Report from D.C.

No to the Emperor’s Coronation

by Penny Brown, Phillip Watts, and Osage Bell

Revolutionary Worker #1266, January 30, 2005, posted at

January 20, 2005. As the U.S. war on the Iraqi people raged, hundreds of thousands of people poured into Washington, DC, the virtual nerve center of U.S. imperialism. Thousands came bearing fur coats, black ties, gowns, military uniforms, and cowboy hats. Some had received official invitations while others paid tens of thousands of dollars to attend the inauguration of George W. Bush.

But these weren’t the only people in DC. Another group came with their signs, their drums, their noisemakers, and their determination. They came in the thousands to oppose Bush’s mandate. They came to declare, for the world to see, "He’s Not Our President!" They brought their opposition to the war and the whole program represented by Bush. And importantly, they brought their dreams of a different kind of a world.

There was an undeniable intensity in the air as different sections of the people collided in Washington, DC, representing the sharp polarization that exists in the country. Those who are part of the social base for George W. Bush and those who oppose the whole direction he is taking the country were coming together in the U.S. capital.


The morning was not as cold as it could have been. A view from the sky would have seen people gathering in scattered parks all across the city, spread out around a caged-in Pennsylvania Avenue lined with bleachers and saturated with red, white, and blue.

There were two main rallies, one held by International A.N.S.W.E.R. at the very end of Pennsylvania Avenue — where thousands of people had managed to gain a permit to demonstrate right along the parade route.

The other, hosted by DAWN (DC Anti-War Network) was at Malcolm X (Meridian) Park, north of the parade route, where thousands more rallied.People were coming together to express their utter contempt for George Bush and his whole crew, to deliver a giant NO to their whole agenda. Just about everywhere you looked you could see the NION signs with the big NO! against a bright red background.

Many signs were homemade and a number of those read "Fuck Bush." A large display of coffins draped in the American flag symbolizing the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, as well as black sheets symbolizing the death of the Iraqi people.Among the speakers was Stan Goeff from the group Bring Them Home Now who said they were building an army of resisters within the U.S. military.

The people at this second rally marched towards the parade route, passing Planned Parenthood, and the women inside waved and cheered. The crowd cheered back. They had displayed a giant banner across the front of the building that read something like, "We will remain open...No Matter What!"

The armed helicopters circling overhead must have seen quite a sight as crowds estimated at over 25,000 people were swarming in towards Pennsylvania Avenue from these different parks all over the city.

People marched and chanted and screamed out against the war on Iraq, the lies, the torture, the attacks on immigrants and women and gays, and everything else that Bush represents. Anarchists and others carried signs that called him out as a fascist, comparing him to Hitler. People who were obviously more "mainstream" sometimes thought this might be "going too far" but seemed open to the discussion. This was one sign that there are still many important conversations that need to be going on all around the country.

Creativity and Questions

There was a noticeable mix between optimism and pessimism among the demonstrators, both collectively and within individuals. Many felt very depressed after the last election. People said that going into the election they didn’t even have hope that the results would reflect reality. Many were pissed off at people who had voted for Bush.

There were a lot of people who talked about being kept awake late at night by a range of questions: What the hell is going on in this country and the world? What kind of a future is in store for humanity? What’s going to happen over the next four years? Why aren’t the Democrats doing anything about this madness? And how could anyone possibly vote for this lunatic?

The night before the inauguration we talked to a freelance photojournalist who worked for mainstream magazines like Time and Newsweek . He said he was trying to feel optimistic but was having a hard time. He was very frustrated with how "weak" the Democrats had been, but had a hard time seeing the strength of the people. When asked why he had come out he said, "You guys need help." His face expressed real urgency. He said that he was not getting paid, but made the trip from Seattle to try and get positive images of the anti-war movement into the mainstream press. He explained to us that if editors don’t think the advertisers like the images, they won’t run them. He couldn’t understand why Americans hadn’t come out in the hundreds of thousands like in the Ukraine.

Turn Your Back!

One of the creative forms of defiance that day was "Turn Your Back on Bush." Several people even quit their jobs to organize these counter-inaugural events full-time. They slept on floors, used borrowed office space, and learned how to organize and gain media attention as they went along. They expected thousands of people from 41 states to travel to DC for a silent protest along the parade route.

The plan was simple — along the parade route, as Bush and his motorcade drove past, people would turn around and give Bush their backs, in the face of expected taunting from Bush supporters, who would be all around them.

Jet Heiko told USA Today that, unlike most protests, with the "Turn your back" plan, "there’s no buffer" between participants and those who disagree with them. "This is a courageous action. It’s a hard action," he said. "It’s hard to restrain yourself when you’re feeling angry." It is estimated that somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 people participated.

You got a sense from the participants that they wanted to find creative ways to resist what had been, for them, a crushing and confusing defeat. And coming out at the Inauguration was a way for them to do this, alongside the thousands of others who identify with the words "blue zone," "blue stater" or "reality- based community member."

