News & Politics

“Let’s Wake Her Up”: How the Protest at Kirstjen Nielsen’s House Came Together So Quickly

Screenshot via Philip Lewis's video.

Heidi Hess didn’t come to DC to start a protest. As the co-director for mobile company CREDO Action, Hess periodically flies in from California to Washington to meet with progressive clients and manage accounts. But when she saw the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America confront Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen at a DC Mexican restaurant last Wednesday, she was inspired to move, and move quickly.

Motivated by the grassroots energy of the MXDC protests, Hess called as many allies as she could the following afternoon, including district-based DSA and advocacy partner Bend the Arc, to figure out a way to build on the activist momentum. Together, they figured that the only logical next step would be to bring the noise to Nielsen’s family home in Alexandria.

“The entire thing was super last-minute,” Hess says. “After DSA’s protest, we realized people were willing to get close and personal to [Nielsen.] So we thought ‘let’s wake her up. While she’s drinking her morning coffee, let’s make sure she knows we’re here.’”

A “graphics wizard” created jarring signage quickly, Hess says. Posters reading “RESIGN,” “Child Snatcher,” and “2,300 Children Ripped From Their Families, No Plan to Reunite Them” with the secretary’s face superimposed in red and orange were designed and printed overnight, ready for the two dozen or so protesters in the morning.

With all the protest basics—a personal location, loaded signs, a common enemy, and willing protests—all assembled, Hess and the rest of her team were ready to cause some trouble.

By 7:30 AM on Friday morning, nearly 30 individuals had gathered around Nielsen’s home and were marching and picketing in the rain. Secret Service flanked the embattled secretary’s home, though Hess says none gave the picketers any trouble.

She also says the neighbors didn’t seem to mind: Some, she says, joined the group. “Not a single neighbor expressed critique or concern.”

Protestors stood outside Nielsen’s Northern Virginia residence for nearly an hour. But even the most invigorated individual is no match for Mother Nature. As a passing rainstorm heightened in intensity, Hess decided to call it a day an hour after they arrived.

Hess muses that perhaps their last ditch event made a real splash.

“I don’t think she left after we did; her detail was there the entire time.”

The protests certainly caught major steam online, where videos and photos went viral within the hour. Yet, Hess was unable to catch wind of any of the response as she rushed to the airport to catch a flight back home to her far less rainy California.

Staff Writer

Brittany Shepherd covers the societal and cultural scene in political Washington. Before joining Washingtonian as a staff writer in 2018, Brittany was a White House Correspondent for Independent Journal Review. While she has lived in DC for a number of years now, she still yearns for the fresh Long Island bagels of home. Find her on Twitter, often prattling on about Frasier.