Washington, DC; Jan. 21, 2005 – They came to express outrage at President George W. Bush and his administration and, with few exceptions, protesters attending the counter-inaugural events in Washington, DC yesterday said they were happy with the turnout, including the number and variety of demonstrations.
From morning onward, demonstrators encountered the same dilemma as journalists trying to cover them: the schedule was jam-packed with competing events. Some expressed wishes that organizers from the numerous groups hosting or leading actions and other affairs had better coordinating their efforts.
Still, participants were happy to blow off steam and have what little say in the event that they were allowed by a massive security force and the media focused almost exclusively on the main spectacles: a colorful parade, the official swearing in and numerous gala happenings attended by the rich and famous.
Meanwhile, attendance at protests and other "counter-inaugural" events topped most participantsâ€™ expectations, with impromptu marches occurring throughout the day and continuing well into the evening.
One of the largest events was a permitted rally and march hosted by the DC Anti-War Network (DAWN) and supported by Code Pink, Mobilization for Global Justice, and several other anti-war groups. At around 9 a.m. people began assembling at Meridian Hill Park in Northwest DC -- renamed Malcolm X Park by locals -- to hear speeches, put together hundreds of cardboard coffins, wander about chatting with like-minded people or hawking buttons and other anti-Bush and anti-war merchandise. By ten, the number of rally attendees had at least tripled, with one DAWN organizer estimating the crowd at over 3,000.
â€œIâ€™m here to voice my opposition to this administrationâ€™s policy of war, occupation and destruction.â€ --Michael Berg, Columbia, SC
While the "1,000 Coffins" contingent went about covering each with black cloth or an American flag, a crew of about 50 people dressed in black with their faces mostly obscured gathered nearby around an orange banner reading "No More Presidents" as they eyed District police cars parked on the grass. Requests for comment on what they planned were met with "no thanks" from one member of the group, who seemed generally disinterested in talking to the media.
People working on the coffins were more open to press queries. Michael Berg of Columbia, South Carolina and Silver Spring, Maryland resident Jim Preston both spoke about the importance of protesting the presidentâ€™s second inauguration.
"Iâ€™m here to voice my opposition to this administrationâ€™s policy of war, occupation and destruction," said Berg, the director of the Carolina Peace Resource Center. "Pretty much everything this president does and stands for, Iâ€™m against."
Berg rode a train into DC specifically to attend protests and said he would have been disappointed in himself had he not attended. Prestonâ€™s take, if not the commute from his home in a DC suburb, was similar.
â€œEverybody over here wants liberation. Itâ€™s not just about Bush, itâ€™s about the whole system.â€ --'Blood Red', protester
"I want to voice my opposition to the Bush agenda," he said as he folded the sides of a cardboard coffin effigy. "I think these coffins are a meaningful component to the protest march. Weâ€™re actually talking about people dying. Iâ€™m sure CNN and Fox and the other networks are kind of laughing at us, but just because Bush won the election doesnâ€™t mean heâ€™s right. You donâ€™t get to vote on the truth."
The park was filled with a variety of people. There were signs protesting war, the president and the election. There were others showing support for gay rights, abortion rights and the populations of other nations, especially Iraqis. A handful of people wandered about with orange flags as a reminder of what a determined populace recently accomplished in the Ukraine.
One of the larger demographic groups represented was that of college students. Some drove with friends, others came with student associations or other campus groups, and one -- a group 200 strong -- came on four busses rented by the university they attend.
"We just hate Bush more than anything in the world," explained Lisa, a University of Michigan student. "I think this rally is pretty good and I canâ€™t wait to see the coffins carried down the street. Most of all, itâ€™s great to see people in my age group doing something."
Lisa said the university sponsored the trip. And though it was to be a bi-partisan journey, she said only a few Bush supporters chose to take the twelve-hour ride. They arrived at five in the morning and would be leaving at five that evening.
While many of the protesters were not tied to one specific issue, a group of four local African American teens, who said they had never attended a protest before, showed up to express concern about the presidentâ€™s plan to partially privatize Social Security.
â€œWe need to create chaos in the streets, just like we did during the Vietnam War.â€ --Kathy Castania, Rochester, NY
"I think his [Social Security] plan is the same as robbery," said Scott. "By the time Iâ€™m old enough to retire, there wonâ€™t be anything for me." His friend Josh agreed, adding "itâ€™s really hard to find out the facts."
Josh said he liked the feeling of unity at the park and thinks it is a good thing he and his friends came to check out the protest.
Meanwhile, organizers of "The Cost of War: the Price Weâ€™re All Paying" forum at the Foundry United Methodist Church said they were overwhelmed by the turnout. According to Debbie Churchman of Northern Virginians for Peace, only a handful of people were expected. Instead, several extra chairs had to be brought into the second floor room as well over 200 people came to hear speakers talk about the effects of war in economic and personal terms. Among the speakers were Celeste Zappala and Sue Neiderer, both mothers who have lost sons in the Iraq war and members of Military Families Speak Out.
