D.C. inaugural protests

Dayne Goodwin dayneg at SPAMaros.net
Fri Jan 26 16:00:05 MST 2001


By Greg Butterfield

"We are the first crisis of George W. Bush's
administration," proclaimed International Action Center Co-
director Larry Holmes as he stood at ground zero of the
historic Jan. 20 counter-inauguration protests here.

"They didn't want us out here, demanding freedom for Mumia
Abu-Jamal and an end to the racist death penalty," Holmes
shouted over a microphone to the crowd gathered at Freedom

He was referring to the unprecedented police/government
attempt to suppress the right to protest at the

After the IAC and the Partnership for Civil Justice fought
for weeks with Washington's multifarious police agencies for
protest permits--and after a last-minute lawsuit to insure
access to the permitted areas--thousands of demonstrators
were able to fill the plaza at Pennsylvania Ave. and 14th
St. NW.

Even then, after a court order told the cops to let
demonstrators in, police officials delayed for hours before
letting the protesters through the checkpoints at 13th and
14th streets.

The government attempt to disorganize and repress the
protests led to checkpoints being set up in Washington for
the first time in U.S. history. There were 16 in all.

At least 9,000 police were there, including every Washington
cop, the Secret Service, Parks Police and police from
Virginia and Maryland.

A popular chant of the anti-globalization movement caught on
as long-time activists and first-time protesters demanded
their right to be seen and heard. "That is what a police
state looks like," they roared, pointing to the cops and
their checkpoints.

Then, feeling their own growing strength as their numbers
swelled, came the protesters' refrain: "This is what
democracy looks like."


That feeling of strength continued to build with every
obstacle they overcame.

As the damp chill of rain and sleet set in, 1,000
demonstrators seized the raft of bleachers that had been
erected on the plaza for Bush supporters.

Washington Post writer David Montgomery described it this
way: "Thousands more filled Freedom Plaza, brushing past a
line of Girl Scouts in yellow slickers to seize bleachers
reserved for Republican loyalists.

"From these $50 perches, as shocked members of the
Presidential Inaugural Committee looked on, the protesters
chanted: 'George Bush, racist murderer!'"

Hours later, those bleachers would be the site of the day's
highlight, as limousines carrying Bush and Vice President
Dick Cheney were forced to speed past the loud, angry

IAC co-director Teresa Gutierrez reminded the crowd what her
group had accomplished by taking on the cops in court. "We
faced down the police and made sure everyone who wanted to
protest had the right to do so."

Gutierrez pointed out that the IAC applied for permits at
Freedom Plaza and other sites in October, even before the
election, because "whether Bush or Gore won, the death
machine would go on.

"We believe the police never intended to give us a permit or
allow demonstrators to have access to the parade route," she

"They hoped to shield the Bush administration from the
political embarrassment of having thousands of demonstrators
lining the route. But they were overruled by the strength of
the movement."


Bush lost the popular vote but won the presidency by
disenfranchising African American, Haitian and Jewish voters
in Florida. He was sworn in by Chief Justice William H.
Rehnquist, one of five Supreme Court justices who awarded
Bush the presidency by stopping the Florida vote recount.

In his brief speech at the Capitol, Bush promised to "bring
the country together" with his commitment to "civility,
courage, compassion and character."

The tens of thousands of protesters lining the parade route
knew better. The multi-millionaire cabinet Bush appointed,
and his reputation in Texas as "Gov. Death," put the lie to
that, they said.

Undeterred by the cold, demonstrators faced off against riot-
clad cops for hours, their numbers growing steadily while
the ranks of cowboy hat- and mink stole-wearing Bush
supporters dwindled.

They chanted and hoisted signs with slogans like "Bush =
racism," "Hail to the thief" and "John Ashcroft is a racist,
sexist pig."

Those who came were overwhelmingly young. Many were students
and workers who had never joined a demonstration before.

While most of those who came out were white--in part because
of police threats aimed at keeping Washington's Black
majority from mobilizing--there were strong contingents of
African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Palestinians and other
people of color.

