Activists readying for Bush inaugural

Thousands heading to capital to carry a message of justice

January 17, 2001|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

In their own way, Renee Washington, Alexis Baden-Mayer and Bruce Bailey are getting ready for the presidential inauguration of George W. Bush.

Washington, 46, handed out fliers on Baltimore street corners to urge residents to "fill the streets of Washington" to protest the Bush presidency. Baden-Mayer, 26, spent the weekend in a vacant dry cleaning shop in Takoma Park, sculpting a big puppet of the president-elect for a mock coronation. Via e-mail, Bailey, 46, has organized Philadelphia-area protesters and buses to the capital.

They don't know one another. But like thousands, they are part of an effort by citizens groups to mount a counter-inaugural on Saturday and remind the incoming president that they feel he lacks a popular mandate to govern.

The Secret Service and Washington-area police have mounted a major effort to ensure a festive - and safe - inaugural celebration for the estimated 750,000 guests and dignitaries expected at the swearing-in and parties. While permits have been granted to protest groups, access to the presidential parade route has been curtailed. Restrictions have been placed on everything from the size of placards to the use of protest props.

Demonstrations are planned from the steps of the Supreme Court to the sidewalks of Dupont Circle. Their sponsors range from the National Organization for Women to the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network. Unlike protests at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle last year that escalated into violence, activists say the aim is not to cause havoc and shut down the inauguration.

"We want Jan. 20 to be remembered not as the first day of a new reactionary regime in the White House but as an important step in a new movement for social justice in the United States," said Brian Becker of the New York-based International Action Center, one of the protest organizers.

Police security checkpoints and restrictions on protest signs have some protesters grumbling.

"If people pass through the checkpoints and the police take their signs, the demonstrators will be made ineffective," said Luke Kuhn, a bicycle messenger from Rockville and veteran protester. "What I encourage people to do ... have 30,000 people march to one of the checkpoints and demand to get through."

The IAC had planned an inaugural demonstration - regardless of who won - to rally against the death penalty. But the post-election fracas in Florida and the U.S. Supreme Court decision to stop recounts there - a ruling that essentially elected Bush president - caused outrage across political, racial and ideological lines.

"A lot of people feel this president was selected, and not elected by the people," said Marjorie Fields-Harris, executive director of Sharpton's New York group.

Now, the black-garbed, anti-globalization youths who dominated protests last year in Seattle, Prague and Washington will be joined at the inaugural marches by electoral reformers, union workers, African-American voters and abortion rights advocates. They may share a disdain for the president-elect and the way he came to power. But their reasons to protest the inauguration of the 43rd president are as individual as Washington, Baden-Mayer and Bailey.

Washington processes Medicaid forms for the state of Maryland. A single mother of five, she had little interest in social activism until her fiance died in police custody last June. The state medical examiner ruled that Joseph Wilbon died of natural causes, but Washington refuses to believe it. She quit her second job to work for the All People's Congress, a Baltimore community organization that supported her calls for an independent inquiry into Wilbon's death.

When the post-election controversy erupted in Florida, Washington understood voters' frustration with the system, especially because many ballots cast by blacks like herself were ruled invalid.

"Don't let a system that is supposed to be yours walk all over you," she said. "I'm going to Washington because ... the election was rigged. This wasn't a president that was voted in. This was a president that was put in. He has to prove to us he's for all the people."

Bush's position on the Florida recounts moved Bruce Bailey to act. An employee of a Philadelphia publisher, Bailey viewed as "incredible arrogance" the Texas governor's efforts to block a recount.

While surfing the Internet, the Gore supporter came across a Web site Votersmarch.org, which proposed an inauguration day rally for voters rights. Bailey was tapped as the Philadelphia organizer.

"I heard from many, many people who were in the same boat as me," said Bailey of Collegeville, Pa. "They were outraged. They were angry. They felt impotent about doing something about the Florida outcome. ... They liked the idea of a loud, angry, but not violent protest on the inauguration in the city of the inauguration."

Bailey has reserved two buses with his credit card. About 60 Philadelphia-area residents have signed up for a $30 round-trip ticket to the protests, he said.

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