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Women's protests at the 2005 inaugural

by Jo Freeman

Roughly 500 women and a few men rallied in DuPont Circle, one mile from the White House, on January 20 as the women's part of the numerous counter-inaugural protests.  At the same time, several thousand people rallied a mile away in Malcolm X park.   Each group held separate marches before joining for a final rally in McPherson Square, a few blocks from the security perimeter for George W. Bush's second inauguration.

Organized by CodePink , which has staged women's marches and actions against the war in Iraq (photos), the rally also featured NOW President Kim Gandy, the Raging Grannies, and the Keys of Resistance.  The latter is a group that dresses up like 1940s secretaries and uses vintage typewriters to type letters to public officials dictated by protestors. They mail the letters to the addressees, believing that public officials will pay more attention to personal missives than to the mass e-mails and postcards that often overwhelm their mail. 

Although Thursday was the balmiest day in that snowy week, the "secretaries" shivered as they typed, even with proper white gloves.

Most women protesting at the inaugural did so as part of the many other marches and demonstrations that day.  The police issued dozens of permits for various locations and activities.  A.N.S.W.E.R., which organized marches against the war in Iraq before it even started, had the best space, including bleachers at 4th St. right on Pennsylvania Ave. from which it held a rally while the official ceremonies were going on at the Capitol and jeered the President's car as it passed by.  ReDefeatBush held a morning rally in McPherson Square.

Billionaires for Bush auctioned off Social Security at the FDR memorial. There were also demonstrations outside the official inaugural balls, and many spontaneous protests.

By far the biggest protest was the rally and march organized by DAWN — D.C. Anti-War Network — down 16th St. and over to McPherson Square. Although signs reflected a wide variety of issues, opposition to the War in Iraq predominated.  As it passed Planned Parenthood's headquarters, young women handed out condoms.  CodePink reached the Square half an hour before the big march, and had largely dispersed by the time the latter arrived. 

Only the Raging Grannies were left to entertain the thousands who filled the Square.

While the Grannies were singing, a rump group of several hundred marched down 14th Street to the security tent at Freedom Plaza.  The soldiers guarding the entrance opened the gate and let them in, including most signs, after only a perfunctory search.  Once inside they gathered in the non- reserved space on Pennsylvania to wait in the cold for three hours until Bush's car passed, when they raised their signs and chanted their opposition to his administration.  While those inside the security fence were quietly waiting, those denied admission tried to take the fence down.  After being sprayed with pepper solution, they clustered on the outside of the fence to chant and throw snowballs at the police.

Most of downtown DC closed down for January 20 even though the inauguration has never been an official holiday.  Federal and District agencies not involved with security told their employees to just stay home. Buildings and Metro stops were closed and buses rerouted.

The cause of this shutdown was not the protests per se, but the unprecedented security protections which cordoned off roughly 100 blocks of downtown DC.  All of Pennsylvania Ave from the Capitol to the White House was circled by ten foot metal fences, punctuated by white security tents through which observers could enter to be searched one at a time.  D.C. buses, police cars and Jersey barriers blocked streets even further away, allowing entry only to pedestrians and authorized vehicles.  As these barriers were being put in place the night before, traffic jams snarled the city.

The protestors also spent weeks in preparation.  Trainings, announced on the counter-inaugural web page were held all over the city in civil disobedience, legal rights, conducting meetings, and media relations. Dozens were designated to be marshals and legal observers. A counter- inaugural listserve kept those on-line informed.  Space in a warehouse was rented for the week from which signs were painted, actions organized, and participants refreshed.

Anti-Bush actions, parties, marches and exhibits went on all week, culminating in a summit by the Progressive Democrats of America. Composed largely of people who had supported Dennis Kucinich or Howard Dean during the previous year's primaries, the PDA wants to pull the Democratic Party to the Left.  Neither Kucinich nor Dean addressed the 500 hundred people who came to talk about how to get the progressive message to the public. The only elected official among the speakers was Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., (D. Ill) and the only Presidential candidate was David Cobb, who had headed the Green Party ticket in November.

According to a show of hands most of the audience was new to electoral politics.  Quite a few weren't even registered Democrats.


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