Thousands of protestors converge on inauguration

Thousands of protestors braved the cold and rain in Washington, D.C. Saturday to protest the inauguration of President George W. Bush.

Groups gathered throughout the city, demonstrating at the Supreme Court building, the Capitol and along the inaugural parade route.

About a dozen groups obtained permits to protest over the weekend, including the Christian Defense Coalition, Gore Majority, the National Organization for Women and the International Action Center. The protests ranged from environmental concerns to rallies for both sides of the abortion debate.

One demonstrator climbed a lamppost and burned the American flag while the motorcade passed on its way to the White House.

About 7,000 police officers from D.C. and surrounding jurisdictions patrolled the city. Secret Service and Capitol Police also were on duty.

Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey hosted an online chat with Washingtonpost.com Jan. 16 to discuss police preparations for the weekend.

“The diversity of the groups coming to Washington to protest, the length of the parade route, the number of dignitaries attending and the number of associated events, such as balls, all combine to pose a tremendous challenge for our department,” Ramsey said.

“Our department respects the rights of all individuals to exercise their First Amendment rights,” he continued. “We do not take sides in issues. Our job is to simply maintain the peace — in this case, to allow the inauguration and all the associated events to take place as scheduled and to allow citizens, both for or against our new president, to openly express their views.”

Washington, D.C. residents Mike and Lucy, who declined to give their last names, said the level of security surrounding the events did not surprise them. “This is standard, especially after the World Bank/IMF protests,” Lucy said.

Police did not allow signs in the bleacher area or along the parade route, although members of the Presidential Inauguration Committee handed out banners that read “Celebrating America’s Spirit Together” — the theme of the inauguration — to the crowd.

Danny, a student at Columbia University who also declined to give his last name, stood in front of the Supreme Court hours before the inauguration ceremony.

He traveled from New York with the group, “Students for An Undemocratic Society,” to protest what he said he felt was Bush’s illegitimate victory.

“We are here celebrating the end of democracy and the beginning of totalitarianism,” he said.

The Supreme Court steps were barricaded, in anticipation of larger protest groups, and police stood on the steps.

One man stood in front of the barricades, holding a sign saying, “Crime Scene.”

In his inaugural address, Bush spoke of his desire to unify the nation after a bitterly contested election.

“Our unity, our union, is the serious work of leaders and citizens in every generation. And this is my solemn pledge: I will work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity,” he said.

But some did not believe his message.

Jason Wesoky of Philadelphia stood facing the Capitol Building as Bush was being sworn in as president. Holding a sign “FUW,” he said he thought Bush’s speech about uniting the country was not sincere.

“He didn’t seem to believe (what he was saying), so how could I,” he said.

But Wesoky said he was going to attend the Unofficial Youth Ball, sponsored by The George Washington University later in the evening.

Others attended the events to show their support for the newly inaugurated president.

Joe Kotoch came to D.C. from Cleveland to support Bush.

“I liked the message he sent,” Kotoch said. “(The message is) a good trend to begin the administration.”

Kotoch, surrounded by protestors, said everyone — even those who attended the ceremony in protest — was free to attend and express their views.

“(People) are entitled to protest but it’s time to move on and look toward the future,” he said.

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