Mock Coffins, Real Anger
As President Bush was taking the oath of office at noon Thursday, Amy Caudill, 24, marched down 16th Street toward the White House, carrying the front of a mock coffin draped with an American flag. Caudill hoped to send the message that many loyal Americans adamantly opposed Bush and the war in Iraq.
“There are a lot of people who are proud, frustrated and patriotic at the same time,” said Caudill, a student at the State University of New York at Albany, who was one of thousands of antiwar protesters who marched and lined the route of the inaugural parade.
At demonstrations scattered around the city, along long stretches of the parade route and even in downtown subway stations, protesters often seemed more prevalent than Bush supporters.
They appeared to have achieved their goal of making their presence known both to the president, who has rarely come close to protesters in four years in office, and to the American public.
They shouted chants of “Bring them home,” “Liar!” and “Peace now!” and carried homemade signs with slogans like “Look, the emperor has no clothes,” “He’s not my president,” “Who made torture an American value?” and “Yeehaw is not a foreign policy.”
Most demonstrators were peaceful, but police used pepper spray and water cannons to quell unruly protesters stuck outside security checkpoints trying to get to the parade route.
U.S. Park Police arrested four women who crossed police lines along the parade route and disrobed to protest the wearing of furs, according to U.S. Park Police Sgt. Scott Fear.
Washington police arrested three people, two in assaults on police officers and another who allegedly set a bonfire, said officer Quintin Peterson.
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the Code Pink: Women for Peace antiwar group, and two other protesters were jailed after they unfurled a banner that said “Out of Iraq” and chanted “Bring home the troops” while in a VIP section along the parade route, according to June Brashares, who works with Benjamin at Global Exchange, a human-rights organization in San Francisco.
Some Bush supporters were furious that demonstrators tried to spoil the patriotic pageant. But others were happy to share sidewalks and subways with people who were chanting antiwar and anti-Bush slogans, even as the president’s limousine passed by.
“I think this is what makes the country great,” said Laura Flaherty, 45, a Bush supporter and high school social studies teacher from Columbus, Ohio, who brought 40 students to the inauguration. “They have as much right to be here as we do.”
The protesters came from across the country. They included a Jamaican immigrant from Brooklyn whose grandson was fighting in Iraq, a 46-year-old lawyer from Sacramento who called the president inept and a 38-year-old woman from Virginia who dressed as Jesus.
“Jesus would be opposed to this war and most of what this administration stands for,” said Tara White, a graduate student at Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Va., who wore a crown of thorns and a white robe.
White joined a hodgepodge of several thousand protesters who gathered at Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park, and marched about two miles down 16th Street, stopping a few blocks short of the White House.
They carried dozens of coffins draped in flags or black cloth to draw attention to the more than 1,300 U.S. military service members who had died in the Iraq war.
But the biggest protest was along the parade route. For several blocks toward the beginning, protesters far outnumbered supporters. They were sprinkled throughout the crowd along much of the rest of the route and again made up the majority of the crowd near Freedom Plaza, a few blocks from the White House.
Answer Coalition, an antiwar group, was given a permit to congregate and set up bleachers near the start of the parade route. As the president’s limousine approached, riot police stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a human barricade. Many in the group chanted: “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Bush and Cheney go away!” Others, including Ryan Rebarchick, simply turned their backs toward the limousine.
“I can’t respect him at all,” said Rebarchick, 23, a waitress. “He has done so many things wrong -- with the war and the rest of his policies -- that he doesn’t deserve to be president.”
Jane Myers an elementary school teacher, came from Gainesville, Fla., despite a broken foot.
“Nothing was going to stop me,” she said. “I was too poor and young to protest in the 1960s, so now that I’m 60, and I have a little money, I came to protest the war.”
Times staff writers Warren Vieth, Johanna Neuman and Justin Dickerson contributed to this report.