Denial of dissent
Thousands brave cold to protest Bush; media turn a blind eye
by Tricia Brick (Editorial@boulderweekly.com)
January 25 - January 31, 2001
Deep in the icy mist of a frigidly rainy Washington winter, a pair of
grandmotherly ladies in jackets emblazoned with Texas flags sit politely on
the storm-soaked spectators' bleachers at Freedom Plaza.
A mere 10 feet beneath their feet, thousands of hollering, sign-waving
protesters chant vicious rallying cries. Lone supporters amid a sea of
anger and betrayal, the Southern matrons nestle placidly on their rattling
perch, awaiting George W. Bush's inaugural parade.
A petite army of young women in sunny yellow raincoats guard the Bush fans
in the tickets-only bleachers from the gathering dissenters, who
occasionally add "Whose bleachers? Our bleachers!" to their chants but
otherwise pay the elderly Republicans little mind. The crowd's focus rests
on the speakers, organized by New York-based International Action Center.
The messages are as diverse as the crowd: Activists condemn the racist
death penalty; speak out against the appointments of John Ashcroft and Gale
Norton; and urge protesters to fight for equal rights for gays, lesbians
and transgendered folks. This election was stolen, orators proclaim-the
Bush/Cheney administration was elected not by the American people, but by a
conservative U.S. Supreme Court and the purposeful, systematic
disenfranchisement of voters of color.
As protesters trickle through the dragging police checkpoint to fill the
crowded plaza, thousands of cops and soldiers file into place behind the
barricades that line the parade route, provoking catcalls and chants of
"Stop police brutality!"
Near noon, a handful of yellow-clad scouts approach the Texas grandmas and
lead them to bleachers a short distance from the protest. Seeing the good
seats vacant and the yellow guards deserted, sign-waving protesters begin
to fill the empty bleachers, first hesitantly, then at full force.
"They say get back-We won't go back!" they chant, triumphant, drowning out
the musicians along the parade route.
After a few moments, one young man in the crowd tunes in ABC's coverage of
the inauguration on his portable radio. "They just reported that the
protesters have seized the bleachers," he announces.
A wall of boos
Though protesters outnumbered supporters at Bush's inaugural parade, the
demonstrations earned virtually no coverage in the mainstream media. "The
corporate media closed ranks, to basically ignore our message or attack
it," notes David Martin of the Denver Justice and Peace Center. Martin, who
attended the protests in D.C., later got a chance to see some raw video
footage taken from the media truck that preceded the presidential limo
along the parade route. "(The cameraman) isn't showing any protesters; he's
only focusing in on those occasional crowds that are waving to the
president," Martin recalls. "But they can't ignore the audio-and just to
hear the audio is incredible. Because Bush is coming down Pennsylvania
Avenue, and about 75 percent of the time it's just a wall of boos, drowning
everything else out. Everyone is booing, everyone is chanting. No one is
All but ignored by corporate media, the inauguration protests in D.C. last
weekend unified a tremendous diversity of activists. Participating groups
included the International Action Center, the National Organization for
Women, Voter's March, the New Black Panther Party, the Justice Action
Movement, Billionaires for Bush and Al Sharpton's Shadow
Inauguration. Protesters endured the miserable cold to demonstrate
opposition to the right-wing Bush administration; to an unjust electoral
system; to excessive corporate control of government; to the devastation of
the environment; to conservative attacks on abortion; to a president chosen
by a court and not by the people; to improper U.S. intervention in
Venezuela, Colombia, Cuba, Korea and the Middle East.
Yet many who are working for reform argue that the movement's heterogeneity
points to a shared cause.
"As was pointed out at the Democratic convention in L.A., this diversity is
actually the strength of the movement," says Brian Drolet, project director
for the Boulder-based independent media organization Free Speech TV. "I
think people are beginning to look at this as one battle on many fronts.
What's really being built here is a united front of organizations that have
different interests, often different class interests. They're coalescing
around the common interest of corporate control of government and our lives."
Certainly, the administration's reaction to the threat of organized dissent
unified protesters who attended Saturday's inauguration. After fighting in
court for the right to protest along the parade route, protesters found
they had to pass through one of a handful of police checkpoints set up
along Pennsylvania Avenue. By noontime-90 minutes before the scheduled
start of the parade-the few checkpoints that weren't closed altogether were
backed up five city blocks, or were located in areas where Bush supporters
"One checkpoint opened up where there weren't any lines, and that's how we
got through," Martin notes. "The reason it opened up was to allow access to
a building where they were having a cocktail party. The wealthy donors to
the Republican party couldn't get to their balconies without passing
through a checkpoint.
