Inaugurating a Season of Resistance

Revolutionary Worker #1088, January 28, 2001, posted at

On January 20, 2001 as the dour chords of "Hail to the Chief" drifted off the west front of the Capitol, chants of "Hail to the Thief" echoed up and down the streets of Washington, DC. From the Supreme Court to the Navy building, from Dupont Circle to Freedom Plaza, people denounced the inauguration; and all along Pennsylvania Avenue, thousands of protesters mingled in the crowd and jeered the new president as he drove by.

They brought their anger to the inauguration of George W. Bush and all it represents about official politics in the U.S. 2001: protesting the installation of a president who lost the popular vote and the denial of Black votes in the election, opposing the death penalty, demanding justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal, manifesting determination to defend women's right to chose, denouncing the U.S. bombing of Vieques in Puerto Rico, and just plain refusing to go along with the bloodsucking agenda of this dog-eat-dog system. The resistance resonated around the country: 10,000 in the streets of San Francisco, 5,000 in Los Angeles, 1,000 in Tallahasse, and actions reported in Portland, Seattle, Sacramento, Indianapolis, and Montpelier, Vermont.

Thousands of college students--many who had voted for the first time--were compelled into the streets, horrified and indignant at the blatant undemocratic process they discovered in the election. An RW reporter on the scene described a militant and self-confident spirit among the young protesters who bravely confronted a heavy police presence--sustaining arrests and beatings. American flags were burned, dragged on the ground, and at the Navy Building, the flag was pulled down. The RW headline "See Bush--Think Revolution" struck a chord.

Before the eyes of the world, an outrageous presidential selection process had unfolded--morphing from a total campaign snore, to an election eve tie, to an escalating ruling class dog-fight, to an appointment-by-court where a slim Supreme Court majority chose to call off the vote counting. And now there is a new president--with a program of accelerated conservatism--who the system is trying to legitimize after these months of inner ruling class power struggles.

On January 20, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were inaugurated in Washington--and one by one, their predecessors and rivals, Bill Clinton and Al Gore, stepped forward to shake hands and pass on supreme power. The opening words of Bush's inaugural address were: "The peaceful transfer of authority is rare in history, yet common in our country"--echoing the U.S. ruling class boast about the stability of their institutions. But, in fact, there were significant armed forces mobilized in Washington, DC during this transition--aimed at people in the streets, especially those who came to forcefully declare their rejection of everything this inauguration represents.

An Inauguration Wrapped in Steel

"It'll be an inauguration wrapped in steel."

Associated Press

"There is intelligence information that a lot of people are disgruntled and a lot of demonstrators are coming,"

Michael Radzilowski, DC police commander

This year there were three times as many police in the streets as there were in the previous inauguration--more than 10,000 total from various enforcement agencies. The ruling class openly worried about the largest mass protest at an inaugural since the Vietnam War -- and they were determined to contain the political impact of the protests. Authorities spoke openly of wanting to prevent the kind of disruption that hit Nixon's inaugural in 1973 and the World Trade Organization in Seattle in 1999.

The entire DC police force of 3,600 was on high alert, joined by another 1,400 cops from surrounding areas--to put on a heavy-handed display of force. About 1,500 of them were reportedly given a special course in the suppression of protesters. 163 observers from the D.C. National Guard rode with police in squad cars, so that the military would be involved if serious clashes broke out. The implication was that the army units of the National Guard were themselves standing at ready--though this was not reported in the mainstream press.

The rooftops throughout the city's inner core were manned by Secret Service snipers. The U.S. Park police contributed helicopters and horse-mounted police. The FBI had special "swift response" assault teams on standby.

January 20 saw the third instance of virtual martial law at a national political event in a U.S. city around this election--following the harsh police clampdowns at the conventions of Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

The spokesman for the DC police admitted that they had sent police spies into the organizational meetings of the inauguration protesters saying: "Open intelligence is pretty fair game, whether it's the Internet, reading the newspaper, watching TV or going to the meetings." A police agent was outed and expelled from one protest planning meeting. One organizer said: "We booted up a picture of him from the [anti-WTO] protests in April in a police parka. He said, 'That's not me.'"

Police mentality was on full display when DC assistant police chief Terrance Gainer charged that expelling police agents was a sign of likely criminal activity, "If they did have a picture, that indicates to me their involvement in counter surveillance. Why do peaceful protesters engage in that? Why does someone feel the need to take the picture of a police officer and hang it on a poster or put it on the Internet?... What nefarious things are they up to that they need to keep tabs on police?"

The operation was under the command of the Secret Service--the first time in history that a U.S. city had been handed over to the control of this federal police agency, according to CNN news. The entire downtown "parade areas" were (also for the first time in history) encircled in five miles of steel, six-foot high fences--with only 10 openings, where every person and every bag were subjected to searches. Police announced that protesters would be forbidden to carry giant puppets and large signs mounted on big sticks. Then, on the eve of the inauguration itself, a federal judge approved this clampdown and rejected claims that it was an "unconstitutional" suppression of the legal right to protest.

The unofficial theme of this year's inauguration seems to have been "Assume the position." And the justification for all this was typical: The government said they were preventing "terrorism." Meanwhile, the true target was, rather transparently, the thousands who came to Washington to challenge the policies and new leadership of this system--to contain these protesters and deny them any chance of seizing the spotlight from the new president. All during the morning of the inauguration, even as clashes and arrests were going on, there was an obvious attempt to deny television coverage to the thousands protesting in the streets.

