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Inaugural Journal, Tuesday: Touring the Outskirts

by Jo Freeman

After my hopes for getting a media credential to cover the parade faded, I phoned the National Park Service to find out which groups had permits to protest at the inauguration, and where. It took eight phone calls and several hours of waiting for return calls to get the information, but I finally found out that eight groups had been given NPS permits for "first amendment activity" on January 20.

Tuesday morning I set out on foot to see how many I could find. My first stop was McPherson Square, which United for Peace and Justice had advertised as activist central. Walking down 17th St. I found the Iowa National Guard at every intersection south of R St. They told me that vehicle access was limited to taxis, buses and government vehicles. If a resident wanted to drive home, well too bad. I chatted with guards all the way to McPherson Square; several said Guard units were in DC from over a dozen states.

The main permit at the Square was held by the Washington Peace Center, which had invited a variety of peace and justice groups to put their tables inside its tent. Everyone hauling their stuff in a vehicle had to arrive between midnight and 6:00 a.m. before the Guard closed down the streets. On the upside, they could park all day without risking a ticket. The heater in their tent wasnt working but the atmosphere was warm. Outside, passersby were invited to write their own message to the new President on 2'x3' posters which said "Mr President: I hope for [big white square] Lets make it happen."

I retreated indoors to watch the main event on TV, then ventured out again. This time I headed for Lafayette Park, where the NPS had told me that the Coalition for Peace had reserved the NE corner of Lafayette Park. Having seen that park the day before encircled by security fences, I wondered how that could be. I also wondered why the Washington Peace Center had never heard of the Coalition for Peace.

At Lafayette Park I saw a dozen people behind the security fence holding banners which proclaimed: "No PLO Terrorist State in the Jewish Biblical Heartland," "Stop Iran from Making Nuclear Weapons!," "President Obama: Reform Radical Islamic Madrassas," and "Dont Force Out Jews from Judea Samaria." When I asked them for information through the fence, they invited me inside; I discovered that the NE corner of Lafayette Park was indeed open to the public.

All one had to do to get in was go through a rather thorough search — remove all metal from layers of clothing and numerous pockets followed by wanding which found metal I didnt know I had. It took about fifteen minutes but once inside I saw another dozen people who werent demonstrating, but sitting on benches facing Pennsylvania Ave. behind ten foot security fences that demarcated the northeast corner.

When I asked them what they hoped to see, one pointed out that only a hundred feet away, there was a gap of about twenty feet between the trailers and the statue through which they could see the parade right before it reached the Presidential reviewing stand. If you didnt have a ticket and hadnt arrived at 7:00 a.m., that was probably the best view on the parade route. It might be through a mesh fence but there were no crowds.

On the H St. side, the Coalition for Peace was trying to attract the attention of those strolling by on the other side of the fence but not succeeding very well. I was soon surrounded by men desperate to talk to anyone about their cause. They described themselves as a coalition of Jewish, Hindu and Christian organizations who wanted President Obama to "protect the Free World from radical Islam." A spokesman for the Christian Zionist group Maccabean Resistance Movement told me that what they all had in common was their hatred of Islam (his words). His group wants all Muslims relocated out of Biblical Israel. The Indians that were present want Obama to declare Pakistan to be a terrorist state.

Back outside I paused at the media check-in to shed a tear for the seat on the press riser that I didnt get and went on my way. Next stop: Freedom Plaza where the NPS had told me that ANSWER had reserved a bleacher for 1100 participants. Only the week before, ANSWER had sponsored a "get out of Gaza" rally in Lafayette Park but had said nothing about what it was doing on Jan. 20. Nor was there anything on its webpage.

ANSWER was founded in 2001 by members of the Workers World Party, but was taken over by the Party for Socialism and Liberation when it split from the WWP in 2004. Knowing that PSL promoted black leadership, I didnt think that it would protest the first black US President on his very first day. What were they going to do?

At the security entrance to Freedom Plaza I saw a sign saying "Justice First Bleachers" hanging from the back of one about a hundred feet away. I tried to talk my way through the gates by telling the guards that I wanted to join that protest but they didnt care. The entrance was closed. No one could get in.

I got the same response when I got to 10th St. where "Arrest Bush 2009" had reserved space in front of the FBI building. Wed been warned at the Dupont Circle demo the day before to get there at 3:00 a.m. prepared for a long, cold wait, so I can only assume that some people were holding up signs saying "Arrest Bush." The gates were closed.

On the way, I passed other security entrances, some of which were still admitting members of the public; not all of the public space was full. At each of these the lines to get in stretched over a block. On the streets venders were still hawking their wares. Free enterprise was alive and well in DC, with or without the required permits. The Washington Peace Center had moved its messaging center to the intersection of 15th St. and H. Chartreuse signs littered the street with peoples hopes and prayers scribbled into the white message box.

By the time I reached 10th St. the sun was setting, the wind was rising and I was cold. I retreated to the WPC tent at McPherson Square only to find it being dismantled. Most of the parade units that I had wanted to take photos of when I applied for a media pass had not yet left their warming tents to freeze their fingers on Pennsylvania Ave.

For me it was time to go home.

©January 20, 2009 Jo Freeman for SeniorWomenWeb



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