WASHINGTON - Thousands of activists from across the country marched down the rain-slick streets of the capital yesterday, waving signs, chanting slogans, and maneuvering for spots at key inaugural ceremonies for a chance to denounce President Bush.
Organizers of permitted demonstrations along the inaugural parade route said more than 20,000 protesters had gathered in downtown Washington for mostly orderly rallies; police declined to give crowd estimates.
The protests were the largest for an inauguration since that of Richard Nixon in 1973 during the Vietnam War. Those drew about 60,000.
Demonstrators protest against the election results as the inaugural parade passes by Freedom Plaza in Washington, January 20, 2001. Thousands of demonstrators booed the inauguration of President George W. Bush which took place amid the tightest security measures ever. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
By late afternoon, police had arrested about a dozen protesters, charging most with disorderly conduct or other misdemeanors. One was charged with assault with a deadly weapon after slashing tires and trying to assault an officer, police said.
Some protesters said they were clubbed by police, but police denied the allegations. A few officers were hurt after protesters threw bottles at them, but none of the injuries required hospitalization, Deputy Police Chief Terry Gainer said.
Protesters clashed briefly with police at a few flash points, while Bush remained inside his car for most of the parade up a soggy, cold Pennsylvania Avenue. The motorcade sped up as it reached some protests, causing Secret Service agents to break into a run alongside the vehicles. At one point, police stopped the motorcade for five minutes because of the protests.
A couple of protesters threw bottles before Bush's limousine arrived, and one hurled an egg that landed near the new Cadillac, which featured puncture-proof tires and six-inch-thick bulletproof glass.
The President left the car to walk only after he reached a secure zone near the White House that held inauguration ticket-holders.
For the most part, activists called yesterday's protests a success, saying they had managed to get their message across despite some of the most stringent security measures taken by police at a presidential inauguration. More than 10,000 officers from 16 law-enforcement agencies, including the Secret Service, the U.S. Park Police, and the District of Columbia's police force lined the streets beginning at dawn.
"Bush may be president, but I know that when he goes to sit in the Oval Office for the first time, he's going to look out the window, and see and hear us," said Bob Rogers, a founder and organizer of yesterday's Voter March, a nonpartisan group protesting voter disenfranchisement and championing reforms to the Electoral College.
"I don't want to personalize this," Rogers said of Bush. "I'm not going to scream 'Hail to the thief,' as others may do. But I will say, 'Respect the presidency,' because during this election, it was not respected."
Others were not so diplomatic. At Freedom Plaza, a protest space along the parade route at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, thousands of protesters held up signs calling Bush such epithets as "thief" and "pig." When Bush's motorcade passed, they booed and jeered and yelled obscenities. Some held up middle fingers.
And before the motorcade sped by, some activists upset over the lines at security checkpoints turned toward Bush's supporters in bleachers about 20 feet away, yelling "shame," and "ignorance is bliss," and making obscene gestures.
"It bothers me a little bit that they're screaming at us," said David Yiu, a Bush supporter from New York City who had a bleacher seat at Freedom Plaza. "I believe that everyone has the right to express a point of view. But you can express your point of view by calling your senator or your congressman. This is America. If you don't like something, you can change it."
Laura Brightman of Brooklyn, N.Y., did not share that sentiment.
Brightman, who joined about 2,000 people for a "Shadow Convention" led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, said the legal wrangling that followed the election proved that any honest attempt at change would be quashed by politics.
"We were sold out," she said, as others around her chanted, "No justice, no peace." "And when we tried to get justice [from the Supreme Court] we were sold again. The election was stolen."
At the Supreme Court building, Rudy Arredondo of Takoma Park, Md., put it this way: "Bush is a Supreme Court appointee. In my eyes, and in my children's eyes, he will never be a legitimate president."
Hundreds of Bush supporters had gathered earlier at the building to sing "God Bless America."
"Bush is a legitimate president," said Kevin Conner of the National Patriots March, a pro-Bush group that wanted to provide a counterpoint to yesterday's protests. "We want to send that message loud and clear. We are not going to sit by and fume and get mad when we read stories about left-wing radicals. We are going to stand up to it and be active."
Though the Christian Defense Coalition rallied for Bush along Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday, Conner's group of about 300 people was in the minority.
Cheri Honkala, director of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, a Philadelphia advocacy group, traveled to Washington to march to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to protest what she said were injustices against the poor. Although her group did not have a permit to march, their action was successful and her group's message was heard, she said.
"People will go back to their states and continue to be homeless, but they feel rejuvenated," Honkala said, adding that her group had set up a tent made out of American flags and blankets in front of the Health and Human Services Department. "Being here today was very important for them."
Copyright 2001 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc