Dispatches from the Bush Inauguration
When Wendy Reiner of Miami Beach reserved her tickets for the presidential inauguration back in August, she did so under the assumption that Al Gore would be president. She simply couldn't believe that the country would vote otherwise, for a man whose resume the New York Times sniffed as "one of the thinnest" in election history, and whose habitual mangling of standard vocabulary provided late night talk show hosts with some of the best joke fodder they'd had since the Lewinsky scandal.
So when Reiner finally stood in the bleachers of the inaugural parade yesterday after George W. Bush was inaugurated as president, she held a sign that read "Hail to the Thief" and looked none too pleased.
"This is a nightmare, it's totally unbelievable," she said. "It's just so sad because we know that Gore really won. Back in Florida people are still hopping mad."
The parade rolled by under dreary gray skies. Drill team girls with ironed blond hair seemed the only ones around with smiles plastered across their faces, and mediocre celebrities like Delta Burke waved to the dwindling crowd. Reiner glanced behind the bleachers, where as many protesters as Bush supporters and ambivalent political tourists ambled about, and took momentary solace in knowing that she was not alone.
"It's sort of empowering to see that there is a huge number of folks here who recognize that this wasn't an elecion," she said "this was a manipulation."
The weather seemed a fitting denouement to this election year, and thousands of protesters braved the cold rain and grim forecasts to voice their opposition to what they saw as a stolen, illegitimate presidency. Among the groups that had planned separate events throughout the day were the International Action Center, the National Organization of Women, Al Sharpton's National Action Center, and Students for an Undemocratic Society, each of which represented a myriad of other organizations under their banners.
Chants ran from the innocuous, ("Hey Hey, Ho Ho, corporate power's got to go") to the vaguely threatening ("2, 4, 6, 8, the time has come, assassinate!") and there was a general sense of confusion, in part because there were so many different protests going on, but also because the police hedged throngs of people in disparate directions. At around noon, the Voters March was moving hundreds of participants up 14th St. between L Avenue and K Avenue, as its permit had allowed, and suddenly found itself butting against a barricade of police. Another barricade formed at the other end of the block, penning them in for at least half an hour.
Rumors spread through the perplexed crowd that there had been skirmishes between the police and the anarchist Black Bloc. Walter Reeves of Atlanta was holding an ice pack to his head, while he tried telling others what had happened. "After the cops boxed us in they just started shoving and clubbing up front," he said. "I was trying to cross the street and got hit and ended up on the ground."
The Washington D.C. police reported only four arrests yesterday, while the Independent Media Center pinned the number closer to fifteen, including one felony.
The reasons that people cited for having come were as diverse as their political affiliations. Terry Dix of Chatham, New York came with his thirteen-year-old son in a contingent of four full buses from the Albany area. Estimating that at least fifty percent of those he came with had never been to a protest before, Dix said he had come to be "witness to the fact that this is still an unresolved issue, and to recognize that there were irregularities in a great many states, including Florida. Even though the election issues seem resolved, we have to show that people are still concerned with this, and we are putting pressure on the legal front to make sure we get resolution."
Others had more pronounced goals. Amrit Chauhan drove nine hours to Detroit to register his discontent, and suggested that "we should push for [Bush's] resignation on the basis of him not having been elected by the people."
But overall, the protest was peaceful and symbolic, with sentiments especially rallied around the disenfranchisement of black voters and the Cabinet appointment of arch-conservative John Ashcroft. As the actual inaugural parade was set to begin, four of the six entry checkpoints were closed, so the lines to enter the parade route stretched for blocks. Once inside the heavily cordoned route, Texans in fur coats and heels mingled among protesters, and cheers volleyed with boos and hisses when the the new president passed in his armored limousine.
Perhaps the best gauge of the day's sentiments was Andy Lu, a Chinese immigrant who was selling commemorative inauguration T-shirts and baseball caps. By five in the afternoon, he still had stacks of them on his folding table, and in a state of exasperation, discounted his T-shirts to two for five dollars. There were still few takers. "Probably if I was selling anti-Bush shirts," he said, "I'd make a lot of money."