A Visit with the Ghost of Protests Past
Last December when I first heard the news that the United States Supreme Court had appointed George W. Bush as the 43rd President of United States, I was troubled and dismayed, like so many others, about the election process and potential social consequences of having another Bush in the White House. After the shock abated from a political system gone awry, I decided that my plans to attend the inauguration in Washington D.C., as I had done four years earlier, would have to be put on hold. I found it excruciatingly painful listening to Bush Juniors acceptance speech, as well as Al Gores gentlemanly conciliation. I knew that I would find it even harder to attend a celebration of what I considered to be an illegitimate president, one who was appointed and not elected by the people.
As inauguration day neared, I began hearing rumors from my friend Emily that there were people planning various protests at the event. She lives near the DC and said that people from all around were expected to make their presence known and to protest the way Bush Jr. became our leader. I immediately thought, "What a great idea, but how could I make my voice heard?" I knew little about protesting, other than the small student government rallies I attended while in college. Nevertheless, Emily encouraged me to attend the event, despite my inexperience. She and her husband Gordon were experienced protesters, and while I have known them for many years, I did not realize how they had the art of protesting down to a science.
On the morning of the event, we awoke to the smell of coffee and blueberry pancakes. "Youll need to eat something hearty to get you through the morning," Emily stated. We stuffed ourselves full of food and dove into our parkas, boots and other outdoor gear. We adorned ourselves with buttons reading, "Hail to the Thief," "Commander and Thief," and other humorous sayings. We left the Metro station in Silver Spring, Maryland with signs and smiles in hand, heading to do our part to make our outraged voices heard.
It became apparent on the train, that we were not alone in our outrage. A group of developmentally disabled individuals joined the journey to DuPont Circle, our meeting point for a huge protest rally. People representing the National Organization for Women (NOW), Peace Action, Greenpeace, the New Black Panthers, Floridian Voters, the DC Coalition on HIV/AIDS, and other civil action groups filed out of the trains to make our way out from underground and up to the surface. It became apparent that the DC authorities were aware of our growing presence in DuPont Circle when we faced our first obstacle, a non-functioning escalator. This caused us to walk the long journey from the deepest underground station in the system to the surface. When we arrived outside, we were greeted by several thousand protesters from all different walks of life, age groups and places from across the country. We filed in to the Circle, crossing streams of confused vehicles, circling to get away from their obstacles.
Once in DuPont Circle, we listened to the sounds of speakers from different groups shouting cries of injustice and encouraging civil disobedience. We chatted with several more experienced protesters who had been here before, protesting for different reasons in the nations capital. We began funneling into a line as we moved away from the circle, heading toward our target -- the parade route down Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Capitol Building to the White House.
As we marched down the streets we were scurried onto the sidewalks by DC Police cars with bullhorns. We responded with cries like, "Whose streets? Our streets!" We pushed our way back onto the streets. We were followed by several cars of federal riot police, who remained poised inside their vehicles, watching for any signs of outright disorder. Overhead were two choppers whose blades made menacing sounds as they hovered over the parade of protesters.
We were diverted several times as we approached Pennsylvania Avenue. The gray, overcast day began to release a cold icy mist that seems to make the day less of a celebration for the perky Bush supporters we passed along our way. They looked frightened and surprised to see us. We quickly became a "them" to this permed and tucked group of proud "victors". One was overheard whispering to his wife, "What are they protesting about?" as they scrambled for the safety of a nearby Starbucks. We marched on, only to face more of "those" people at the parade.
We decided to split up to cross the barriers set up to thwart our collective efforts. We managed to outmaneuver the local police and found ourselves within sight of Pennsylvania Avenue. At one point, riot police surrounded us and waited for our response. We began chanting, "We came in peace!" We found a way through their blockade, but riot police who were looking for a workout that morning wrestled a few from our group to the ground.
Once we reached Pennsylvania Avenue, we began lining the parade route and taking over the sidelines from Bush-clones and their younger offspring. We held signs and chanted anti-Bush slogans as we lined several blocks of the parade route. We cheered the news that the motorcade was stopped because of protests at another point further up in the parade route. A small group of protesters positioned near us remarked that they had been to several inaugural protests and this was the first time the motorcade had ever been stopped.
The first group of limos carrying the Supreme Court Justices made its way down past us. One ancient-looking justice realized too late that he was poking his head out of the safety of his warm motor coach only to be greeted by jeers rather than cheers. "Why would they be booing us?" read the look on his face. Then finally, a few minutes and several marching bands later, the presidential motorcade reached us. We began booing and screaming, lifting our middle fingers into the air in a wave of protest. Bush supporters on the sidelines next to us, covered their childrens ears as many of us screamed a hearty, "fuck you!" to our new leader. The four layers of police that separated us from the Commander, giggled in response to some of our clever slogans like, "Selected not Elected" and of course, one womans mantra, "Eat my Bush." Bush responded to us with his signature confused and befuddled look, barely visible through the smoked glass of his secure bubble. We drowned out any sounds of elation from supporters and scared the Secret Service running alongside of the limo. Bush was forced to remain in his car until he reached the secured area in front of the White House.
We left the area proud of what we had done. We had managed to stop the motorcade twice and demonstrated our ability to voice our outrage over the stolen election. We had sent Bush a message that the party is over before it has even begun. These next four years will be difficult. We were saying that we are not willing to work together and pretend that what happened was fair. Perhaps we managed to get the great ostrich, the Supreme Court, to take its head out of the sand for a minute and feel some shame over their role in the theft. We will continue to denounce his illegitimate ascendance to the office. We must realize that he can do a lot of damage in the next four years, just watch and see, then get outraged and let your voice be heard!
Dominic J. Carbone is Chairman of the Board of Directors of Body Positive, Inc.
Back to the March 2001 Issue of Body Positive Magazine.
This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.