Published January 18, 2009
Activists who have spent years protesting President Bush admit their chances are slim of seeing Bush or any members of his administration face legal recourse for what they say are "crimes against humanity."
Several activists hoped to squeeze out a few parting shots against the outgoing president in the run-up to President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration on Tuesday. Demonstrators are trying to organize final shows of force in the last hours before Obama becomes president.
But several planned anti-Bush events along Obama's whistle-stop train tour failed to pan out over the weekend.
On Monday, a group called AfterDowningStreet.org was scheduled to hurl footwear at the White House, an apparent slap at the president reminiscent of a recent press conference in Iraq. Other anti-war groups were set to gather at the Pentagon on the same day.
On Tuesday, a coalition of activist groups will hold an event called "Yes We Can Arrest Bush," co-opting Obama's winning campaign message in a way he probably didn't intend. The protest will be in front of the FBI building along the inaugural parade route.
"Either on Sunday or Monday [President Bush] is going to pardon a bunch of people, and what the goal of Arrest Bush is ... is we're going to have a nexus of Arrest Bush and the Obama inauguration," said Jose Rodriguez of the group Arrest Bush.
In a recent televised interview, the Democratic president-elect indicated lukewarm enthusiasm for prosecuting members of his predecessor's administration, though on Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated that she could support a criminal probe of Bush administration officials.
Groups like Arrest Bush promise to keep the heat on the Obama administration to do what they feel they could not: hold Bush accountable for what they call war crimes.
"It really hurts me to say that you have to arrest the chief executive, because it shows that there are some big problems with the country," said Rodriguez, a longtime Washington activist. "Nothing upsets Americans more than people getting special treatment. ... If you do the crime, you're going to do the time."
For some die-hards, Tuesday is not a day to hail the arrival of Obama or celebrate Bush's exit.
"I'm not holding out great hopes that he's [Obama] going to change things around," said Laurie Dobson of Kennebunkport, Maine.
Dobson, who unsuccessfully ran as an independent against Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in 2008, has protested Bush's policies almost from the beginning of his administration. She warned that pressure has to be kept on Obama to take action against the nation's 43rd president.
"People give [Obama] all kinds of excuses because they want so much to believe in him," she said. "That's how they make a tyrant. ... If we do our job as [citizens] then he could be a good president. It all depends on us keeping him in line."
Harold Burbank, an attorney from Canton, Conn., said, "Tuesday is not a day to celebrate."
Obama "won't take steps to prosecute the Bush administration. ... This administration must prove itself."
Like Dobson, Burbank failed in a third-party congressional bid last year and participated in efforts to duplicate two Vermont towns' articles of indictment against Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Citing Obama's ubiquitous campaign slogan, Burbank complained, 'Yes we can what?'
Whether through fatigue or an abundance of hope, some who vigorously protested Bush over the war in Iraq seem to have lost their relish for directing animus toward the outgoing president.
"I just feel like, OK, now we're going to get back on track," said Jena Proxford, 32, who traveled with her family from New York City to Wilmington on Saturday to catch the whistle-stop train ride of Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden.
Her husband Mark, a 33-year-old science teacher, said he felt relieved at Bush's exit but he's no longer concentrating on the soon-to-be ex-president. 'I think he has to be held accountable for his actions, but right now there's -- I don't want to say more pressing things that need to happen -- but I don't think that's necessarily a priority right now.'
Rodriguez said regardless of any prosecutions, many anti-Bush protesters have no plans to sully Obama's big day.
"This is a celebratory event," he said of the transition of power. "This is going to be the biggest party in the history of our country. You're going to breathe brand new air. It's going to be a totally different place, so I can't wait for Tuesday."