As the panel discussion wound down, the march toward the inaugural parade route began, heading down 16th street from the park. Several smaller "feeder marches" joined in along the route.
"Iâ€™m surprised at how large this is," said Boston, MA resident Sean Healy. "Iâ€™ve never personally been involved in anything this big."
His comment was echoed by Caroline Guier, a fellow Bostonian who drove down with Healy the night before. "Itâ€™s so cool that so many people took the time to come out and have a say," added Guier.
Others involved appeared a bit concerned that the march was too disorganized, with gaps of fifty or more feet appearing at times throughout the trek to McPherson Square. Edward H., an Indiana resident who declined to offer his last name or the city he lived in for fear of being disciplined for calling in sick to work, said it looked like there was not much communication between the various groups.
â€œItâ€™s important for those of us who didnâ€™t vote for Bush to show here and let people know that he did not have our mandate. To see people protesting here reaffirms my belief in democracy.â€ --Betsey Menshaw, Sliver Spring, MD; DoD employee
"When I was in New York for the Republican [National] Convention [in August/September 2004], the march was better ordered," he said. "But, I guess it doesnâ€™t really matter. I mean, look behind us; there are a lot of different people and a lot of different ideas here. Thatâ€™s got to be a good thing."
As the main march turned toward McPherson Square, a much smaller group broke off and headed toward H and 15th Streets. There, seventeen members of DAWN held a pre-planned "die-in," covering parts of their clothes, faces and hands with fake blood and lying in the intersection. A circle of protesters and picture-takers formed while curious onlookers walking by stopped to see and walked on. Fifteen minutes after the action, District police had yet to move in and make arrests.
At McPherson Square, speakers orated from a stage and various groups gathered together with banners, signs and other paraphernalia.
With speakers recounting what they term the crimes of the Bush administration from the stage, several smaller groups wandered away from the park, some followed by police cruisers or bicycle cops, others apparently left unhindered.
"Weâ€™re anarchists, socialist, all kinds of people," a woman going by the name "Blood Red" said of the two to three hundred people gathered on the corner of 7th and H streets, right at the entrance to Washingtonâ€™s Chinatown neighborhood. "Everybody over here wants liberation. Itâ€™s not just about Bush, itâ€™s about the whole system."
According to Blood Red, whose scarf covered most of her face, police had routed the group of demonstrators from Loganâ€™s Circle and the scattered protesters were regrouping closer to the parade route.
She declined to say they planned or what she wanted to see happen from further demonstrations that day, but at 2:30, as police in riot gear appeared on the opposite corner, the group took off on an unruly, unpermitted march toward a line of police standing behind portable metal fences. The first several rows had their arms linked, and a male in black with a red bandanna over his face remarked, "Weâ€™re going as far as we can," when queried about the groupâ€™s plan.
That turned out to be not too far. Police began closing in from the groupâ€™s side and back, forcing the 250 or so protesters to turn right onto F street, parallel to the parade but several blocks and some rather large fences away. With police in slow pursuit, several in the group employed wooden pallets and overturned orange construction barrels as barricades while one young protester ran along the side of the street spray-painting red swaths on several cars and sports utility vehicles. At one point they received an approving honk from Nashville, Tennessee native Neil Love, a tractor-trailer driver.
"Hell no," Love said when asked if he approved of the president. "Iâ€™d wished he wouldnâ€™t have drove up the fuel prices. Good for these guys. Iâ€™m glad theyâ€™re raising hell."
Tony Cocco, an Ohio bicycle messenger who was in town for a bike race and decided to stick around for the protests said he was unsure how he felt about the near-violent outbursts from marchers and police alike.
"I hate Bush as much as anyone," he said. "But I wasnâ€™t really part of this. Iâ€™m more of an opportunist -- I saw the march and joined. Now Iâ€™m not so sure it was a good idea."
Rochester, NY residents Kathy Castania and Peter Debes both said they were generally happy with the dayâ€™s events. Additionally, Castania said it was important for people to be in the streets protesting consistently. Both said they have attended demonstrations regularly since Bush took office, and they hope the anti-war movement grows as strong as it became during the US invasion and bombing of Vietnam.
"It feels like we need to be doing things like this," Castania said. "It keeps the momentum up. We need to create chaos in the streets, just like we did during the Vietnam War."
Ron Immanuel of Chicago had a chance to see Bushâ€™s speech for himself and was unimpressed. "It was scary, he used the word â€˜freedomâ€™ about 100 times," Immanuel exaggerated. "It was that and the same old crap and sound bites. The guy still canâ€™t put together a sentence that actually says something."
