As a 62 year-old Raging Granny who uses a disability scooter to get around, my experiences of the J20 Counter Inaugural activities in Washington, DC on Bush's Inauguration Day will surely be different from those of my younger activist sisters and brothers who are always more at risk of beng pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed, beaten with police batons and hosed down with water cannons than I.
But I did see a young man with red, teary eyes at the Metro station soon after the conclusion of Bush's imperial parade. He told me he'd been standing five persons back from the security fence at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue when a policeman pepper-sprayed him directly in the face. He went on to say, "My only 'crime' was to put up my hand and give that police officer a peace sign." He said that protesters in front of him had been rattling the security fence to make more noise. Then things turned nasty.
And now I see photos posted on Indymedia.org of the police pepper-spraying, tear-gassing and water cannon-hosing protesters in what might have been the same incident or another like it. In the photos it is clear that a section of the barricade had been torn down and apparently the police were responding to that "breach of security." I guess if I'd been near that section of the fence, even an old Granny like me would have been in the line of fire.
It's amazing how quickly one gets used to a police state mentality.
Shouldn't we be appalled that we citizens of a supposedly "free" country have to go through armed checkpoints to get within a block of where we might see our president ride by in his bullet-proof, security guard-surrounded limousine on his Inauguration Day?
Shouldn't we question the need for snipers positioned on every roof along his Inaugural Parade Route? And the presence of military helicopters hovering overhead?
And what about women like Medea Benjamin, Jodie Evans and Diane Wilson, co-founders of Code Pink, being arrested for daring to sit in the VIP bleachers and then stand up on their chairs as George W passed by and yell "Bring the troops home!" while holding up banners with "No War", "Out of Iraq Now", and "Bush Mandate: Troops Home Now" printed on them? What is the crime in that? They were doing exactly what we protesters were doing down on the street; I guess their "crime" was making Bush's big money donors uncomfortable.
These things should make our skin crawl.
I've now learned (three days later) that the checkpoint I went through at 12th Street was closed down immediately after we Raging Grannies had made our way through. They say young protesters "stormed" the white checkpoint tent after having waited patiently--I personally SAW them waiting patiently--for over an hour to get through security in time to see and respond to Bush-on-parade. Now I know why the security folks suddenly started running around and screaming for us to get out of the way.
But except for that unexplained weird behavior by the security personnel and meeting the young man with pepper-sprayed eyes, my personal experience of this J20 Counter Inaugural day was positive.
I listened to excellent speakers from Code Pink, NOW, Not In Our Name Project, Theaters Against War, National Mourning Project and Billionaires for Bush. A former career military officer who is now active in Veterans for Peace and Code Pink made an impassioned plea for peace, and a Kenya-born activist and community organizer was an excellent MC at the Code Pink-sponsored Women's Rally at Dupont Circle.
I heard and sang along with a refreshing new group called the Ladies Of Liberty, who are young women committed to safeguarding women's reproductive rights. And we Raging Grannies sang at two rallies--the Code Pink Women's Rally from 9 AM-noon in Dupont Circle, and the RedefeatBush.org/left.org sponsored rally in the early afternoon at McPherson Square.
At the side of my sister Raging Grannies, I participated in the Women's Funeral March that was led by a New Orleans Jazz Band from Dupont Circle to McPherson Square. In addition to individual signs and banners held high by hundreds of protesters, a dozen flag-draped coffins were solemnly carried, coffins symbolizing people and programs killed and/or under threat by the Bush administration.
After hearing Granny D speak and then singing three of our songs at the McPherson Square rally, we Raging Grannies walk/scooted down 12th Street and waited for about an hour to be cleared so we could stand along the Inaugural Parade Route and let George W know what we think of him. By our sides were hundreds of enthusiastic young activists.
The line stretched at least a block and was 10 persons-wide. Three guys in Army fatigues guarded the entrance to the white tent where the security checks were being held. It was extremely slow going with one person being let in at a time. S/He was patted down by a woman or man (depending on the person's gender), then had to open their coat, and have all their bags and pockets checked for "dangerous" items. There was a long list of banned items including backpacks and poles such as those used for our Raging Grannies banner.
You had to believe the security personnel were deliberately moving slowly because everyone in this line was obviously a protester.
As a woman in a mobility scooter, I was treated with courtesy bordering on deference. My able-bodied friend Judy Drylie was not treated the same as I. She said the woman security guard who patted her down was quite insistent that Judy open her coat even though it meant she had to take off her Granny apron to do so. The same guard didn't say a word to me about opening my coat. Sometimes being disabled can be an advantage.
