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Free Radical Guide to the Inauguration Protests

by L.A. Kauffman Saturday, Jan. 06, 2001 at 11:47 PM

A comprehensive guide to the scenario and cast of characters for the January 20 inauguration protests, from L.A. Kauffman's FREE RADICAL column


an online column by L.A. KAUFFMAN


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INAUGURATION SPECIAL . . . . . . . . . . . . .Issue #14

Many are calling 2000 the "year of the protest,"

after people took to the streets from Seattle to

Belgrade and beyond to demand fundamental change.

Now, in the United States at least, the year 2001

promises to begin with an outright insurrection.

The upcoming demonstrations against the inauguration

of GOP coup leader George W. Bush will bring together

an unprecedented mix of movements-on-the-rise,

heralding yet another surge in activism in this

already volatile time.

Public outrage over the Republican theft of

America's presidential election and the systematic

denial of African-American voting rights has sparked

a vast array of organizing efforts by everyone from

revolutionary anarchists opposing "the entire state

system" to Democratic voters questioning the fairness

of American democracy for the first time. Most

significantly, Bush's coronation is sparking a

revival of grassroots organizing by the black

civil rights movement.

The players in the unfolding inauguration drama

are so numerous and varied, and the pace of

preparations so harried, that it hasn't been easy

to get a handle on what will go down on January 20.

Here, then, is a guide to the scenario and

cast of characters for the inauguration protests.


Many of the details concerning the actual Inauguration,

like the exact parade route, have yet to be announced,

but the basic outline of the day is set. The

swearing-in ceremony will take place on the west side

of the U.S. Capitol building beginning at 11:30 AM.

Bush is scheduled to take the oath of office at noon.

The ceremony will be followed by the traditional

inaugural parade, which begins at 2:00 PM.

For more information on official preparations,

see the official web site,

Other good resources are

and the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee's "frequently

asked questions" page:

If you've got many hundreds of dollars to spare,

you can buy a scalped ticket to one or more

inaugural events, from the swearing-in ceremony to

various inaugural balls; one source for these is

There are three different announced meeting points

and times for anti-inaugural protests.

1) At 10:00 AM, people will meet at Dupont Circle

for the Voter March rally and protest (,

which will culminate in a march to the Supreme Court.

The organizers of this event, which has a moderate tone

and good-government agenda, have received a permit

from the D.C. police.

2) Also at 10:00 AM, folks of a more radical disposition

will meet at Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street,

responding to calls put out by the socialist

International Action Center ( and the

anarchist Revolutionary Anti-Authoritarian Block

( The anarchists will

meet beneath a "Class War" banner. Presumably this march

will also go to the Supreme Court, though there's been

no public announcement of the route.

3) At noon, the Reverend Al Sharpton, with the support

of other African-American leaders, has called for people

to meet at Stanton Park, at 4th and Maryland. From there,

there will be a march to the Supreme Court for a "Shadow

Inauguration," in which Sharpton will administer a

"Citizen's Oath" pledging action to safeguard voting rights.

But these are not the only protest plans. Many

direct-action-oriented activists organized into small

groups hope to jeer and/or disrupt inaugural events

including the 2:00 parade.

The Partnership for Civil Justice is strongly urging

protesters to form into groups of no more than 25 people.

The group's guide to the inauguration protests -

essential reading for anyone who will be out on

the streets - explains:

"Demonstrations in groups of 25 people or less may be held without

a permit on Pennsylvania Avenue or other federal land subject

to the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. See, 36 C.F.R.

Section(s) 7.96(g)(2)(i). Based on this provision, the U.S. Circuit

Court for the District of Columbia has ruled that it is unlawful

for the U.S. Government to fine or arrest Inaugural protesters

in groups of 25 or less on the asserted grounds that such protesters

are demonstrating without a permit."


As it happens, this regulation dovetails perfectly with

the way that direct action protests are organized these days.

The groups behind the rallies and marches, the anarchists

excepted, favor an old-style mass mobilization model.

In this type of protest, people attend as bodies in a

crowd, individuals in a mass. Sometimes they form contingents

based on shared identity or membership in an organization

(like "gays against Bush" or "schoolteachers for democracy"

or "National Organization for Women"). Everyone follows

the direction of the protest leadership, whether that's a

prominent individual like Reverend Sharpton, or a

behind-the-scenes group of organizers, like the folks

from VoterMarch who are making their event happen.