Along the Inaugural parade route, thousands of demonstrators mixed with Bush supporters, wielding protest signs and chanting at the passing festivities. Lines to enter the parade snaked entire city blocks in the cityâ€™s northwest quadrant, demonstrators standing cheek in jowl with Bush supporters as all vied for a fleeting opportunity to get their message out to Bush.
"I spent between a half an hour and 45 minutes at each checkpoint, said We went through 3 and then got caught behind a fence," said Andrea Smith, an intake coordinator and investigator at Legal Aide Society of DC. "At times I thought about turning around but once we were there and Bush went by it felt good to be there, with him, booing directly at him."
A Washington resident, Smith left the Inauguration glad that city residents had come out together, even if most of that together time happened in line.
"Itâ€™s been weird the past few days to see Bush supporters come in. You see them wearing fur coats and tuxedos on the metro, clearly outsiders here to support a President who the city largely disapproves ofâ€¦ even the cops were imported for the day," she said.
A full 91 percent of Washington, DC residents voted against George W. Bush in 2004.
Cops were not the only imports who made it to Pennsylvania Avenue for the day. Mike Potter came to the Inauguration from Traverse City Michigan with a sign reading, "Bush is to Christianity what Bin Laden is to Islam." Potter, a Christian and father of two, said he attended church regularly before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but now he feels uncomfortable there.
"I was brought up a Christian and I believed it right up until the point when I saw it become a vehicle of war," he said. "The Right has created a religious war since 9/11 and I am flabbergasted that we are a nation of sheep following it."
While the Inauguration and its attendant street barricades shut down the vast majority of governmental offices, many federal employees weathered the traffic and made it downtown for the dayâ€™s actions.
Thursday morning, Betsey Menshew left her Silver Spring home at around the same time that she usually leaves for her job as a nurse with Department of Defense -- today in order to spend her day off protesting the chief executive.
"Itâ€™s important for those of us who didnâ€™t vote for Bush to show here and let people know that he did not have our mandate," Menshaw said. "To see people protesting here reaffirms my belief in democracy."
Following the appearance of Bushâ€™s motorcade, demonstrators lit two American flags on fire and incited a noxious hose-down of chemicals as city police emptied canister upon canister of pepper spray and Bush supporters rained ice down on them from a neighboring balcony.
"I didnâ€™t vote for Bush but I came here to see the parade and the protest is making it a hassle," said Brianna Berlin, a high school senior on a school field trip from California. "We saw a monument here. I wish I could see the inauguration better."
Legal observers clad in bright green hats labeled with the emblem of the National Lawyers Guild threaded the dayâ€™s wool-coated crowds. They stood on hand all day at the checkpoints where police were searching people and barring the entrance of all bags over a certain size.
"My understanding of the checkpoints is that they are for security, but itâ€™s up to public debate to decide how reasonably or unreasonably they are being managed," said Bill Repsher, a retired lawyer from Reston, VA who was trained by the Guild earlier this week.
On a number of occasions, police brutally attacked demonstrators with pepper spray and batons, as described by several witnesses at various scenes around the parade route and depicted in wire service photos.
Later in the day, protesters gathered near Union Station, DCâ€™s major junction between Metro and Amtrack rails, to crash an inaugural party. The counter-party, dubbed the "Got Freedom? Inaugural Ball," organized by CodePink: Women for Peace, The Ohio League of Pissed Off Voters and a group known as The Ronald Reagan Home for the Criminally Insane, eventually overwhelmed police, who gave up trying to corral the demonstrators onto a sidewalk area across from the event.
A dancing troupe of five people dressed in sweatshirts reading "Torture U" and wearing masks depicting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, President Bush, Secretary of State nominee Condolezza Rice, arch-conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh and Attorney General pick Alberto Gonzales all partook in the festivities as Jeff Grubler of The Ronald Reagan Home for the Criminally Insane led chants and spoke out against torture at the US-run Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq.
Those attending the sanctioned event were forced to enter through throngs of protesters jeering and taunting them along the way. But not all the protesters thought the verbal abuse was a good idea.
"I wish theyâ€™d say something constructive," said Jeannie Milner, a Dallas, Texas resident. "We look as bad as them if all we do is swear and yell. Maybe someone should try and actually talk to them."
Grubler apparently agreed. After the behavior had gone on for a while he took the microphone and pleaded with the crowd to ask intelligent questions of the gala-goers, not just castigate them. The appeals largely fell on apparently deaf ears.
"Go to hell," a shaven-headed man told a NewStandard reporter for inquiring how effective he thought accosting the attendees was. The man declined to give his name.
Police told Reuters that they arrested at least thirteen demonstrators.
According to Rae Abileah of CodePink, the groupâ€™s co-founders, Medea Benjamin and Diane Wilson were among those arrested. Police apprehended them at the inauguration after seven members of the organization managed to obtain tickets for the event, unfurl banners and interrupt proceedings.
In addition to the massive demonstration in Washington, DC, protests were held in numerous other cities including Portland, Oregon; London and Tokyo.