of those around him in the capital city – and that the country could be reaching a point of no return.

“People feel mistreated and they feel persecuted. They feel like they’re not getting a fair shot and they take it out on the streets,” he said. “Generally speaking, we are good to pacify that after a few weeks. The question is where do we go from there? Where do we go from cities being destroyed, people being in fistfights, people all over this country having seen the clashes and align themselves with one side or the other. Where do we go from there – if that were to happen?”

Stay tuned for updates throughout the coming days.