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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
FREE RADICAL: CHRONICLE OF THE NEW UNREST
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, www.inauguration-2001.org.
Other good resources are www.presidential-inaugural.com
and the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee's "frequently
asked questions" page: www.afic.army.mil/FAQs/FAQs_page1.htm.
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 (www.votermarch.org),
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 (www.iacenter.org) and the
anarchist Revolutionary Anti-Authoritarian Block
(www.infoshop.org/coronation.html). 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"
(www.spunk.org/library/misc/sp001304.txt), 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), www.j20.org, 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,
www.InaugurAuction.org/training.asp 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
(www.loudcitizen.com/million/index.asp). 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. (www.commondreams.org/headlines/121300-02.htm)
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
CAST OF CHARACTERS
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 (www.kwru.org),
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 (www.ncobra.com). 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 (palfrente.tripod.com).
However, the most famous civil rights activist in
America, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, leader of the
Rainbow PUSH Coalition (www.rainbowpush.org), 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
According to an article in the Village Voice by Peter
Noel (www.villagevoice.com/issues/0052/noel.shtml), 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
3. Direct Action Radicals
The Justice Action Movement (www.j20.org) 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 (www.directactionnetwork.org).
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 (www.infoshop.org/coronation.html).
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. iacenter.org) 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 (www.workers.org),
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
To keep up with protest plans, check www.infoshop.org/news.html
and www.dc.indymedia.org regularly.
Great posters for the Inauguration protests: www.bradkayal.com/i20
Coming up the weekend after the inauguration is the
Conference on Organized Resistance www.organizedresistance.org
FREE RADICAL is an online column on the current upsurge in
activism, written by L.A. Kauffman (firstname.lastname@example.org).
It appears once every three or four weeks, more often if
Back issues are on the web at www.free-radical.org
This issue is archived at
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
L.A. Kauffman (email@example.com) is currently writing
DIRECT ACTION: RADICALISM IN OUR TIME, a history of
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, Salon.com, and numerous other publications.
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