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Bush Inauguration Greeted by Jeers, Not Cheers


The Guardian, Washington, D.C., Jan. 22, 2001

Photo: Protesters at George W. Bush's presidential inauguration, January 20, 2001

President Bush's inauguration reflected the controversial manner of his election. The procession along Pennsylvania Avenue fell well short of being triumphant, and on many occasions during its slow advance through the drizzle, the sound of jeering drowned out the cheers.

There was no agreement yesterday on just how many had braved the weather to protest, but it was without question the biggest anti-inaugural demonstration since 1973, when 20,000 turned out to rain on Richard Nixon's parade and protest against the Vietnam war.

'The level of people on the streets shows that people are really upset about lack of democratic process,' said Liz Butler of the Justice Action Movement, the coordinating committee for the protests. 'They took it to the streets. We saw tens of thousands. We saw far more protesting Bush than supporting him.'

This year, in the wake of turbulent demonstrations in Seattle, Washington and Philadelphia, security was tighter than ever. Ten thousand police, drawn from the District of Columbia and surrounding states, were deployed along Pennsylvania Avenue and its tributaries, manning checkpoints to search bags and frisk protesters for weapons.

In some of the special areas set aside for the protests, the police outnumbered the demonstrators. However, they toned down their appearance to reflect the dignity of the occasion, mostly donning dress uniforms rather than the riot gear which became a familiar feature of street confrontations in 2000.

The dominant source of discontent on Saturday was the legitimacy of Mr. Bush's election, sealed only by supreme court intervention in Florida after he had lost the popular vote nationwide.

The protesters carried homemade banners scrawled with epithets including: 'His Fraudulency,' 'Bush Stole It,' 'Hail to the Thief,' 'Bush's Agenda Lost,' 'The Grinch Who Stole Election Day' and 'Dumbya is Illegitimable' - the last a reference to the new president's much-lampooned trouble with complex words.

Other groups jostled for elbow-room alongside the election protesters. A nude woman was held above the crowd with only an anti-fur banner to keep her warm. Some decried Mr. Bush's affinity for capital punishment; others drew noisy attention to his environmental record, illustrated by a portrait of the president as the cartoon character Charlie Brown, urinating on the globe.

One of the more radical groups dressed in black and carried banners which announced: 'Class war for a classless, stateless society - autonomous resistance.' They blew whistles and beat out anarchic rhythms on large plastic buckets.

The television commentators tried their best to talk over the boos, adopting a pomp-and-ceremony tone for the occasion. But, as the presidential motorcade inched its way through the rain, the baying grew too loud to ignore.

At one point, as the president's armoured limousine passed 12th Street, and ahead of a densely packed group of demonstrators, his section of the motorcade came to a five-minute halt. The pause was supposedly initiated for 'security reasons.'

In the end, the protests passed off peacefully with only a single egg lobbed in the direction of the limousine carrying the new president and first lady. By nightfall, only nine people had been arrested, all for disorderly conduct.

Most Bush supporters came to the parade simply to cheer and turned up empty-handed. Some were clearly anticipating a raucous duel with demonstrating liberals and pro-Bush placards could occasionally be seen along the two-mile route. One read: 'Out Arkansas Trash. In Texas Class.'

Rival groups exchanged shouted slogans outside the supreme court, the scene of Mr. Bush's decisive triumph last month. The pro-Bush crowd booed any mention of Bill Clinton, only cheering when the former president was seen climbing aboard a military helicopter to fly to Andrews air force base and an uncertain new career.