The upcoming Trump inauguration reminded me of another inauguration day. In 2001 I was in Washington to protest Bush taking power. It’s hard too believe that it’s been 16 years. I was living in Minnesota then so it was only (!) a 24 hour bus ride. Best of luck to those going to Washington this week.
I got to the KSTP lot at 6:30 AM. It was just a couple of degrees above zero. The brisk breeze pushed the wind chill below –15 so it was very unpleasant waiting for the bus. As I waited I saw crews from WCCO-TV, KSTP-TV and KARE-TV as well as the Star and Tribune interviewing members of our group and taking pictures. Finally the bus arrived and we all got on. There was a bit of a struggle finding seats for everyone. The NAACP had taken 48 reservations on the 49-seat bus. The trouble was that two of the seats were not usable so we actually could only seat 47. Finally Charlie’s wife graciously volunteered to stay behind. I settled in and the bus pulled out at 8:00, an hour behind schedule.
The bus cruised eastward stopping at Tomah Wisconsin for a quick breakfast. Then set out again for Chicago. They played The Green Mile on the bus to help pass the time. I mostly ignored the movie, concentrating on the Scientific American, The Sciences and American Scientist magazines that I had brought along. It wasn’t really my sort of movie, the violence, language, brutality and all. Afterward there was an interesting discussion about the racism and stereotypical characters in the movie. I hadn’t seen the stereotype in the only African American character in the film. It was an eye opening discussion. After that they ran Michael Moores The Big One which was a lot of fun.
The bus hit Chicago at rush hour so it took us over an hour to clear Gary Indiana. Near Indianapolis the bus stopped at a mall and everyone got off and had dinner. Then we set out across Indiana and Ohio in the dark. Near midnight they turned the lights off and we tried to get some sleep. This proved to be a bit of a problem in the cramped seats. I’d sleep for 15-30 minutes then wake up with a cramp in my neck. I’d work it out and doze off only to wake up with a cramp in my leg. Over and over neck, leg, back, foot, neck again. It was a long night.
In the morning we stopped in southern Pennsylvania and cleaned up a bit. Then we drove on for a couple of hours to Washington DC. On the way we passed the exit for Gettysburgh. It hit me that 50 some years ago Americans went off to war against a man who thought his race was better than all others. We proved him wrong. Over 140 years ago a battle was fought near Gettysburgh that turned the tide of the civil war, a war to prove once and for all that no race could own another. Nearly 230 years ago we fought a war to kick King George out just because he said that he was better than we were. I was on this trip because I wasn’t going to let another King George try to undo the last 230 years of progress. George Bush was not elected President. He lost the national vote by over half a million. He lost the Florida vote despite overt and deliberate voter fraud. Finally when it looked like the system was going to work, his fathers political friends on the Supreme Court violated the constitution, federal law and common decency and proclaimed him the winner. This was not a fight over ideology. It was a fight to reclaim our democracy from the corrupt puppet of the landed gentry. The people have the last word in this country, not the rich, not those with political connections, not those that have more ill gotten money than the rest. America does not have or accept royalty.
The bus approached Washington from the Virginia side. Then crossed the bridge into Georgetown and stopped at Sholls Colonial Cafeteria for breakfast. After eating we got back on the bus and headed for DuPont Circle where we were going to start the protest. Most of the group was planning to stop by a hotel room that had been rented for our base of operations to drop off their luggage and then they were going to the protests. Six of us were anxious to get going so the bus dropped us off first and we went directly to DuPont Circle.
One of the things we had been told repeatedly was to stay together. We reminded each other of this as we approached the tens of thousands of protesters in DuPont Circle. Unfortunately the chaos in the mass of protesters quickly separated me from everyone else. Within a minute or two I had lost contact with everyone I knew. Though I was alone I wasn’t alarmed. I somehow knew that everything would work out.
At DuPont Circle I listened to a speaker. Then a group sang several of the same songs we had practiced on the trip out. I learned later that the singers were members of our group and one of them had written the songs. After the music Granny D spoke. She was the seventy something year old lady who walked across the country to demand campaign finance reform. She was very moving, electrifying even. Her voice was thin and gravelly but forceful. It was a real treat to hear her.