Direct-action radicals - like the people who shut down

the WTO meetings in Seattle - organize themselves

quite differently. They often view themselves as "anti-mass"

(, and generally

take part in large actions as members of "affinity groups,"

small assemblages of like-minded folks who act and make

decisions collectively (see

There is much less coordination among direct actionists

for the inauguration than there was in Seattle or during

the April 2000 protests against the World Bank and

International Monetary Fund in D.C. The Justice Action

Movement (JAM),, is arranging nonviolence

trainings, legal support, and other key matters to the

extent it can, given the severe time constraints.

So the bottom line is, affinity groups are pretty much

going to have to figure out for themselves what to do.

Most will focus on finding creative, in-your-face ways

of expressing their dissent, from street theater to

colorful signs and banners (check the protest guide, for details about

what size these must be according to federal regulations).

There are no plans for large-scale civil disobedience,

at least as far as I know. There's some talk of people

doing sit-ins in the path of the inaugural parade, but

it's not clear whether that will even be physically

possible, given the massive police presence that's


Then too, the parade route will also be lined with

Republicans, including many of the budding right-wing

street activists who staged their own in-your-face

protests against the Florida recount. In fact, January 20

will also witness a scary "Patriot's March on D.C.:

Celebrating Constitutional Victory," which begins

in front of the Supreme Court at 9:00 AM

( One organizer told

The Washington Times, "I think we will present a real

contrast from a bunch of kids all dressed in black

who dislike America, what the country stands for,

and are waving big puppets."

The D.C. police have been making menacing pronouncements

about their preparations. (

If the recent past is a guide, there will be a huge

law enforcement presence, and the real possibility

of police violence against protesters. Be aware that

you run some risk of arrest if you attend any of

these protests, except perhaps the permitted Voter March.

There's also a chance that you will encounter

pepper spray or other chemical weapons; prepare yourself

by reading an excellent guide on the subject from the

current Earth First! Journal



1. Black Civil Rights Activists

The centerpiece of the Bush campaign's theft of the

2000 election was an organized effort to deny voting

rights to blacks throughout Florida - and no aspect of

the inauguration protests is more important than the

African-American mobilizations that are taking place.

Civil rights leaders are terming the election a

"wake-up call" and pledging renewed grassroots

activism by African Americans.

Ron Daniels, a respected scholar and activist who is

executive director of the Center for Constitutional

Rights (CCR), was among the first to issue a call to

protest the inauguration, in two of his syndicated columns:

At a January 2 press conference organized by Daniels

and the CCR, the Reverend Al Sharpton announced his

plans for a Shadow Inauguration:

Reverend Sharpton has still not completely lived down

his role in the 1987 Tawana Brawley affair, in which he

vociferously backed a young African-American woman who

claimed she had been the victim of a hideous racial assault,

which a grand jury later declared to be a hoax. But even

many of Sharpton's former detractors have expressed

admiration for his organizing in the wake of the

1999 killing of unarmed immigrant Amadou Diallo in

New York City, including a sustained multiracial civil

disobedience campaign that led to more than 1000 arrests.

The Kensington Welfare Rights Union (,

a Philadelphia-based multiracial organization of the poor,

which has an impressive track record of successful

direct action, recently announced that it will be mobilizing

for January 20. The International Action Center's march

has been endorsed by a number of prominent African-American

groups including the National Coalition of Blacks for

Reparations in America ( Other people of color

efforts for the inauguration include a Puerto Rican contingent

organized by activists who have been fighting the

U.S. Navy bombing of Vieques (

However, the most famous civil rights activist in

America, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, leader of the

Rainbow PUSH Coalition (, won't

be at the inauguration protests in D.C. on January 20.

Instead, he will participate in a march in Tallahassee,

the capital of Florida.

Jackson's distance from the main action is not only

geographical. On the night that the U.S. Supreme Court

handed victory to Bush, Jackson declared he would

"take to the streets . . . delegitimize Bush, discredit

him, do whatever. But never accept him."

The next day, however, Jackson made a sudden turnabout

and telephoned Bush. "I called him to congratulate him

as our next president and say it's time to engage in

meaningful dialogue so we can start the process of

uniting and healing our nation," Jackson said to

The New York Post. "I told him that he would have my

support." (

According to an article in the Village Voice by Peter

Noel (, Jackson's

flip-flop came at the behest of the big-money moguls who

have been financing Jackson's Wall Street Project, an

effort to increase investment in minority-owned businesses.

Noel quotes a "financial insider" who claims, "These

contributors told Reverend Jackson, 'You better hold

this down because we won't back you anymore if you are

adverse to the new administration in Washington.'"

To the general public, Jesse Jackson is progressive

activism embodied, but those familiar with his

grassroots track record aren't shocked by this turn

of events: Jackson has a long history of placing his

personal access to power over the issues he claims to

champion. Many will never forgive him for undercutting

the Rainbow Coalition back in 1988, when it held the

promise of becoming a vibrant, multiracial, multi-issue

grassroots movement with an agenda broader than Jackson's

electoral aspirations. Jackson pushed through a set of

by-law changes that greatly expanded his authority over

the coalition and nipped independent organizing efforts

in the bud.