"We had people coming by buses, vans and car caravans," IAC
organizer Sarah Sloan told Workers World. "There is so much
massive anger over the way the election took place."

There were 125 buses from New York alone, Sloan said, and
protesters came from across the East Coast, the South and
the Midwest. They came from as far away as California, Texas
and Oklahoma. Counter-inaugural protests were also held in
San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Seattle and many
other cities.

The number of demonstrators in Washington may never be
known. But along Pennsylvania Ave. and in other parts of the
city they certainly numbered in the tens of thousands.

Channel 8, Washington's all-news channel, gave estimates
between 20,000 and 50,000 protesters. The Washington Post
acknowledged that on northern blocks of Pennsylvania Ave.
the demonstrators outnumbered Bush backers.

"More protesters than supporters," as one nervous CNN
reporter said.

The corporate-dominated media tried to downplay or ignore
the historic turnout. But the international press saw the
protests as a sign that U.S. imperialism's new commander in
chief has feet of clay.


Numerous issues drew the protesters. But for many of them,
Bush's election theft was the last straw.

The National Organization for Women gathered at 8th St. and
Pennsylvania to denounce Bush and the Republican right's
anti-choice and anti-women agenda.

At Dupont Circle, a "Voters' March" drew thousands of people
outraged by the election theft. They included supporters of
Democratic candidate Al Gore as well as more radical forces.
Many later joined the crowd at Freedom Plaza.

Thousands more marched to the Supreme Court for a "Shadow
Inauguration" organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton's National
Action Network and other civil-rights groups to protest the
racist disenfranchisement of Florida's Black voters.

There, students from Washington's Catholic University
carried homemade signs on brown cardboard with the slogan,
"Count our votes!"

"We come to underscore that today in the capital city they
are perpetuating one of the greatest untruths in American
history," Sharpton said. "We are here to let the world know
that [Black people] are not going to give back the right to

Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader denounced
"the soothing transition between two administrations, both
of which take their orders from big business--the same big
businesses that pumped $35 million into this weekend's
ceremonies." (DC Indymedia Web site)

The New Black Panther Party held a "Day of Outrage" rally at
Freedom Plaza, followed by a march. Organizer Malik Zulu
Shabazz, explaining why many in his group wore helmets and
other protective gear, pointed to the police and said, "We
are not among friends."

The anarchist-led Black Bloc also staged a march that began
near Freedom Plaza. At 14th and K streets police attacked
the marchers with clubs and tear gas.

Several activists were seriously hurt. Between nine and 15
were reported arrested.


The Freedom Plaza action was initiated by the IAC and
endorsed by Washington's Justice Action Movement and
hundreds of other groups and prominent individuals. The main
focus there was fighting racist disenfranchisement and
stopping the legal lynching of Black political prisoner Abu-
Jamal. But organizers didn't leave it at that.

Through signs, banners and speeches, they strove to show the
new movement that it must link up with all the struggles--
for women's right to choose, for lesbian/gay/bi/trans
rights, to organize the unorganized, against sweatshops, to
fight U.S. military intervention in Colombia, to get the
Navy out of Vieques, Puerto Rico, and much more.

Holmes denounced Bill Clinton for not granting clemency to
Native political prisoner Leonard Peltier.

"Clinton had the chance to do one decent thing before he
left office," Holmes said, "and he didn't do it. We are not
going to stop fighting until we free Leonard.

"The worst mistake our movement could make would be to put
any confidence in the leaders of the Democratic Party," he
said. "We need an independent movement that fights in the

Njeri Shakur and Gloria Rubac of the Texas Death Penalty
Abolition Movement received a warm welcome from the crowd.
They condemned Bush's record of more than 150 executions
while governor of Texas, including the legal lynchings of
revolutionaries Shaka Sankofa/Gary Graham and Ponchai
"Kamau" Wilkerson last year.

