Loud, peaceful protest interrupts Bush speech
Code Pink activists access VIP section -- and get expelled
- Zachary Coile, Chronicle Washington Bureau
Friday, January 21, 2005
Washington -- Thousands of people demonstrated in the streets of the nation's capital Thursday to urge an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and to remind President Bush at his second inauguration that nearly half the country does not share his views.
The noisy but mostly peaceful protests did not disrupt the inaugural events -- although a small band of activists, including several from the Bay Area, obtained tickets to a VIP area near the U.S. Capitol and interrupted Bush's speech by standing on their chairs and shouting, "Stop the celebration, end the occupation!"
Their chant was quickly drowned out by a loud chorus of "Four More Years" from the pro-Bush crowd.
Jodie Evans, a Los Angeles activist who was briefly detained by U.S. Capitol police for interrupting the speech, said, "We want to continue to show the world that there are people in the United States who want us out of Iraq and who do not support the Bush agenda."
Extraordinarily tight security for the first inauguration since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks kept most demonstrators far from the president. Few protesters had bought tickets -- sold for $125 by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, mostly to invited guests -- which were required to reach much of the prime space along the parade route.
A group of about 2,000 activists had traveled from across the country for a "Turn Your Back on Bush" protest, during which they would turn their backs on Bush's motorcade as it drove past along the parade route.
However, as the motorcade approached the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Seventh Street, some of the group's activists were still stuck in long lines outside security checkpoints waiting to get in.
"It's not just protesters (being turned away)," complained Amy Laura Cahn, an organizer with Turn Your Back on Bush from Philadelphia. "If you don't have a ticket, whether you are making a statement of dissent or of support, you don't get in."
Earlier in the day, at least 5,000 anti-war protesters marched down 16th Street toward the White House carrying flag-draped coffins to symbolize the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and signs reading " 'Yeehaw' is not a foreign policy" and "Is Iran Next?"
"Not everyone in America is saying, 'Let's be happy' and "Let's get behind our president,' " said John Graetz, a 41-year-old protester carrying a banner reading "Torture is not a family value."
About 1,000 activists staged a New Orleans-style jazz funeral march to McPherson Square, near the White House, to dramatize what they said would be a loss of civil rights, labor rights and abortion rights in a second Bush term.
"We're calling this the national day of mourning," said Carrie Biggs-Adams, a 51-year-old labor activist from Washington, D.C.
But Biggs quickly added that she was not giving up, saying, "As far as I'm concerned, this is the kickoff to four more years of dissent. We're not going to let this guy take away our rights."
While the protests were largely peaceful, police in riot gear were called in when a small group of black-clad self-proclaimed anarchists got into an altercation with officers near a security checkpoint after throwing chunks of ice and bottles of a mysterious fluid. Police dispersed the group with pepper spray.
The most effective -- and disruptive -- protest may have come from the anti-war group Code Pink, which obtained 16 tickets to the inauguration from their members of Congress. Eight female activists, including Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin of San Francisco, obtained seats in the VIP section.
They took their cue during Bush's speech -- when he spoke about the rights of people living under dictatorships to "free dissent" -- and unfurled banners reading "No War" and "Bush Mandate: Bring the Troops Home." Police confiscated the banners but did not remove the women.
A few moments later, the women stood up again, but this time they shouted, "Champagne is flying while soldiers are dying" and "Out of Iraq now." The pro-Bush crowd began chanting, and Bush momentarily paused. Police pulled the women off their chairs and escorted them out of area.
Two of the women were still being held late Thursday -- Benjamin and Diane Wilson of Texas -- but the others were released after the speech was over.
Code Pink drew attention for infiltrating the Republican convention in New York in September. One of the group's activists stripped down to pink lingerie covered in anti-war slogans, and another briefly interrupted Bush's convention speech.
"We'll continue to be vocal until the war ends," Evans said.
©2005 San Francisco Chronicle