Student journalists head to D.C. to cover inauguration, protests

Senior Kayla McDowell: “It was an amazing experience. It changed me as a person.”
An anarchist has his eyes washed out with milk after being pepper sprayed by police during the anti-fascist, anti-capitalist black bloc protest in Washington, D.C. on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. Milk is used by protesters because it helps to counteract the burning effects of pepper spray. Photographer Michael Cali is an MU student who traveled to Washington D.C. for the weekend to cover the inauguration, riots, and the Women's March. Photo by Michael Cali

Just a few days before the inauguration, senior Kayla McDowell received a story assignment from her editor at the Columbia Missourian. McDowell, who had never covered a large protest or rally, was asked to cover the Women’s March in Washington, D.C.

The Women’s March attracted an estimated half a million people, according to The New Yorker. People from across the country showed up in support of gender and racial equality, LGBTQ issues, immigration rights and other social justice issues.

“I was really excited,” McDowell said. “I’ve never done anything like this. I’ve never been to a huge march, and this was a huge, huge march.”

McDowell, who is studying magazine writing, joined a bus full of women and men and rode across the country to Washington, D.C.

“There were women there that had done marches all the time, and there were women there who haven’t done a single march in their lives,” McDowell said. “It was just a huge deal for them to be able to go so far away and to do something that went with their beliefs. There was a whole lot of energy on that bus.”

Though McDowell focused her story on the Columbia women who were making the journey to D.C., she also had the opportunity to cover the march as a whole.

“I think in itself, the march was about passion,” McDowell said. “All these people that had different beliefs. It wasn’t just a march against Trump, it was a march fighting for what these women and men believed in.”

As a student journalist, McDowell used this moment as a chance to learn.

“It was an amazing experience,” McDowell said. “It changed me as a person. I just hope that I can continue growing and knowing what it means to be a journalist, but also a journalist with morals.”

McDowell was joined by several other student journalists from the Missourian, including those working at the D.C. bureau. Senior Michael Cali also drove to D.C. to cover the inauguration and surrounding protests.

Cali, who is studying photojournalism, has covered similar events in the past, namely the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. With his prior experience, Cali knew he had to attend this event with an open mind.

“I made a point not to expect anything,” Cali said. “I just went into it with an understanding of the political climate that is existing and surrounding the inauguration, but I went into it with an open attitude.”

On Thursday, Cali awoke at 3 a.m. to drive the 14 hours to D.C. He covered riots, the inauguration and the Women’s March, then drove through the night to get back to Columbia.

“I had never been to a march this big,” he said. “I got to see the swearing-in of a new president, a president that has caused a lot of controversy in the last election cycle, and then I was in the middle of these riots that were going on in the city.”

While covering riots that broke out surrounding the inauguration, Cali heard police warn the protesters to move, or they would be hit with pepper spray. They were blocking the entryways to the ceremony, which prompted the police involvement.

“I made the decision to stand still because I was taking a picture,” he said. “As soon as I stood up, the pepper spray just started.”

Cali sought the help of “street medics,” protesters with medical training.

“They poured milk and water on my face and wiped my eyes out, flushed my eyes out and got me all squared away so that I could get back to shooting,” Cali said.

He still views the opportunity to cover these events as a positive learning experience.

“I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything,” he said. “I’m excited to keep covering this country over the next four years.”

Edited by Madi McVan |

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