Plans Take Shape for Inaugural Protests
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Thu Dec 21 11:40:45 MST 2000
Published on Thursday, December 21, 2000 in the Washington Post Inaugural
Protests Take Shape by David Montgomery and Arthur Santana
The raw wounds left by the presidential election finale have created enough
irritation to unleash one of the largest inauguration protests in years,
according to veteran organizers and police officials.
"This will be by far the biggest counter-inauguration since the 1973 Nixon
counter-inauguration," predicted Brian Becker, co-director of the
International Action Center in New York, who has demonstrated at numerous
presidential swearing-in events. "We organize protests not infrequently,
and we know when something has legs and when it doesn't have legs. This one
At the second inauguration of President Richard M. Nixon, police estimated
there were 25,000 to 100,000 demonstrators, including some who threw fruit
and stones at Nixon's car. The total crowd was about 300,000.
D.C. police are expecting about 750,000 people on Jan. 20 when
President-elect Bush is sworn in, and they said they think many
demonstrators will be content to voice their displeasure peacefully.
Becker's group, like several others hoping to flood parts of the city on
Inauguration Day, had been planning to be in Washington no matter who won
the election. But enough people think the outcome was illegitimate, he
said, that it has cranked up protest passion. Within
hours of the Dec. 12 U.S. Supreme Court decision blocking Vice President
Gore's effort to recount votes in Florida, Becker and other organizers
said, their Web sites were deluged with inquiries.
"There's a tremendous amount of spontaneous organizing going on," said
A rainbow of left-leaning groups had planned to rally on the Mall to vent
outrage at a variety of demons, including racism, the death penalty and the
corporate influence on politics. But complaints that some Florida votes
were not counted, including those of many African Americans, have given
demonstrators powerful common issues.
Unlike the street protests against the World Bank in April, no civil
disobedience has been planned, organizers say. They said the demonstrations
will feature signs, chants, giant puppets, skits and a squad of radical
stilt walkers being trained in Philadelphia.
"We are not planning to shut down the inauguration," Becker said. "We are
planning to make it plain that the inaugural route is not the private
property of those who support the death penalty, so we're going to be
well-represented on that parade route."
D.C. police aren't taking any chances with protesters' intentions,
according to Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer. He said he
expects fewer than 5,000 unruly demonstrators might try to disrupt the
inauguration, along with thousands of peaceful demonstrators.
In addition to the D.C. force, thousands of suburban and federal officers
will participate in what officials described as an unprecedented level of
The Justice Action Movement, an alliance of Washington area protesters,
yesterday sent D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey a letter requesting a
meeting to discuss plans for peaceful protests. Cmdr. Michael Radzilowski,
who is in charge of special operations, said yesterday that he would be
happy to meet with the protesters.
Half a dozen groups have requested permits, but none have been granted. A
National Parks Service spokesman said the agency is waiting for
inauguration planners to make final arrangements before it allots space to
The National Organization for Women plans to be there. "It's important for
our own spirit to let people know there is a place to plug in, take that
anger and use it to fuel some additional activism," NOW President Patricia
The Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Walter Fauntroy plan a "shadow
inauguration" outside the U.S. Supreme Court to swear in those pledging to
uphold the Voting Rights Act.
"We feel the act was violated by George Bush," Sharpton said.
Fauntroy, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Shaw, said he has
witnessed every swearing-in since President Franklin D. Roosevelt's fourth
in 1945, and "I know of no inauguration that has been the source of greater
controversy than this . . . following a shameful election."
Other activists are planning a Voters March to call for election reform and
the abolishment of the electoral college. "Our nation has been traumatized
by what has happened in this election," said Louis Posner, a New York
attorney leading the effort.
Another group, the D.C.-based New Black Panther Party, and its allies plan
to stage a Day of Outrage march, said spokesman Malik Shabazz.
Other local protest efforts are being coordinated by the Justice Action
Movement, a coalition of many who protested the World Bank. They have been
holding public meetings for several weeks at George Washington University.
They scheduled a news conference today to bring together organizers of
various protest efforts.
On Monday, several dozen people attended a Justice Action Movement meeting.
Most were students or young members of progressive organizations and
unions, but several were old enough to have protested Nixon's inauguration.
Justice Action Movement has dubbed Jan. 20 the "InaugurAuction," a
reference to members' belief that the major parties buy the White House
with corporate funds.
"Because of a corrupt political system, we now have a president who is
going to be threatening the lives of many innocent people because of his
support for the death penalty, military policies abroad and free trade,"
said Adam Eidinger, 27, a movement organizer.
At the meeting, the group voted not to use violence, vandalism, weapons,
alcohol or drugs. They also decided to remain in small groups scattered all
over the Mall, employing creative visual effects and stilt walkers to make
After the meeting, several organizers said they suspected a police
infiltrator was in their midst. A man with a goatee looked just like a
plainclothes officer who figured prominently in confrontations with World
Bank demonstrators, according to organizers who said they have videotapes.
Before ending a brief telephone interview with The Washington Post, the man
denied he was an undercover officer. A police spokesman said there is no
one on the force with the name the man used at the meeting. Gainer
confirmed that the police have infiltrated the protesters, but he didn't
"They're looking for excuses to shut us down," Eidinger said.
This week, a few members of Justice Action Movement held a practice
InaugurAuction in front of the White House, offering to auction the
building for $10 to carpenters building bleachers for the parade.
"I don't feel this particular election demonstrates ideally what the
presidency is for this country," said Elizabeth Croyden, 30, an actress and
film producer who participated. "It exposes a lot of flaws in the system,
and I'm upset about it. If you don't get involved, how can you make a
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