After Granny D the next speaker mentioned that there was going to be a march to the parade route and that anyone who wanted to go was welcome to join. I decided to follow the march as did about half of the crowd. The group was a mix of college and high school students, people in there 30s, 40s, all the way into there 70s. Singles, couples, families with small children some in strollers. We were not a dangerous looking group by any means. We marched down Massachusetts chanting, waving signs, stopping traffic and making a big scene. There were a variety of chants;
Racist, Sexist, Anti Gay
Bush and Chaney Go Away
Selected Not Elected
Selected Not Elected
Not My President
Not My President
And many others.
One of the rules the police had imposed was that protesters could not carry the huge wood and paper mache` puppets they were so fond of. At one point someone yelled “puppets up” and a group of 20 or so protesters raised their right hands, which were encased with identical tan sock puppets. Then they began chanting in unison with the sock puppets. It was so funny that unfortunately I just forgot to get a picture of them. Turning onto 14th we made it as far as the Crown Plaza Hotel where the police had set up a roadblock. Why was not clear. One rumor was that someone had broken a window and the police decided to stop the march. Another was that the permit had only been for 100 people and the police had cut us off after the first 100 had passed by. There were many such rumors that rattled through the crowd.
We stood at the barricade for half an hour or so. We pressed forward, the police held us back. We chanted, and yelled.
Whose street is it?
It’s our Street!
Whose street is it?
It’s our Street!
Let us March!
Let Us March!
The police said nothing. A police helicopter circled low overhead and the military Thwap-Thwap-Thwap echoing off of the buildings added to the tension. Finally a couple dozen more police arrived. Unlike the first officers who just had a bit of extra body armor, these new officers were in full riot gear. At this point I noticed that many of the parents with children were making there way away from the front line and toward the sides. I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and I followed the people that were pulling back from the confrontation. I figured that at best we would just stand there yelling, at worst things could get violent. Either way I was there to protest Bush not to yell at the police.
A block back from the barricade I turned onto L and kept looking for a way to the parade route. A police roadblock obstructed each road. One of the roadblocks was a row of riot police between a building and a high brick wall. I pressed on and discovered that the wall ended 30 or so feet down the street. Where the wall ended a locked chain link fence started. Unbeknownst to the police the first 10-foot section was laying on the ground. Hundreds of us could have passed through there in an instant and surprised the police from behind. I stopped and thought about it for a bit. Just then a group of riot police ran up and blocked the opening, huffing and puffing. Better late then never I guess, . I turned, laughing and followed the crowd down the street.
Finally at the Department of Labor building we were able to pass through a checkpoint and I found myself two feet from the fence on the corner of Constitution and Third Street right across from the Capitol Building. This showed the police strategy to have been a failure. It appeared that they were hoping to divide us out and dilute our message. They hadn’t counted on our numbers or anger. They actually did us a big favor. Those of us protesting Bush’s illegal seizure of power would have been bunched up in one place. By giving us so much trouble they managed to evenly spread us all along the parade route. Bush never got a moment’s piece. We even got a few protesters in the grandstand overlooking the swearing in ceremony.
I stood at the corner of Constitution and Third Street for several hours. It began to rain harder and after a while it started to soak through my down jacket. The rain didn’t dampen our enthusiasm and whenever a limousine or bus passed by carrying VIPs we hollered and chanted and made general nuisances of ourselves. After a while I noticed a guy lust behind me setting up a step stool and tripod and carrying a large commercial video camera. He was from the Australian Broadcasting Company. Because I figured he would be unbiased I asked him if he thought our protests were doing any good. He said that he had been up and down the parade rout and it looked like we outnumbered both the pro Bush and the mere spectators put together. He went on to say that anti Bush protesters were spread all along the parade route and our signs were the dominant thing visible along the street.
As I waited the rain came and went. Umbrellas went up and down. I was soaked and getting cold and Bush was running late but I stuck it out. What I was doing was important. The cameraman pulled out his cell phone and called someone in the capitol. Bush had finished his speech and was in a reception in his honor. After a few minutes the phone rang, someone was toasting Bush. The rain kept coming down and the phone rang again. Bush was schmoosing. Finally the cameraman told the person on the other end to only call back if Bush was actually getting in the car.
