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Protesting the Inaugural

Reactions from Washington, D.C. on January 20th

Protesting the inauguration of a President has become a tradition. While those who shouted “not my President” and other things as Donald Trump ascended to the highest office in the land clearly did not like him, most of them would have demonstrated had it been Hillary Clinton who took the oath. dsc08866c

The inauguration, like the nominating conventions the summer before, is a soapbox because it attracts so much press looking for stories. This gives protesters a national voice for their issue that they usually don’t have. Unfortunately, these issues are often obscured when a small number choose to destroy property. That’s what happened in DC on January 20 late in the day while the inaugural parade was proceeding up Pennsylvania Ave. A small group broke windows, threw bricks, and burned a limousine on K St., well outside the security zone. This got most of the press, pushing other issues out of the headlines and to the bottom of the coverage.dscn0177sc

I didn’t see any of this, but I certainly heard about it at every place I went later in the day. Every protest I personally observed was non-violent, even when it was disruptive.dsc08855c

The day began with a smoke-in in front of a bank at Massachusetts Ave.and 20th St. where DCMJ was handing out joints made from legally grown cannabis. This is legal in DC under certain conditions. DCMJ wants to make legalization national. I saw about 200 people gathered at that location, where a couple dozen stood in line to show their ID and get a joint. Three people in a cage made to look like a jail were handing them out, with a sign aimed at Attorney General-to-be Jeff Sessions, who wants to keep it a crime. They planned to march to the Mall at 10:00 but I didn’t hang around to watch them do it. The Mall is federal territory where they were subject to arrest, but I didn’t hear what happened.

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Next stop was McPherson Square, where Occupy camped out for several months four years ago. DisruptJ20 has been running training sessions at two local churches all week. There was a Medic tent on one corner of the square, and another large tent for different groups to set up tables and promote their own issues out of the impending rain. Seeds of Peace was passing out free food. Trainers were telling different small groups that the primary action would be to blockade the lines at the security checkpoints where crowds would be trying to get to the parade.
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One group I recognized from Occupy was the black bloc. They are anarchists, easily identifiable by their all-black ensembles, with protective padding and face masks. Four years ago they did a good job of disrupting Occupy activities by destroying property on marches and making it look like all Occupiers were into wanton destruction. I talked to a lot of them during Occupy. They are overwhelmingly young white males suffering from testosterone poisoning. The ones I spoke to in McPherson couldn’t, or wouldn’t, tell me their plans, but anyone who has seen them in action knew that nonviolent protest wasn’t on their agenda.
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I took a break to drop in on PoliticoHub at the W Hotel, where you could get free food and sit for a while, listening to various commentators on current events.
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Back out on the street I checked out the checkpoints. The one on 14th St. led to Freedom Plaza, which is the prime protest spot at most inaugurals. ANSWER, a small Stalinist group that has a talent for appearing bigger than it is, has turned protesting at the inaugurals into a tradition. Long ago it obtained a court order to compel the National Park Service to grant it a permit to protest on the parade route. Last fall the NPS denied every request by every group for permits, before, during and after Jan. 20. It told all that they were too late — another group got there first. ANSWER’s legal arm, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, went back to court.
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It discovered that the “other group” was the NPS itself, which had issued itself an omnibus permit for all space in, on and around the Capitol, the Mall and the parade route. It was reserving this space so that the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) could have first dibs. Faced with legal action, the NPS quickly issued 22 permits for “first amendment activity.” It gave ANSWER not only space at Freedom Plaza, but major space in front of the Navy Memorial between 7th and 9th St. ANSWER shifted its primary protest to the larger spot, building a sound stage and scheduling music and speakers for all of January 20.
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Thus, when protestors from DisruptJ20 blocked the entrance to the security checkpoint on 14th St. it was only blocking access to ANSWER’s secondary site. I checked out all the checkpoints between 14th and Union Station, where a Festival of Resistance was supposed to go on from noon to 5:00. A couple dozen protestors at some of these either stood with linked arms, or sat in front of the entrances to the security fences.
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They weren’t everywhere. Guards redirected those who wanted to get to the parade route to those check points that weren’t blocked. In those, protestors stood in the lines with their signs but didn’t keep people from going through. The overall effect was delay. No one was arrested for blocking, or even dragged off to the side, at least not then.
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The feminist protest site was at 10th St. There, CodePink held up a long banner saying “Yes We Can Live in Peace.” It also had a sound system for its speakers, and a lot of other signs. I never got to the main ANSWER site. The crowds outside the closest security checkpoint were simply too great. I could hear that something was going on, but couldn’t see it. In between I passed a dozen marchers wearing Russian fur hats and cloaks with the Communist symbol on them. Their signs said such things as “Make Russia Great Again” and “Plan I: Steal Election.” I thought I’d find them later, but I didn’t, so never found out exactly who they were.
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By the time I got to Columbus Circle in front of Union Station, the Festival of Resistance was pretty much over. Most of those who had come were marching to McPherson. They left right before the crowds of Trump supporters who had tickets to stand and watch the inauguration on jumbotrons reached Union Station to go home.
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I waited a while to see if anything would happen, then returned to PoliticoHub for more rest and commentators. The only coverage of the protests I heard was about window breaking at K St. When PoliticoHub closed at 4:30 I walked down to Freedom Plaza. There were no protestors and virtually no wait to go through security. On Pennsylvania Ave. the only protest I saw was one lone sign held by a woman in barely occupied bleachers. It said “UGH”. The few people there were watching bands march down Pennsylvania Ave. in the dark.
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I walked up to Franklin Square, where the remnants of a concert was still in progress. On the way I spoke to venders, who were still hawking their Trump wares. Business was lousy, they told me; they’d be lucky to break even. Police and protestors were facing off in the middle of K St. where 217 people had been arrested earlier. The streets were littered with turned-over trash cans. No one still there seemed to know exactly what had happened earlier, let alone why.
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