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 does."
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 Becker, 48.
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 security.
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 protesters.
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 Ireland said.
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 their points.
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 identify anyone.
"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 difference?"
© 2000 The Washington Post Company