Finally the phone rang again. Bush was on his way. All of the umbrellas went down. Signs were made ready. First there were a couple of marching bands in colonial costume. Then there was a bunch of full dress motorcycle police. Then a line of limousines passed in front of us. Finally came Bush’s limousine. It was obviously extremely armored. The whole car looked heavy and thick. The windows almost completely hid the timid little hand that waved at the window. Bush was too smart to try to roll the window down. The mass of angry voters on the sidewalk knew that he had no right to be in that car. He knew it too, and we knew that he knew.
After Bush passed by the crowd started to disperse. The odd thing was that now the police were blocking us from leaving. I had to try several checkpoints before I could get through the police lines. I passed a deli on the corner. I hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast so I decided to grab a bite and figure out what to do next. It was still 8 hours before we were due to meet the bus. They had a nice salad bar with actual vegetarian options. I got a plate full and looked for a place to sit. Imagine my surprise when I saw a table of people from our group. I joined them and we talked about our experiences during the day. As we were finishing up a guy came up and started talking to us. He seemed surprised at our opinions of Bush. We actually had fairly civil discussion even though it soon became obvious that we agreed on nothing. Not that this guy liked Bush. He was one of those absolute strict constitution-as-written types. He even said that the U.S had no business having an army because it wasn’t in the constitution. He was a nut but it was interesting.
We decided to head for the hotel and relax for a while. It was a long way and we had some trouble keeping everyone together. At one point we passed a street full of DC National Guard. We later found out that there were not only troops but armored personnel carriers and even tanks on hand within a few blocks of the parade route, just in case. Just in case of what we never learned.
Finally we decided to get out of the rain and take the metro to DuPont Circle. From DuPont circle we walked the last couple of blocks to the hotel. In the room we sat around and talked about our experiences and watched reruns of the of the days events. Several people left to get some dinner. Over the next hour people came and went. It was interesting to hear everyone experiences. Some of us got over to the protest at the Supreme Court. Some of us got to the Shadow Inaugural. Most of us had been along the parade route when Bush went by. Several of us had managed to slip into the celebration Balls. The general consensus was that there wasn’t a mink left alive in all of North America. Fir seemed to be the uniform of the Republicans.
Interestingly enough only two of our group ran into or even witnessed any violence. Each of them were approached by Bush supporters who objected to the signs they were carrying. In both cases when these 60 to 70 year old ladies refused to stop waving their signs they were punched by the 20 something Bush supporters. Reeeeal nice. Fortunately in both cases other protesters chased off the thugs.
At 10:30 Ron arrived. Ron was the person who had arranged for the hotel and otherwise helped to organize the event. He was there to take the first six of us to Union Station to meet the bus. We got halfway there and ran into a major traffic jam. We realized that the van would never make it to and from Union Station quickly enough to get everyone there by the time the bus was to leave at midnight. We quickly got on the cell phone and told the rest of the group at the hotel room to take the Metro.
Ron dropped us of at Union Station and left. We walked around to the parking ramp (they wouldn’t let inside because there was a Ball going on in there), to where we were to meet the bus but it was nowhere in site. The rain turned to snow and we began to get chilled. We wondered around the ramp looking for the bus. Suddenly six Washington DC Police surrounded us. They wanted to know what we were doing in the ramp. We told them but they didn’t believe us. In their defense we did look like a cross between transients and drowned rats and we hadn’t bathed in two days. We tried to call Ron but didn’t get him. The cell phone confused the police for a bit but they rousted us out anyway. As we got out front we saw the bus rounding the building. We doubled back and walked, smiling by the same police officers and boarded the bus. At 12:15 we headed for home as the snow came down harder and harder..
I dropped off to sleep. As usual I woke up every 20-30 minutes. To my surprise it took us an hour and a half to get out of Washington. Later I found out that the bridge we took over the river the morning before was now closed to commercial vehicles. The bus driver had a great deal of trouble finding another way out of town. Finally I woke up and we were on a four-lane highway going into Pennsylvania.
The rest of the day was much like the trip out. Reading, stopping every four to six hours. We had lunch in Ohio and dinner north of Chicago. Finally we got back to the Twin Cities at 4:00 AM. The great mission was over. But like Doolittles Raiders we knew it was only the first strike of a long campaign.