2. Angry Democrats and Independents

The election of 2000 is inspiring all kinds of first-time

protesters to take to the streets. Several websites reflect

the extent of spontaneous grassroots activism that is taking


Also check out an account by Zack Exley, creator of the

CounterCoup site, of how Internet organizing against

the stolen election took off:

To get a sense of the mood of this wild-card group of

protesters, check out the Voter March listserv - but

subscribe and read it on the web, unless you want your

inbox deluged:

3. Direct Action Radicals

The Justice Action Movement ( is bringing

together many of the forces that fought the WTO in Seattle

and have been actively organizing ever since, including

at the Republican and Democratic Party Conventions

last summer. These include various groups affiliated

with the Direct Action Network (

For many of these folks, including me, the pre-election

debate was between voting for Ralph Nader or not voting

at all. Most of us have little or no faith in the

American electoral system to begin with, given its

domination by big money and corporate interests, and

see the choice between Republicans and Democrats as

one between two wings of the same business party.

The problem with the presidential vote, in this view,

goes far deeper than inaccurate counting or even

African-American disenfranchisement, to a system

based on corporate power and white supremacy.

So there's a certain amount of irony in our presence

at the inauguration protests - we'd have been inclined

to protest even if Gore had won. There have been a few

flame wars on the inauguration listservs between direct

action types and more politically conventional folks,

sparked either by condescension from the former or

efforts by the latter to distance themselves from

the rabble rousers.

4. The Black Bloc

The inauguration protests are also drawing a fair number

of revolutionary anarchists, who are completely opposed

to electoral politics and think the government should be

abolished. One group, the Barricada Collective, has issued

a call for a Black Bloc on January 20 (

Black Blocs became world famous after the one at the

Seattle WTO protests engaged in organized property

destruction, but they are often more about group

solidarity than the use of any particular tactic.

For example, the Black Bloc at the April 2000 D.C.

protests against the IMF and World Bank pledged to

uphold the larger direct action campaign's nonviolence

code. Instead of smashing windows, they acted to draw

police attention away from locked-down protesters and

to reinforce weak points in the direct-action blockade.

The inauguration Black Bloc has officially disassociated

itself from the Justice Action Movement because JAM held

a pre-action meeting with police. If anyone is planning

to engage in property destruction, they haven't been stupid

enough to announce those intentions publicly, so it's hard

to say what the Black Bloc will do on J20. Dressing in

Black Bloc costume will make you a police magnet;

at past protests, the cops have either beaten or preemptively

arrested anyone who "looks like an anarchist." Some activists

are responding by dressing like mainstream protesters while

using more militant tactics.

5. International Action Center

The International Action Center (www. is doing

a vast amount of organizing work for the J20 protests,

emphasizing the issues of black disenfranchisement and

criminal injustice. The group has long experience with

big national mobilizations; for this one, it's created a

network of regional "organizing centers" that are both

spreading the word and handling key logistical details

like chartering buses.

The IAC was founded after the Persian Gulf War of 1991

by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. It's a

front group for the Workers World Party (,

a four-decade-old socialist organization with some

super-creepy politics. Workers World applauded the

Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, supported

the murderous regime of Romania dictator Nicolae Ceausescu,

and caused a major and ridiculous split in the antiwar

movement during the Gulf War by refusing to criticize

the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.

Many activists I know - some of them anti-authoritarian

to the core -- cut the IAC a fair amount of slack, because

the group boasts many skilled organizers and mobilizes

a lot of people. I've been impressed with the size of

their contingents at police brutality marches in New York

and the protests outside the Republican Convention in

Philadelphia. They do a great job organizing logistics

like chartering buses - visit their site if you need

transportation. But at the risk of being called a

red-baiter, I've got to say that the IAC gives me

the whim-whams.


To keep up with protest plans, check

and regularly.

Great posters for the Inauguration protests:

Coming up the weekend after the inauguration is the

Conference on Organized Resistance


FREE RADICAL is an online column on the current upsurge in

activism, written by L.A. Kauffman (

It appears once every three or four weeks, more often if

circumstances warrant.

Back issues are on the web at

This issue is archived at



L.A. Kauffman ( is currently writing


U.S. activism since 1970. A longtime radical journalist

and organizer, she is active in a number of New York City

direct action campaigns. Her work has appeared in the

Village Voice, The Nation, The Progressive, Spin,

Mother Jones,, and numerous other publications.



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