A Communist Vision

At nearly every entrance point to get into the inauguration procession, the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB) and friends were there getting out the Revolutionary Worker and the new statement by the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). Some of the RCYB told us that, at times, they were surrounded by Republicans — but that overall they were having a great experience and getting into lots of discussion over what these times represent and what the opportunities are for the future. And they didn’t hold back from dancing defiantly in the streets with other protesters.

There was a crew of volunteers taking out Bob Avakian’s new memoirs, From Ike to Mao and Beyond . The crew, working with Insight Press, took out the book, which was rushed from its March release date to hit the streets at the inauguration. They cruised the city from college campuses to bookstores, from a protest convergence center to protests in the streets. They told about the genuine excitement and interest over the release of this book.

A Church-Going Union Man and the First-time Students

We talked to Kirk, a union organizer for the Transport Workers, who was inspired by the call to "Turn Your Back on Bush." He came all the way from Oklahoma and told us how a number of people back home had gotten together, and one of them dressed up like Bush so that the others could do a public demonstration and turn their backs on him.

He talked about how hard the transportation industry, and particularly the airline industry, had been hit by Bush’s policies, as people were losing their jobs. He said that, by and large, the thousands of people in his union had traditionally supported the Democrats, and that was still true, but that a lot of people were being swung by the "morality" issues into supporting Bush.

It was sort of complex, he said, because it was so easy to see that a vote for Bush was so obviously against their economic interests.

He talked about how huge the "morality" question is, especially in the southern states, and that it was being put out that it is a "sin" to vote for the Democrats. Kirk is "a churchgoing man" but firmly believes in the separation of church and state and told us how he felt that "they’re imposing religion on everyone and that’s alienating." This is not what he thinks Christianity, or religion generally, should be all about. He seemed fairly optimistic that "the way workers are being used by the U.S. administration will strengthen the unions."

A large portion of the demonstrators were students. And many of them were not long-time activists or just the "usual suspects" at protests. They were young people awakening to political life, compelled by the extreme Bush agenda to take off from school and their daily lives and express their resistance to where Bush is set on taking their future, and humanity’s future. They were extremely enthusiastic and excited to be a part of something so important.

One young woman from Ohio, who helped to organize "Turn Your Back on Bush" said, with a giant grin across her face, that it was her first time participating in anything like that and she couldn’t wait to do more.

The youth were defiant and inspiring and very serious about what they were doing, even when they were laughing and dancing with friends in the streets.

Soldiers in the Mix

As we walked over to the parade route we stopped in a restaurant to warm up. The restaurant was a huge mix of pro-Bush supporters, military and protesters. Oh, and we would imagine just a few undercover police. (Duh!)

At one table was a group of four young men in army uniforms. They had received tickets to go to the inaugural parade — but not any of the parties afterwards. We sat down and spoke with them briefly. Only one of them had been in Iraq. They informed us they couldn’t really give their opinions on the war, the morale of the troops, the effect of no WMD’s and the resistance of the Iraqi people. But big grins crossed their faces when such things were mentioned. They wanted to talk, and maybe if we weren’t in a fish bowl atmosphere they would have said more. They were interested in the Revolutionary Worker newspaper. When we told them what we were about and what kind of future we were fighting for, one commented, "I wish I could get there with you!"

Boldly Disrupting the Ceremonies

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (or rather, on the steps of the Capitol Building,) as G.W. Bush began to take his oath of office, there were two different disruptions from people in the crowd. Voices of resistance penetrated through all the barricades and security checks and other forms of intimidation.

From within the crowd of thousands and thousands of Bush supporters, three people from Eugene, Oregon waited for a quiet time to shout out and denounce the war. As that old coot William Rehnquist hobbled up to the microphone, they got up into the aisle chanting, "Bring the troops home! Stop the war! Stop the war!" Another audience member doused them with water, knocking two of them down, before they were escorted out.

Very soon after that, another man stood up and started shouting the same thing. As he was ushered out, Bush supporters threw their drinks on him and told him to "Go home!"

Later, during the acceptance speech, six very defiant women from Code Pink: Women for Peace, the same organization that infiltrated the Republican National Convention, stood up with anti-war banners and chanted "Bring the troops home!" before being arrested.

If you watched the speech on TV, you could hear the Bush crowd cheer very loudly at seemingly inappropriate times, in attempts to drown out the chanting.

The Metal Cocoon of Military Security

The atmosphere surrounding the presidential motorcade procession down Pennsylvania Avenue was so outrageous that even the bourgeois press had to comment on it.

Two conservative columnists, George Will and David Brooks, were talking with Peter Jennings after Bush gave his speech and the procession was moving along. Will said that it looked like a military operation moving down the streets of DC. "It’s like we’re a banana republic that’s worried about a restive camp down the road." He added, "It takes a military operation to move the president from the inauguration to home. No one gets near without going through security and a ticket."

Brooks commented that it’s like they’re rolling through a metal cocoon. "C’mon, we want some people contact. It’s like a George Orwell novel, with the World Wrestling Federation style announcer."

Then Jennings commented that it’s not a very nice feeling on the streets of DC today. There are many raucous anti-policy, anti-war demonstrators out there, and then there’s this announcer who is telling everyone exactly what’s right in front of their faces.