Installing the Cabinet of Horrors

Compared to the open threat they aim at the people in the streets, the ruling class has been treating each other with velvet gloves these last weeks--even at those moments when their conflicts broke back into the open.

Colin Powell, the architect of the Gulf War, was confirmed unanimously by the Senate to his new post as Secretary of State--with full support from the Democrats. It proved, once again, the saying: "If you steal a gold chain they put you in jail, if you steal an oilfield they make you a top official of the empire." Donald Rumsfeld, the wannabe pointman for a new arms buildup, was also unanimously confirmed as Secretary of Defense..

Then came the confirmation process of former Senator John Ashcroft, a notorious Christian fascist who George W. Bush nominated to the top law enforcement office in the country. Ashcroft is a man so ideologically conservative that, like the mayor in the movie Footloose, he even thinks dancing is sinful!

In his confirmation hearing, Ashcroft crudely and rudely lied (proving once again that hypocrisy is a major ingredient in rightwing Fundamentalist moraliity). He insisted that he supports integration. And that he intends to enforce laws protecting women's health clinics (from the same Christian-fascist hit squads that back him so strongly). He claimed that he would not insist that future federal judges commit to opposing abortion rights--and even claimed that he would not work for the reversal of Roe v. Wade--the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion which he has spent his career attacking and undermining!

Every word of this is an obvious lie: It has been clear for months that the Christian-fascist wing of the new ruling government were demanding that one of their own get to be Attorney General precisely because they want someone to operate in high places to undermine the right to abortion, even further dismantle affirmative action, to escalate the integration of conservative Christian values into the command of social policy and carry out an intensification of police state moves--including the execution of prisoners. As Attorney General, Ashcroft will control federal prosecutions, federal prisons, the FBI and the pre-selection of possible Supreme Court Justices. And if he has no intention of injecting his views into these powerful federal processes--then why in the world would the Religious Right be demanding his nomination and confirmation?

The appointment of such an extreme reactionary as Ashcroft to such a central and powerful post in the government is a major marker in the rightward slide of U.S. ruling class politics. And the fact that the new president nominated him and that the Senate is likely to approve him is a powerful argument that this political system needs to be put in the dumpster of history.

It is revealing how the leading Democratic senators acted in response. They questioned Ashcroft on his past, they allowed some witnesses to call him out for his views and past policies, and then (with few exceptions) they essentially accepted his lies, telling the press, "He had said all the right things and we expect him to be confirmed." Even while they talked about their disagreements, the Democratic senators repeated over and over again that Ashcroft was "honorable," and "a dear friend to us all," and "well qualified" --fawning over this hateful pig who has openly opposed desegregation and, in a notorious speech at Bob Jones University, came out for a theocracy by stating that in the U.S. Jesus should be considered king.

Leading liberal Democrats Leahy and Biden insisted that no Senator on their committee had claimed that Ashcroft is a racist. Which raises the obvious question, "Why the hell not!?" What could be more deliberately and obviously white racist than Ashcroft's unambiguous defense of Jefferson Davis, the virulently pro-slavery President of the Confederacy?

As we go to press, the final Senate vote on Ashcroft has not yet been held--but everyone expects him to be confirmed, including with the support of significant numbers of Democrats.

And this same Senate (evenly divided between the two establishment parties) is also expected to confirm the top EPA job for Christine Whitman who, as governor of New Jersey, actively covered up the systematic racial profiling of her State Police. What does it say about a political system that considers this hateful Queen of Racial Profiling for any post of power?

The fact is these senators see these conflicts as "in the family"--and they constantly refer to the considerable unity even the liberal politicians have with men like Ashcroft over many values, issues and goals. In the selection of this new president and administration, the essential class nature of this U.S. political system has been on full display--from the way the election mess was settled (behind closed doors, by rejecting the remaining votes) to the way they are now approving Bush's key cabinet officials, to the way the Democrats have peacefully handed over power and pledged their loyalty to the system's new team.

The Black people of the U.S. have been totally disrespected. It has come out (once again) that extraordinary measures were taken at local levels to suppress their votes to manipulate the electoral outcome. And it is now clear that nothing will be done about it.

The U.S. ruling class has crafted for itself a new government that intends to accelerate the movement of official politics to the right. This is a government of heartless policies toward working people. It is a government that offers the youth more testing and more prisons. It is a government that aims to tighten the patriarchy--the traditional family values and denial of women's rights. It is a government that can't wait to chop more trees and pump more energy out of the Alaskan wilderness and California coastal waters. This is a government that dreams of injecting police and preachers even more deeply into everyone's life--while it moves to finance new generations of high-tech bombs and missiles.

There should be no mistake about it: We are entering a period where the necessity and possibility of mass resistance has increased even more. Those who dream that the solution to this is a Democratic presidential victory in 2004 need to look more closely, at the true history of the Clinton years, at the "peaceful transfer" that was just carried out, and at the Senate approval that was handed to the Cabinet hitmen of this new administration. Ruling class political forces, dedicated to the profit and preservation of this capitalist system, cannot and will not contribute to the sweeping changes that are needed to end the rot and oppression of U.S. society.

But, meanwhile, the good news of inaugural day was there in the streets.

This is a presidency born in a dog-fight and inaugurated behind police lines, while a wind of deep discontent and disgust blows across the country--not just among those at the bottom of society who feel the heavy weight of poverty and police terror, but even among many in the middle class who ordinarily accept the coming and going of various bourgeois administrations.


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