WASHINGTON, D.C. — Students who traveled to Washington to protest President Bush’s second inauguration were in the company of protesters from around the country who spoke out against Bush and, in some instances, resorted to more drastic measures.
One violent clash occurred during an evening demonstration near the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route. A group of protesters were angered by the long wait to enter the parade route — an area into which they said they had been told they would be allowed.
After the line extended several blocks, some protesters began to push, lift and even break the eight-foot steel fence that separated them from police.
To push them back from the fence, police began firing pepper spray. Some protesters left the scene red-faced, crying with bloodshot eyes.
“It felt like I stuck my face in acid,” LSA junior Scott Cottrell said. “I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s like your face is on fire. Even after an hour and a half of medical care, it felt like I was still crying.”
Some that were sprayed through the fence doused themselves with water while professional medics came to the aid of others like Cottrell.
With his eyes still closed from the pain, Cottrell had to be led by other protesters back to the subway station, onto the subway car and finally back to his bus.
Immediately after this incident, the police called for backup. In a few minutes, a train of vans and squad cars arrived at the scene with 50 riot police who dismounted and headed toward the crowd. Moving in a solid black and blue line, they swept down the street, pushing away protestors — some running away while others were pushed down a street that ran into the parade route. Few were hit, and none were assaulted with pepper spray. Once they reached the end of the street, police reinforced the fence and assumed a defensive position.
Protesters began to taunt the police, goose-stepping, giving the fascist salute and yelling “Sieg Heil!” A few of these protesters staged a sit-down protest in the middle of the street in front of the police.
Eight to nine police officers were injured, with one suffering a broken arm, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Capt. Jeff Herold said.
Not all of the protests were violent. There were demonstrations for a number of causes: global justice, women’s rights, Social Security, the Arctic and more. One group of protesters turned its back on the president as he coasted along the parade route. A group of anti-abortion activists, who usually favor Republicans, lambasted the party for what they said was insufficient action to ban abortion.
LSA freshman James Blanchard participated in the D.C. Anti-War Network march and rally, which was attended by thousands.
“I was impressed by it,” he said. “It wasn’t very hateful. People in the streets supported us, some hanging out of their windows. There were more people than I expected.”
In Ann Arbor, students gathered to voice their opposition to the president. Holding signs that read “Bush: All Crime All the Time” and “Use Tax $ for Books Not Bombs” and chanting “Impeach Bush” and “Save our soldiers; bring the troops home,” students and non-students alike protested Bush’s second inauguration in the Diag yesterday.
The rally boasted an eclectic mix of speakers representing student and local organizations such as Students for Progress, the University’s chapter of the NAACP, Veterans for Peace, Michigan Peace Workers and the University’s chapter of the Stonewall Democrats.
LSA senior Andrea Knittel, co-chair of both Stonewall Democrats and the LGBT Caucus of the College Democrats, said in her speech, “They (the Bush administration) confused the public until they were so unsure and afraid that they checked the ‘yes’ box and voted for Bush. … The United States does not feel welcoming right now.”
LGBT groups made up a large portion of the protesters, and Knittel said she wanted people to know that their concerns were still present.
“My goal is for people to be aware that even after the election we are still here,” said Knittel, “It does not mean we are defeated. We will be heard.”
She added that she hopeful because of the possibility that the Eliot-Larson Act may be amended to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
The act is Michigan’s civil rights law that bans discrimination against people based on race, gender, age, and other identities but does not include sexual orientation.
The LGBT community saw Michigan’s Proposal 2 — which prohibited the state from recognizing gay marriages or similar relationships for any purpose — pass this November, and have made efforts to voice their opposition to it.
“The challenge continues as the presidential administration makes it clear that we as a community must fight for the rights and respect we deserve,” Knittel said.
Rackham student Joe Tanniru, who was at the Diag rally representing Students for Social Equality, also spoke about his stance on the Bush administration, saying Americans should be both ashamed and understanding. Rather than blaming only the administration, Tanniru also faulted the public.
“The fact that this administration has been re-elected says there is something deeply wrong with the United States,” Tanniru said.
Upset with what he called the “criminality” and “gangsterism” of the Bush administration, Tanniru said the government continues to “act in complete disregard for democratic policies.”
Christina Yocum, a student at Washtenaw Community College who was previously enlisted in the Air Force, heard about the protest through Veterans for Peace, of which she is a member.
“It’s not just Bush. It’s how our government always gets away with crime. This (rally) is one thing I can do about it,” Yocum said.
She also expressed unease about the election that brought Bush to office for his second four years in the White House. She was concerned that the election was not free of ballot counting scandals and ballot machine malfunctions, as were seen four years ago in Florida.
“I am not at all comfortable with the election … I have no faith in it,” she said. Yocum’s statement summed up the general opinion and purpose of the protest.
The speakers encouraged listeners to stay positive and to continue to fight for their causes throughout the next four years or longer. Many of the rally participants left to attend other protest activities that were scheduled to take place later that day, including a teach-in that was held at 1 p.m. on the second floor ballroom in Haven Hall.
Faculty members, community leaders and students discussed the Bush administration’s policies and how to work for change. Scheduled speakers included Al Haber, a longtime Ann Arbor resident and the first president of Students for a Democratic Society, and professors Tom Weisskopf, Helen Fox and Tom O’Donnell.
Additionally, Students for Progress sponsored screenings of “Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties” and “Uncovered: The War in Iraq” at 4 p.m. in East Quad residence hall.
Protests in Ann Arbor and Washington were relatively small. While the student protest at the University was far smaller than demonstrations in past years, inaugural protests were also smaller and more diffuse than last year’s demonstrations against Bush at the Republican National Convention in New York.
Whether protesting, supporting or just watching, all who stood along the parade route in Washington had to contend with tight security, due primarily to fears of a terrorist attack.
Washington’s security enhancements — which were adopted just weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — have reverberated out from the stricken Pentagon and have been implemented as far away as Indianapolis, Ind.
“9/11 has intensified our job at home,” said Lt. David Taylor, of the Marion County Sheriff’s Department in Indiana, who participated in the parade in D.C. yesterday. It was the third time Taylor and his officers rode their motorcycles in an inaugural parade, the first time since Sept. 11. “We expected the increased security,” he said.
The effect of Sept. 11 was noticeable in Washington, with concrete and steel barriers and endless fencing buttressing almost every government building and barricading many streets of the capital. Many of these began as temporary security features in the weeks following Sept. 11 only to become a fixture in Washington since then.
Justin Miller reported from Washington, D.C. for this article, and Kim Tomlin reported from Ann Arbor. Kevin Kim and Paul Blumer also contributed from Ann Arbor.