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From Lynchburg To D.C., Liberty University Students Travel To Witness History

Jan 20, 2017

All Things Considered co-host Ari Shapiro is on a road trip leading up to the inauguration of Donald Trump on Jan. 20. He is driving through North Carolina and Virginia, on the way to Washington, D.C. These are two swing states that went in opposite directions in November, each by a close margin: North Carolina for Trump, Virginia for Hillary Clinton. As the country faces dramatic changes, we're asking people what they want from that change — and what concerns them.

A group of about a dozen students from Liberty University gather in a parking lot in Lynchburg, Va., on Thursday, hours before the sun comes up.

The students at the conservative Christian school look ready for church: The men wear neckties; the women are in high heels.

Some of these students were first-time voters in November; one knocked on 10,000 doors for the Republican Party in Wisconsin.

All of them are Donald Trump fans, and they are heading to Washington, D.C., to watch his inauguration.

"I'm just super excited to get involved in politics and see something historical," says 18-year-old Andrew Watkins.

Kayla Bailey, also 18, says she hopes a Trump administration can bring some relief to West Virginia, her home state.

"We've seen a really big decline in our economy, and a lot of people are addicted to drugs and don't have any hope any more," she says. "And so I'd really like to see sort of my home state get better because after eight years it's been a really hard process to watch people suffer."

They pile into a caravan of cars, and after a four-hour drive from Lynchburg, the Washington monument appears on the horizon.

Use the audio link above to hear the full story.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Our co-host Ari Shapiro has been on a road trip this week, driving through North Carolina and Virginia. He's brought us the voices of people he met along the way. For the last leg of his journey, Ari traveled with a group of college students headed to Washington before the inauguration.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: We're in a parking lot in Lynchburg, Va., on Thursday hours before the sun comes up. About a dozen students from Liberty University are freshly scrubbed, looking ready for church - men in neckties, women in high heels.

This is a conservative Christian school. Some of these students were first-time voters in November. One said he knocked on 10,000 doors for the Republican Party in Wisconsin. All of them are Donald Trump fans. Andrew Watkins is 18.

ANDREW WATKINS: I'm just super excited getting involved in politics, and I'm really excited to see something historical.

(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE IGNITION)

SHAPIRO: We all pile into a caravan of cars, and after a four-hour drive from Lynchburg, the Washington Monument appears on the horizon. Eighteen-year-old Kayla Bailey says the site gives her goosebumps.

The students stretch their legs in front of the Greater New Hope Baptist Church downtown. And I asked Kayla the question we've been putting to everyone on this road trip. What are your hopes and fears for the Trump administration?

KAYLA BAILEY: I come from West Virginia. And so we've seen a really big decline in our economy, and a lot of people are addicted to drugs and just really have no hope anymore. And so I'd really like to see sort of my home state get better (laughter) because after eight years, I've just - it's been a really hard process to watch people suffer.

SHAPIRO: These college students are the youngest people by far in the long line waiting to get into the midday church service. Once worship is over, they all agree on the site they want to see next.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: We're going to Trump Hotel.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: We're walking to Trump Hotel.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yes.

SHAPIRO: There are barricades out in front. The street is closed. People have lined up taking pictures. This has become a tourist attraction in its own right.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Do one of you guys mind taking our picture?

WATKINS: It's super cool actually seeing it in person - the place that, like, I hear about on the news all the time. It's like oh, wow, I'm actually right here.

SHAPIRO: While they're taking their photos in front of this old stone building repurposed as a luxury Trump Hotel, one of them spots a sort of celebrity.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Jerry.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Jerry.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: It's Jerry.

SHAPIRO: It's Jerry Falwell, Jr., Liberty University's president, son of the school's founder.

JERRY FALWELL JR: Hey, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: How are you?

FALLWELL JR: Glad we ran into you.

SHAPIRO: Time for a decision. Plan A is the concert on the mall with Toby Keith, Three Doors Down and other entertainers. Plan B is Capitol Hill with a chance to meet a member of Congress and maybe even upgrade their tickets to get a better view of inauguration. They head for the Capitol.

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: Going up.

SHAPIRO: Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia does not disappoint.

BOB GOODLATTE: Hey, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #7: Hi.

GOODLATTE: Y'all looking forward to the inauguration?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Yes, Sir.

GOODLATTE: All right. Do we have tickets for everybody?

SHAPIRO: A Liberty graduate who works in the office plays the name game with the students. A couple of them know her brother. Just outside the building, a tall man approaches them. He offers little prayer cards. The students all sort of roll their eyes, trying to ignore him, but he won't go away.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: ...Knowing Jesus.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #8: We're actually from Liberty University, so...

UNIDENTFIED MAN #2: Are you? OK.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #8: Yeah, we definitely know Jesus. But thanks for the card anyway.

UNIDENTFIED MAN #2: Well, we need to pray...

SHAPIRO: It's early to bed Thursday night for these students and another very early morning on Friday. They meet in the hotel lobby well before dawn to get to the mall in time for inauguration.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #9: Getting ready to head out for the big day.

SHAPIRO: The hotel is in the Virginia suburbs, so the students have to figure out the Metro. Ben Solem, who's been to Washington before, is helping show people how to get into town. He takes a seat on the train.

BEN SOLEM: Growing up, my parents would quote to me that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. And it's true. That quote is lived out on many fronts here in Washington, D.C., every single day. It's cool to see it firsthand.

SHAPIRO: What's funny is that I think there will probably be marchers with that quote tomorrow who have the exact opposite opinion from...

SOLEM: Probably.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

BAILEY: Wow.

SHAPIRO: Coming out at the top of the escalators, Kayla Bailey confronts a noisy explosion of democracy.

BAILEY: There's a lot going on. There's protesters, and there's people expressing their opinion...

(LAUGHTER)

BAILEY: ...Very loudly. It's a bit confusing.

CODY CLINEBELL: And there's a lot of bullhorns, a lot of men trying to sell T-shirts, hats, and it's very chaotic.

SHAPIRO: Cody Clinebell, who's wearing a thin cardigan over his shirt and tie, is realizing that maybe he should have dressed more warmly. A few of them stopped to buy Trump scarfs and stocking caps to keep warm and have a souvenir.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: ...The other gate. We're shutting this one down, folks.

SHAPIRO: As the students turn to walk down another street, Cody passes a long line of uniformed officers with helmets, batons and shields.

CLINEBELL: It's sad, you know? Regardless of who you voted for, I think this is something that the nation needs to come together and do - is just love and forgive and let go.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Tickets out, please.

SHAPIRO: Finally, tickets in hand, the students reach their gate.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #10: We're definitely excited.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: It's going to be cool.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #10: We're ready...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: It's going to be cool.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #10: ...Ready to get in there and get started.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: All right, guys, let's go get it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #10: All right, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: See you.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #10: Thank you, guys. Bye.

SHAPIRO: They walk through onto the mall to watch Donald Trump take the oath of office.

SIEGEL: That's our co-host Ari Shapiro. The stories from his inauguration road trip were produced by Jinae West. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.