Once inside the "gated community" on Pennsylvania Avenue, we found ourselves dozens of persons away from any view of the Inaugural Parade Route. So we Raging Grannies stood with a group of about 100 protesters--most of them young--and yelled chants as we waited for His Majesty to pass by. Bush supporters were seated in the bleachers in front of us and only one woman--from Canada, can you believe it?--expressed anger at our chants and booing of the prez. Actually, one of our favorite chants was "You're not MY prez!" When we heard that George W was in front of our section, we booed VERY LOUDLY.
In terms of the numbers of people who were in DC protesting the inauguration of George W. Bush as president, it would be impossible to say. I've seen Counter-Inaugural organizers' estimates of 25,000, but that must have been simply the number of people attending their rallies. And there were several rallies going on at the same time in different parts of the city.
International A.N.S.W.E.R. had a rally at their legal bleacher section on the Parade Route. DAWN (D.C. Anti-War Network) and RISE Against Bush/SHINE for a Peaceful Tomorrow sponsored what was probably the largest rally from 9 AM-noon at Malcolm X Park, a two-mile march from the White House. The Women's Rally we Raging Grannies sang at also started at 9 AM and was held at Dupont Circle. RedefeatBush.org, now called Left.org, hosted an afternoon rally at McPherson Square.
There was a Critical Mass bike ride of protesters who took to the streets of DC at dawn, anarchists doing their own thing, a "die-in" at Lafayette Park across from the White House, and at least two large "legal" marches held in conjunction with the Code Pink and DAWN rallies.
Then there were all the folks who followed the advice of TurnYourBack.org and got down to the Parade Route by 9 AM to get good spots so they could literally turn their backs on the newly-inaugurated president as he passed by. And of course there were untold numbers of individuals and groups who simply followed their own paths and protested in whatever ways best suited their message, gifts and talents. I did read of a couple of folks who "bared it all" to get their messages across and ended up being arrested for their trouble.
All I can say from personal experience is that there were LOTS of young people in evidence, many of whom had come by bus or car from cities and towns all over the U.S. Believe me, DC was crawling with protesters!
For us twenty Raging Grannies from Rochester, NY, Western Massachusetts, New York City, Pittsburgh and Detroit, this J20 Counter Inaugural was a priceless opportunity to join with persons of all ages, ethnicities, national origins, classes and religions/non-religions to say a loud resounding NO! to this president whom we know from experience is more about war, imperialism, religious control, greed and destruction than about peace, justice, tolerance and sustainability.
Our being asked to give dozens and dozens of interviews to film crews from as far away as Belgium, student and professional documentary filmmakers from across the country, mainstream and alternative TV and print media representatives only added to the sense of urgency we feel that those of us who are awake and aware must speak up NOW and tell the truth as we see it. Hopefully our words will span the globe so our sisters and brothers everywhere will know that there are MILLIONS of us living here within the belly of the beast who do NOT accept George W. Bush as our president and will do all we can to resist his arrogant, destructive attitudes and actions.
Ron Hutcheson, a Knight Ridder Washington, DC correspondent, quoted Granny Vicki and me in his news report, Lingering divisions mar Inauguration Day's pomp and pageantry":
"The guy's got to go. He has no right to be here. He stole the election," said Vicki Ryder of Rochester, N.Y., a member of the Raging Grannies, a liberal activist group for older women.
a Raging Grannies member from Detroit, wheeled to the parade route
in a motorized cart plastered with bumper stickers saying, "Love
is stronger than fear" and "Vote." She scoffed
at the idea that she should focus on the next election rather
than re-fight the last one.
"Yes, he got in another four years," the 62-year-old Lay-Dorsey said, "but I'm going to fight him tooth and nail every minute of every day."
What he neglected to say was that I added, "But more importantly, I'm going to continue working with grassroots movements to build the kind of world we all want and need."
A well-balanced report of the protests--"Mock Coffins; Real Anger"--appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Friday, January 21, 2005.
A few moments, encounters and images that will stay with me:
I am filled with gratitude
for this opportunity to stand up and be counted as a member of
the World Community who resists all those who use imperialist
and aggressive means to destroy and oppress peoples, species and
the planet. We stand in solidarity with the people of Iraq, the
soldiers who have had enough of killing and being killed, the
tortured and disappeared, the poor and marginalized of our country
and the world, and all who dream and work for more equitable,
respectful and peace-filled ways of sharing our common home.
To see my photos click on J20 COUNTER INAUGURAL PHOTO ALBUM #1...
©2005 Patricia Lay-Dorsey. Please use with attribution.