Troops from all branches of the military, in crisp uniforms and neatly formed rows, led as Bush’s motorcade made its way down Pennsylvania Avenue. As the motorcade departed the Capitol Building, the first few blocks or so along Pennsylvania Avenue were lined on both sides with demonstrators, cursing him out and booing. In other parts, pockets of protesters were able to make it through as part of the general crowd. As the motorcade would approach, yelling from the crowds got very, very loud from both sides.

Overwhelmingly the crowd lining the procession was cheering with zeal at the president they adore. But significantly, thousands were yelling against him with all their might or turning their backs. Thousands more who were kept outside of that "metal cocoon" that surrounded the parade route could also be heard from the streets.

Dubya didn’t get out of his Cadillac limousine until the very last few steps, which is unprecedented in a presidential inauguration, with the exception, of course, of his last one.

The entire city was heavily locked down. A no-fly zone was established over all of Washington as well as Baltimore with the exception of U.S. fighter jets. Helicopters circled the Capitol and boats from the Coast Guard patrolled the Potomac. There were sharpshooters on rooftops, including the roof of the White House. Police carried machine guns, and undercover agents infiltrated the crowds. Bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled in record numbers. There were enormous X-ray machines, large enough for trucks to drive through. And underground were biological sensors to detect threats from biological weapons. Pennsylvania Avenue was caged in with tall metal fences and rows upon rows of police from all over the country who were decked out in futuristic high-tech riot gear that made them look like extras on the set of a sci-fi movie.

The only way to get inside the fences and up to see the motorcade was through a number of designated security checkpoints which kept people waiting for sometimes hours at a time before subjecting them to a wanding and search. There were only a couple of public entrances which were shut before long. To get in the other entrances you had to have a ticket, which were given out by government officials or purchased for thousands of dollars.

Whose streets? Our streets!

Many of the protesters and Bush supporters weren’t able to make it inside the barricades and ended up outside these checkpoints as the motorcade approached. It was a surreal mix of people. The protesters continued demonstrating and chanting and as the motorcade got closer, things got more intense. People started pushing on the fences, rocking them back and forth. The Bush people cheered the president, while some were burning an American flag. At one entrance point which had been shut down a flank of motorcycle cops road through. Protesters danced and chanted.

One young woman about 14 years old ran laughing back to the embrace of her friends after running in the streets. "Did you have fun?" they asked as they hugged her. "It was great!"

At 14th Street, things got especially heated as demonstrators began to disassemble the fences. The police pushed back, putting the fence back together. But the people pushed harder and knocked the fences down. As they surged forward, the police struck back with pepper spray and tear gas that emanated from tubes that were connected to their arms. Chaos ensued. Eventually all the protesters on that block were made to sit in the street as they continued to defiantly yell, "Whose streets? Our streets!"

Standing right smack in the middle of a bunch of protesters, proudly holding a Bush/Cheney 2004 sign, was 16- year-old Steven, a high school student who came on his own from Virginia to show his support for the president. He’d been very politicized since September 11, when he was 13. He very much felt that Bush’s program was vital to defending America. And he was really into Bush’s "moral platform," especially around abortion.

At 7th and D Street, police tried to stop a young anarchist contingent that had broken off from the main march. The cops used pepper spray but even then the demonstrators refused to back down. There was a standoff of metal batons against snowballs. And finally, the police began beating people down, and dousing them even more with pepper spray.

After the concert

While the ruling class ended their day at various Inaugural Balls, there were also many anti-inaugural events, including poetry readings, concerts, and celebrations of resistance. At a punk rock show, a few hundred young people gathered to hear the groups, including Anti-Flag. Afterwards, the young defiants decided to again take to the streets and march to one of the Inaugural Balls, but were headed off a few blocks later by riot cops. The police herded about 60 of them into an alley, forcing them to kneel in the snow, as they were arrested and taken off to jail. Some were stuck there on their knees in the wet and freezing alley for hours.

The Bush crew has brought forward a whole rolling force of war and repression— and they are obviously set on taking all that to even greater heights of horror.

But what the future will hold is definitely not settled. The continued outpouring of resistance at the inauguration, as well as around the world, really represents the seeds of a different kind of future—the kind of future where all of humanity is unleashed to realize our creative potential. The kind of future that is not marked by war and torture and corporate greed but by people consciously working to overcome their divisions with everyone’s interests in mind. Where people are acting on a beautiful and liberating vision of a world of freely associating human beings, free of borders, exploitation, and oppression.


There were also anti-inauguration activities in other cities around the country, including Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Honolulu, San Diego, Baltimore, Tucson, Chicago, Philadelphia, Flagstaff, Tucson, Austin, New Orleans, and Atlanta. There were marches, cultural events, banner drops, and other expressions of NO! to Bush. High school walkouts were an important aspect of the anti-inauguration actions: thousands of students walked out in Austin, Texas; Seattle, Washington; Evanston, Illinois; and other areas. In New Orleans organizers found a creative way to oppose the Bush agenda by hosting a "Jazz Funeral For Democracy" (see box). Reports from RW correspondents in several areas are available online at’s What’s New page.