"Of course, when we got in line with them, they started freaking out. One
woman next to us was on the cell phone in a panic, saying, 'I'm in line
with all these people; can you send someone down here to get me?'" Martin
"It seemed (Bush supporters) saw us as quite a nuisance," agrees protester
Sarah Albrecht. "A women dressed in a fur coat and jewels walked up to me
in the pouring rain and asked me in a Southern drawl, 'Excuse me, but I was
wondering if you can tell where all the excitement is?' I asked her, 'What
do you mean?' She said, 'I mean, can you just tell me where are y'all
located?' I couldn't help but laugh. I said, 'Lady, we're everywhere.'"
Not all protesters' experiences were so amusing.
Police reportedly corralled hundreds of protesters at Franklin Square for
40 minutes, in a move many suspected was designed to preempt any civil
disobedience. "I think it's a complete suspension of our civil rights,"
Martin says. "By threatening protesters with mass arrests of the kind we
saw in Seattle or in D.C this April, they are basically suspending our
constitutional right to peaceably assemble."
Yet the fact that martial law was established in the nation's capital has
passed unnoticed by the corporate media. Few believe this omission was
"It's offensive that the media tends to portray protesters as violent,
because that justifies police actions," Martin points out.
It's not the visibility of recent protests that's provoked the media
cover-ups of the excessive force mobilized by police and military groups;
rather, it's the ideological goals of today's activists. "We certainly have
protests on a regular basis in Washington D.C.: We had the Million Man
March and the Million Mom March, each of which drew many more protesters
than we saw in Seattle," Milchen says. "But it's a very different thing
when people are challenging the very legitimacy of the system. Whether or
not we have handgun control is not of great concern to corporate powers.
But when you start challenging the very basis of money's control in
government, that's much more threatening. And I think that's why we're
seeing a level of attack on these protesters that we did not see at other
Running on empty
The almost complete absence of coverage from the mainstream media meant the
protests' effects would be limited. But the government officials who
attended the parade could not have completely ignored the demonstrators.
"Obviously, it would have been different if the headlines read, 'Bush
presidency exposed as illegitimate by a wall of boos,'" Martin admits. "But
I'm sure it must have had some impact on Bush's own feeling of
legitimacy. Think of other presidents, like Carter walking from the
Capitol to the White House waving and shaking hands with everybody-where
Bush had to have basically a military occupation of the parade route, and
couldn't leave his limo until he was safely among his wealthy supporters."
Shortly before arriving at Freedom Plaza, where a recorded message from
political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal had worked the rain-soaked protesters
into a frenzy of chanting and jeering, Bush's motorcade slowed to an abrupt
halt. After a few tense moments, the presidential limo, with Secret Service
men at full sprint, sped past the ralliers, who booed and cried out, "Shame!"
Though they were ignored by the media, the protesters must have had some
impact: For one brief moment, between his inaugural luncheon and the
moneyed balls that followed, George W. Bush was forced to acknowledge that
the mandate to rule is not yet truly his.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered in Washington, D.C. to protest a
"stolen" presidency. In a contest won by a candidate who lost the popular
vote, many who rallied in the nation's capital did so to register their
resistance to an election they believe was wrongfully handed to George W.
Bush by a partisan U.S. Supreme Court.
For many, the weakness in the arguments of the nation's highest court are
painfully obvious. University of Colorado Law Professor Robert Nagel spoke
more cautiously than many legal scholars when he explained, "I thought the
equal protection argument was a bit of a stretch from a legal point of view
and the point of view of precedent."
Other well-known legal pundits were less delicate in their condemnation of
the federal court's decision. Wrote E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post: "a
genuine patriotism does not require anyone to accept the logic of five
Supreme Court justices who clearly contorted their own principles and
created new law to achieve this result."
Or consider the view of Thomas L. Friedman, of the New York Times: "You
don't need an inside source to realize that the five conservative justices
were acting as the last in a team of Republican Party elders who helped
drag Governor Bush across the finish line."
The justices who handed the presidency to Bush based their opinions on two
factors. First, the court determined that the recount ordered by the
Florida Supreme Court would lead to a violation of the 14th Amendment's
equal protection clause-because, as specified under the state law of
Florida and many other states, each individual district determines the
standards by which the various degrees of chad-hanging will be accepted as
legal votes. By not establishing a statewide standard for the recount, the
high court declared, the Florida court's order was unconstitutional.
Second, the U.S. Supreme Court argued that there simply wasn't time to
remedy the situation in Florida. "(I)t is obvious that the recount cannot
be conducted in compliance with the requirements of equal protection and
due process without substantial additional work," the court wrote;
therefore, the argument continues, the government shouldn't bother to count
all the ballots.
