“When there’s civil unrest, people like to come and support small business.” In Washington DC, residents enjoy a Sunday afternoon reprieve while staying vigilant

Originally published in Insider on January 17, 2021.
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At the Dupont Circle farmers market on Sunday, Abbye Prelip, who traveled to Washington DC to sell vegetables, said she was keeping an eye out for “any crazies.” But apart from the enormous security presence in downtown, and some delays caused by road closures, the day had been uneventful, even busy.  

“We’ve come to the conclusion that, when there’s civil unrest, people like to come and support small business, which is really cool,” Prelip said. Shenandoah Seasonal, her business, is an organic farm about an hour-and-a-half away in Virginia. 

Washington DC was on high alert Sunday as anxious residents readied themselves for the unknown. With the city still reeling from the insurrection at the U.S Capitol, the FBI warned that violent protesters could take to the streets just days before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, and thousands of National Guard troops packed downtown. 

Sunday, Jan. 17 has been marked as a day for right-wing extremists to protest President Donald Trump’s defeat since at least late November. There were calls on Parler, a social media platform used by right-wing groups that has since been shut down, for a so-called “Million Militia March” on Sunday, and the New York Times reported the extremist Boogaloo movement was also planning rallies for the 17th. Appearing on Meet the Press on Sunday morning, the city’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, said she was concerned about attacks in residential neighborhoods, where there is less of a formal security presence. The mayor recently requested that businesses hang signs that stress weapons, “including concealed firearms” are not welcome on the premises.

But with the recent crackdown on right-wing organizing by tech companies like Facebook and Twitter, and the booting by Apple, Google and Amazon of the social networking app Parler, the warnings so far appeared to be mostly false alarms. By mid-afternoon, there was an eerie calm in the city of some 700,000 residents. The Washington Post reported that two people had been arrested, a woman for impersonating a police officer and a 22-year-old Virginia man who was reportedly carrying a Glock 22 firearm and ammunition. 

It was less than two weeks after President Donald Trump rallied his supporters to “Stop the Steal” and a mob stormed the Capitol building, overwhelming police and ransacking congressional offices. Federal prosecutors now say they have “strong evidence” the rioters intended to capture and assassinate members of Congress, and  in the days since local residents have witnessed a dramatic ramp-up in policing and security, including new fencing, barriers, and closures of subways, bike-shares, streetcars, stores, and restaurants. 

For now, people are continuing to make essential trips, like scheduling their vaccine appointments and stocking up on groceries. Few if any political protesters were seen around the city.

Back at the farmer’s market, Amanda Humphrey, working a stand for the D.C-based Little Wild Things farm, which sells microgreens, said their sales were actually up on a per-hour basis from the week before. “We thought that maybe it would be dead but traffic is pretty consistent and honestly I don’t notice a real difference,” she said.

Emily Zaas, co-owner of Black Rock Orchard, a family farm in Lineboro, Maryland, said she had been doing good business. Zaas recalled almost two decades ago when there were sniper attacks in the D.C region that killed ten people and critically wounded three more. “We were afraid then that people wouldn’t come out, that there’d be no business, but the markets were so busy that weekend,” she said. 

Maybe people were looking for “a reprieve,” she said. “It’s peaceful here.”

Even local composters didn’t pass up their opportunity to drop off food scraps, taking advantage of a weekly city-wide program that launched in 2017. At the Dupont market, volunteers confirmed their compost collection was not lower than a typical Sunday. “People have a habit, and we’re going to make it easy for them to keep that going,” said Read Scott Martin, a volunteer. “This is really a city that comes together when we’ve got pressure.”

Gannon Pitre, manning the Sexy Vegie stand at the Dupont Farmers Market, which sells plant-based vegan and vegetarian food, noted one of his colleagues from Maryland decided to stay home this week. And JC Clark, owner of Capitol Kettle Corn, a local popcorn vendor, said he got a call on Saturday asking if he wanted to launch a pop-up on Sunday, meaning there were some vacancies. Clark felt comfortable saying yes, noting his normal popcorn deliveries were more challenging with all the road closures across the city.

“Yesterday I had 38 popcorn deliveries and I finished only about 20 of them,” he said. “Getting around in a car was so hard.”

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