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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

On the outskirts of the inauguration

Posted by Thomas Nephew on January 21st, 2005

I wound up dyeing a pillowcase black for the hood, and made the remaining accessories from several long black pipecleaners from my little girl’s art supplies. With the poncho I’d got at an army surplus store and a crappy little “Four more years!” sign I taped to it, I was ready to go, but it was a late start, about 11am.

I got off the Metro at Union Station, and made my way towards Pennsylvania Avenue. Knots of policemen and boy scouts — quite a disquieting touch, I thought — directed the foot traffic down a parallel street. I hadn’t had a very clear idea how to get to 4th and Pennsylvania; I saw now that I probably wasn’t going to.

My hopes picked up when I saw a tent with a large throng of demonstrators in front. A way through! The formalities of being frisked and wanded seemed a reasonable price to pay, the crowd was large but so was that tent — surely I’d be through shortly. I joined the crowd, and was soon immersed in chants — “hey hey, ho ho,” etc. Which I’ve never liked, so I didn’t join in. But I’ll admit it would have been a quiet, slow old time without them, because I never really got very close to that tent, which began to seem more like a crowd control stage prop than a functioning gateway after half an hour or so.

While the crowd was mainly sporting signs like “My president is a corporate whore” — my favorite, maybe because the woman holding it had such a sunny smile to go with it — not everyone was demonstrating against Bush. At one point a boyish fellow jumped up onto one of the traffic barriers channeling us toward the tent, arranged his fingers in a “W,” and shouted some slogans of his own. The chant leaders switched to a new slogan about abortion rights. “Save the soldiers, kill the babies,” muttered a middle-aged woman near me with a short bitter laugh. Her companion rolled his eyes, snorted a little, said nothing.

Photographers, policeI saw that people were just walking by the lines I was in, and decided to try my luck wherever they were headed. That took me down to near 7th and C, where things got a little dicier. A group came marching down the street waving red and black flags, turned the corner, and were lost from my view — if I’d had one, I had the hood on as they went by. I then made what was nearly a bad mistake and followed them — in time to see several PVC pipes and assorted other sticks (used to hold banners) tossed high in the air and towards a line of police. I believe I said “Oh boy.”

The police responded promptly, forming a line and sweeping the demonstrators back down the street — towards me. I saw one policewoman squirt a little bottle of something at one demonstrator, and saw another get a bit of a charge out of pushing people with his nightstick. I got jammed against a wall, and then pushed up the street and around the corner with the rest of the crowd.

Police sweepBut to the relief of most of us, the confrontation fizzled pretty quickly, and I was soon able to drift back to where I’d been, near a second tent-entrance to the Pennsylvania Avenue zone. When the police made some last adjustments to how they wanted the crowd positioned a group of Republicans finally had a go ahead to proceed to wherever they were headed. My hood and sign earned me a few chickenshit shoves from the fur and cowboy hat set as they passed by.

I settled in for just standing at the intersection, as a mix of demonstrators and Bush supporters milled by. I got photographed a few times (it seemed like just about every other person had a digital camera along) asked what I was about a few times, and whether it bothered me that some people seemed to think I was for Bush; I just said “I think most people get it.”

I can report that having a hood on for any length of time is fairly unsettling — and my black pillowcase let through some light, so it wasn’t the real deal. You develop a feeling that something is about to happen to you, and you keep seeing something in the corner of your eye — it’s just the hood of course, but it’s hard not to keep turning to see what “it” is. I preferred to look up toward the sky for light. Up there, helicopters flew patrol. Down here, a huddled mass of demonstrators ranted impotently against victors all but oblivious to them, well beyond the barriers between us. I’m satisfied that I went, but it was kind of a sad day, all in all.

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UPDATE, 2/10: Natalie Davis and Tim Dunlop had similar experiences, at least as far as not getting very close to much of anything. I kept meaning to mention this before now, but never got around to a “followups” post.

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