Bush opponents across the country have pointed out the problems with this
opinion. For one thing, the "violation of equal protection" cited by the
courts actually describes voting in any state where balloting measures
differ from district to district. By this logic, even the initial voting in
Florida violates the 14th Amendment. Further, the December 12 deadline
cited by the U.S. court is as arbitrary as any date chosen by the Florida
court; most scholars argue that the recounts could have continued.
So why did the court choose Bush? Many blame conservative justices who
longed to see a Republican president in the White House. But it's also
widely argued that the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in to right a judicial
wrong enacted by a clearly partisan Florida Supreme Court whose rulings
were far from flawless.
Yet in imposing its authority on so political a situation, the U.S. court
may well have undermined its own reputation: Certainly, the opinion has
left many Americans feeling that our new president was elected not by the
people, but by a biased court.
"I think that the people, the lay public, have a very dissonant view of
what courts do," says CU Law Professor Paul Campos. "They're both
idealistic and cynical: They're idealistic in that when the court rules in
their favor, they very much believe that the court was just enforcing the
law. When the court rules in a way they dislike very strongly, they believe
that the court was biased and partisan."
In Bush v. Gore, the highly visible election underscored the unavoidably
partisan politics of the case, in both the decisions of the courts and the
responses of the politicians. "The things the Republicans were screaming
about vis vis the Florida decision are precisely the same things the
Democrats are screaming about vis vis the U.S. Supreme decision," Campos
Many scholars say the reversal goes deeper than this election: The court's
zealously federalist conservative wing in this case overruled Florida's
constitutionally assigned privilege to decide the election itself, while
the liberal wing fought to protect states' rights.
"The lesson is, it can sometimes seem very unjust and very wrong when the
court tries to circumvent the political process," Nagel says. "And liberals
and leftists for many decades now have been preaching the gospel that
courts should fill that role, that the political process is unstable or
untrustworthy. Liberals have been pushing the court toward this role for
all these years, and now they got bit by it."
Political progressives have long been accused of supporting judicial
activism in, for example, cases of civil rights and abortion rights-from
the controversial Roe v. Wade to last year's Violence Against Women Act.
Now, they're faced with a conservative activist decision that seems
unconscionably arbitrary. Or worse, blatantly partisan.
"At bottom, I think a decision like this has to be political in some fairly
substantial sense," Campos observes. "It can't be legal in much more than a
purely formal sense."
Ironically, had the courts left this bitterly heated issue to the political
branches, the outcome would almost certainly have been the same-albeit
without the shadow of illegitimacy the courts' interference has brought
upon the Bush presidency.
Florida's Republican legislature had already taken steps to send a slate of
Bush/Cheney electors. If the Florida vote recount had been allowed to run
its course through the end of the arbitrary time limits set by the Florida
court, and Gore had been found to be the winner, two slates of electors
could have been chosen: One by the voters and one by the legislature. A
Republican U.S. Congress would then be handed the opportunity to choose the
slate of electors.
"If you look at the relevant Constitutional provisions, if you're looking
for straightforward legal arguments, what is least controversial in my
opinion is that the manner of selecting electors is up to the state
legislature, and it's the responsibility of Congress to count the votes and
evaluate which vote counts, if there's a controversy," Nagel observes. "I
think that's quite clear, and not really subject to doubt."
But in this highly controversial decision, Nagel sees hope for a deep
reconsideration of the judiciary's place in American lawmaking. "People are
thrown off their usual assumptions," he says. "This is a good time for
people all over the political spectrum to start rethinking-and rethinking
hard-about whether we've become dependent on the Supreme Court to an
unhealthy degree. I think we have, and I think this is evident."
"Even if we thought democracy was kind of weak and ineffective and somewhat
fraudulent to begin with, it was at least some kind of democracy, however
poor," says '60s Yippie and lifelong activist Stew Albert. "If we can take
this illegitimate government as our unifying issue and then work our
specific issues within this framework, then the stolen election may turn
out to be this generation's Vietnam."
Albert will join Tom Hayden in headlining a public forum on "Organizing for
Democracy After the Stolen Election," this Sunday at the Boulder
Theater. Other invited speakers include state legislator Ron Tupa, second
congressional candidate Ron Forthofer, Colorado Daily editor Pamela White,
poet Anne Waldman, Minola Upshaw of the NAACP and ReclaimDemocracy.org's
The goal of the forum is unifying a diverse movement, organizer Ellen
Maslow explains: "I want to bring new people in, cross-pollinate," she
says. "From my point of view, movements are extremely powerful, totally
important and a hell of a lot of fun. I've seen that grassroots organizing
can create incredible change."
Tickets for the show, which begins at 7:30 pm, are $5, or $25 for the
speakers' reception at 6 pm. Call 303-449-3043 for more information.
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