Kim Denmark, a former welfare recipient from Dayton, Ohio,
spoke about how she has walked across the Eastern U.S. to
expose the evils of workfare and other so-called "welfare
reforms." Paul Ford, an activist from Grinnell College in
Iowa, led a chant of "Students united will never be

Other speakers included Jerry Do minguez of the Mexican
Workers Association, the Rev. Kiyul Chung of the Korea Truth
Commission, Rebeca Toledo of the U.S. Out of Colombia
Committee, Zapatista supporters and representatives of the
group Free D.C.

Protesters shook the bleachers with cheers when an
audiotaped message from Abu-Jamal called on them to
"organize a revolutionary movement."

When a Texas marching band replete with Stetson hats and
cowboy boots became the first parade contingent to pass
Freedom Plaza, its members soon wished they were somewhere

Protesters drowned out their patriotic tunes with chants of
"Free Mumia, jail Bush" and "Racist, sexist, anti-gay--
George Bush, go away!"

"There were a lot of lesbian, gay, bi and trans folks,"
Elijah Crane of Rainbow Flags for Mumia told WW. "It was
great to hear the whole crowd chanting against Bush for
being 'racist, sexist and anti-gay.'

"People representing every issue and struggle were standing
side-by-side. Someone was holding a sign that said 'remember
Wanda Jean Allen' next to someone with a sign that said
'stop Plan Colombia,'" said Crane.

"That was really inspiring and lent to the strong feeling of
solidarity throughout the day."

Workers World Party presidential candidate Monica Moorehead
told WW: "The movement for social justice may have begun in
Seattle in 1999. But today marks a new milestone, despite
all the attempts by the big-business media to whitewash the

"The hijacking of this election by the thoroughly racist and
reactionary Bush administration is helping to broaden the
movement. It's embracing more people of color and working
people as well as militant youths.

"This will be an important and exciting period for the class
struggle in the United States, and the whole world will be
watching," she predicted.


The afternoon wore on. But despite the chill, the crowd's
anger only seemed to heat up the longer Bush delayed making
the drive down Pennsylvania Ave.

Across the avenue from the liberated bleachers, an
elaborate, enclosed viewing stand had been erected for
Washington officials and big-money guests. They nervously
sipped tea and ate hors d'oeuvres as they watched the
protesters spill over to their side of the block.

When demonstrators spotted arch-racist New York Mayor Rudy
Giuliani in the viewing stand, they erupted in loud chants
of "Amadou, Amadou"--for Amadou Diallo, the young African
worker killed by 41 New York Police bullets.

Bush couldn't put off running the gantlet much longer
without losing face. Buses roared up the avenue carrying
Republican big shots, escorted by motorcycle cops. As each
one passed, the crowds roared "Shame! Shame!"

Every few minutes a new contingent of heavily armed cops
would march into the street and line up in front of Freedom
Plaza. Then, just before Bush started his drive, a squad of
riot police staged a mock assault on the protesters at 14th

Advancing in military formation with nightsticks swinging,
the police stopped just short of the front line of
protesters. Then they retreated.

If anyone was scared by this display, they didn't show it.
The chants of "Stop police brutality!" only grew louder.

At 12th Street the limos carrying Bush and Cheney came to a
dead stop. More Secret Service agents surrounded the

When they finally moved, it was to race by Freedom Plaza as
quickly as possible. Secret Service agents, gasping for
breath, tried to keep up.

But there's no way Bush could have missed the message.
Thousands upon thousands of angry protesters were waving
signs and chanting "George Bush, racist murderer!"

Bush, the police and the ruling class had hoped the
inauguration would be a crushing defeat for the new protest
movement. Instead it was a great victory.

"This is precisely the scene the Bush administration did
everything it could to prevent," said IAC Co-director Brian
Becker. "As they went up Pennsylvania Ave. they didn't want
to see thousands of placard-waving protesters opposed to his
conservative policies. But we've done it."

Michelle Gore, a young African American woman from Brooklyn,
N.Y., and a member of the Actors Equity union, echoed the
sentiments of many first-time demonstrators. "It was
exciting," she said. "I can't wait for the next protest."
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