washington, dc -- fear was thedominant note at George W. Bush's tainted inauguration. Fear and furs, lots of furs, mink after mink after mink, the lustrous hides of entire generations of mammals.In the most heavily guarded inaugural celebration in American history, more than 7,000 officers from more than a dozen law enforcement agencies flooded the city to ensure that Bush -- and his legions of tuxedoed and mink-wrapped supporters -- could enjoy their $40-million corporate-sponsored victory party in royal style.
Following a lawsuit brought by protest organizers, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler grudgingly approved the security plan despite "very, very deep concerns." She warned, "The very term "checkpoint' has what I would call an odious connotation of repression.... Every citizen has the freedom to walk the streets of this land."
Agreeing with Kessler, protestors took over the streets of the capital for the day on Saturday (January 20), cheerfully braving the assaults of both the weather and the police.
Hours before Bush was sworn in on the Capitol steps, protestors were converging throughout downtown Washington. The International Action Center (IAC), leading a call to "Stop the Death Machine" and protesting a range of issues from capital punishment and police brutality to corporate globalization, staked out the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route four hours before the procession began.
The Justice Action Movement (JAM), a coalition of progressive groups, and the Million Voter March, composed largely of more centrist Democrats angry about the election debacle and Bush's far-right cabinet appointees, rallied at Dupont Circle before heading to Pennsylvania Avenue. Several hundred New Black Panthers marched to declare a "Day of Outrage" at the disenfranchisement of African-American voters in Florida.
The Reverend Al Sharpton led over 1,000 in a "Shadow Inauguration" at Stanton Park, swearing: "We've taken an oath today that we will turn this nation around, and it'll take more than Senior Bush or little Junior Bush to turn us around."
The Revolutionary Anti-Authoritarian Bloc, known as the Black Bloc, convened at Franklin Square, yards away from where protestors were tear-gassed during last April's anti-International Monetary Fund rallies.
The day's first confrontation with police took place not long after the latter group, about 500 anarchists wearing black bandanas and hooded sweatshirts, joined by the odd mainstream Gore supporter, began marching at 10 am to chants of "Who is the enemy? The state is the enemy!" By 11 am, they had picked up an escort of two dozen cops on foot at the rear of the march.
As the group turned the corner at 14th and L Streets, just a block from its starting place at Franklin Square, police charged the crowd without warning, batons swinging. More police appeared from the opposite direction and quickly lined up, boxing in 200 people on the sidewalk at 14th and K.
The stage seemed to be set for the now-familiar police tactic of mass arrests, used both in DC last April and during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Police began pulling journalists from the crowd and pushed all other protestors onto the sidewalks, where they stood angrily waiting for buses to arrive to haul off their captured companions.
Within a few minutes and apparently without any foreknowledge of what they were walking into, a band of several thousand demonstrators, filling at least two blocks -- the JAM and Million Voter March groups, who, marching from Dupont Circle, according to one protest organizer, "just happened to walk up on the mass arrest" -- arrived from the north on 14th Street and began chanting, "Let them go!"
Overwhelmed by the sheer number of protestors, the police dissolved the line separating the captive anarchists from the rest of the crowd. After a few minutes of tense confrontation, during which officers tried with limited success to keep demonstrators on the sidewalks, the entire crowd marched off, joining forces on K Street and chanting triumphantly, "The people united will never be defeated!"
A few kilometres away, George W. Bush pontificated about courage and compassion and the duties of citizens to be neither spectators nor subjects.
Elated by its victory and unexpected release, Black Bloc marched behind a banner reading "Whoever They Voted For, We Are Ungovernable," heading for the parade route and joined now on all sides by thousands of others, including five wearing papier mâché caribou heads in solidarity with Alaskan wildlife, and a gentleman from Boston, his head poking through a hole in an enormous butterfly ballot, who asked to be called Chad.
At one point, two anxious-looking Bushite couples en route to the parade found themselves in the midst of the crowd. One black-garbed marcher politely offered them a pamphlet. At the same time, another protestor spray-painted an anarchist "A" on the back of the fur coat worn by one of the women and slipped away unnoticed.
Chanting "Whose Streets? Our Streets!" the crowd stormed through a checkpoint at Seventh and Pennsylvania with little resistance from police, filling the Navy Memorial plaza. Two lines of riot police closed in behind them but soon filed off. Protestors bid them adieu with a serenade of the Mickey Mouse Club theme.
For the next hour and a half, the crowd milled about in the frigid rain, teenage protestors drummed on overturned trash bins, sandal-clad ecologists mingled with Boy Scouts and Secret Service agents, Radical Cheerleaders danced beside bleachers brimming with Republicans.
The Black Bloc marched behind the bleachers, chanting, "What do we want? Class war! When do we want it? Now!" to an audience of fur-clad Bush supporters smiling nervously and waving miniature Texas flags.
Just as the Navy Memorial Plaza turned into a mosh pit, with protestors and police alike pushing and swinging, the presidential motorcade drove by, Secret Service agents jogging beside it. Despite the tumult, the cry went up, "Fuck you, George Bush!"
From L.A. Weekly