Thousands of protestors expected for "counter-inaugural"

Groups angry about the Iraq war, the economy, President Bush's environmental policies, and a myriad of other issues promise to put their mark on Thursday's celebration with several marches, rallies and acts of civil disobedience.

One group plans to carry 1,000 coffins representing some of the soldiers who have died in Iraq and another is planning for hundreds to turn their backs on the president as he makes his way down Pennsylvania Avenue

All the groups say their events will be peaceful. Previous anti-Bush protests have led to clashes with police. During the Republican National Convention in New York last year, more than 1,700 protesters were arrested over several days.

The Department of Homeland Security and the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department are planning a huge security operation for the first presidential inauguration since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The effort — managed by the Secret Service — will include thousands of plain clothes and uniformed officers from dozens of federal, state and local departments.

One anti-war group — the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition — will occupy bleachers along the parade route, an unusual concession that resulted from negotiations with the U.S. Park Police. The group is being allowed to occupy a 210 foot-long stretch in a 4,000 foot-long parade route, said its national coordinator Brian Becker.

The group plans to have up to 1,000 people on the bleachers, carrying anti-war signs, and thousands rallying behind them in an open plaza four blocks from the U.S. Capitol.

"We want to show the people of the world and the people of the United States that we are willing to mobilize and organize against George Bush from the first day of his inauguration," said Peta Lindsay (cq), a Howard University student and protest organizer.

A.N.S.W.E.R., which stands for "Act Now to Stop War and End Racism," and other groups have criticized the government for reserving parts of the parade route to accommodate the Presidential Inaugural Committee. The privately funded committee is raising about $40 million to pay for the parade, inaugural balls and other events, and it has erected bleachers for some paying supporters.

National Park Service officials said that there are many public areas along the parade route and that everyone is welcome to attend and express their opinions.

Protest groups are also angry at Secret Service-imposed restrictions on certain items along the parade stretch, such as coffins, puppets and large wooden sticks that protesters use to hold up signs.

The ban also includes large crosses, which has upset conservative groups. The Secret Service contends that the restrictions are not meant to stifle any religious expression, but apply to items of a certain size that could be used in a harmful manner.

Several other protests will not be along the parade area.

The D.C. Anti-War Network is planning a march and rally that will culminate with a "die in" at Lafayette Park, near the White House where people will lie on the ground, simulating deaths in Iraq, in addition to carrying the black draped coffins.

The anti-war group is one of many that belong to the D.C. Cluster Spokescouncil, one of the main counter-inaugural coalitions that includes representatives from roughly 45 local and out-of-town groups.

The "Turn Your Back on Bush" protest is taking a more quiet approach.

Brooke Campbell of Atlanta, whose brother Sgt. Ryan M. Campbell was killed in a Baghdad car bomb attack last April, has organized 100 people from her state to join the silent protest.

"I just asked myself, what would Ryan want. ... He's still got friends that are going back for second tours of duty," she said. "I felt that I needed to try to hold the Bush administration accountable for the horror of Iraq."

Campbell, a graduate student at Emory University, said that her brother had been very upset about the war and felt that the government had lied about its reasons for invading Iraq. Ryan's tour of duty was involuntary extended before his death. In one of his last e-mails, Ryan asked his sister not to vote for Bush, Campbell said.

Anti-war sentiment is only one theme in the counter-inaugural events. Thousands are expected to protest Bush's record on civil rights, abortion rights, environmental issues and healthcare. Others are angry about voting problems during November's presidential election and the influence of corporations in government.

A group called the D.C. Anarchist Resistance is planning an anti-government march and rally in downtown Washington that will include music, dancing and large puppets, including one of a giant spider, meant to personify capitalism and it's "legs" of poverty and exploitation, said Lila Kaye, a spokeswoman for the group.

Other counter-inaugural activities include a "Billionaires for Bush" Coronation Ball; a mock Auction Off of Social Security and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; a Critical Mass bike tour near the real inaugural ball locations; and a poetry and music event dubbed, "Inaugurate This!"

 


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