Published December 21, 2004
WASHINGTON – As President Bush's team works furiously to get ready for the 55th presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, events are also being planned in protest of the president's big day.
The nation was strongly divided about issues like the Iraq war, the War on Terror and the economy during this year's presidential election between Bush and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. Though the election is over, some of the president's detractors say they aren't done complaining.
"For the past four years, the Bush administration has tried to silence the voice of the people. We are coming to Washington on Jan. 20 because we want our audience with the president," said Jet Heiko, a 31-year-old activist from Philadelphia who launched www.TurnYourBackOnBush.org on Nov. 3, the day after the election. "We hope to inspire people to keep turning their backs on the Bush administration and its policies."
Heiko's group anticipates that more than 10,000 people from 41 states will come to Washington on Jan. 20 — the day of the swearing-in ceremony, a parade and various balls — to "turn their backs" on Bush as the president rides by them on the parade route.
"We want to be clear," Heiko said. "We are not turning our backs on our country, we are turning our backs on Bush."
Also on Jan. 20, the anti-war group A.N.S.W.E.R. (search) is organizing a "CounterInaugural" protest. The Web site says 7,000 protesters will gather along the inaugural route demanding, "End the occupation of Iraq — bring the troops home now."
Various groups are using Web sites, e-mails, fliers and word of mouth to urge thousands of demonstrators to gather in the nation's capital. Among planned events are an anti-war rally and three-mile march to the White House, a massive bike ride similar to those that disrupted traffic in New York City before the Republican National Convention, and a "die-in" to remind the nation of more than 1,200 U.S. dead in Iraq.
"Our intention is to show President Bush and the world our movement is energized, mobilized and determined to fight back," said Gael Murphy, of the activist group Code Pink (search).
The D.C. Anti-War Network (search) is organizing a rally and march to the White House on the morning of the inauguration, getting the word out through the Web site www.counter-inaugural.org, which says, "Bush isn't going away, and neither are we."
Inauguration week will feature rallies, marches and demonstrations with the focus on peaceful, family-friendly gatherings, said protest organizer Shahid Buttar. Hundreds of groups throughout the country will participate, Buttar said, including Mobilization for Global Justice (search) and the Committee to ReDefeat the President (search), a political action committee that views Bush's presidency as illegitimately won.
David Lytel, founder of ReDefeat Bush, said his group will film events on Inauguration Day and release a documentary online that evening. They also plan a protest near the Capitol on Jan. 6, the day Congress will certify the electoral votes and officially declare Bush the winner.
But whether the president will get a good view of the protests is another question. The parade route that winds down Pennsylvania Avenue is already being lined with bleachers, occupying prime locations on the sidewalk where demonstrators would like to collect.
Buttar said his group has received permits for parks around the city, but it is still waiting for clearance to march along the inaugural parade route. Officials at the pro-life, pro-Bush Christian Defense Coalition said they applied for a permit one year ago to hold a counter-demonstration, but they still don't know where they will be allowed to protest.
"It's a sad commentary that people who want to peacefully articulate their views at this inauguration are being treated as second-class citizens, and the Secret Service and the Presidential Inaugural Committee should be bending over backwards to protect the First Amendment," said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition.
The National Park Service and Park Police (search) said it is granting permits for the use of specific locations and nothing is unusual about their planning process.
"It is typical. It is ordinary. It is regular. It is routine at this point now to still be in the talking and discussion and negotiation stages for the permits," said Bill Line of the National Park Service. "We ask for people's forbearance, we ask for people's patience. And as I say, we will be issuing the permits shortly."
But A.N.S.W.E.R. officials say NPS has already denied a permit to the group for large-scale anti-war demonstrations along the parade route on that day.
"The NPS is playing a game with the First Amendment rights of counterinaugural demonstrators," Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, lawyer for protesters with the Partnership for Civil Justice (search) and the National Lawyers Guild (search), said in a statement.
"We are now planning for possible legal action if that is necessary to protect the right of the people to gather in mass assembly along the route of the inaugural parade," added Brian Becker, national coordinator for the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition.
More details of protest plans will be released once all permits have been secured, Lytel said. But, he added, whatever the resolution, Bush, who will be in a security area known as the "Red Zone," will be surrounded that day by blue, the color assigned to Democratic-voting states.
"What I expect is more people will be here to protest Bush's inauguration than to inaugurate him," Lytel said.
FOX News' Steve Centanni and The Associated Press contributed to this report.