latimes.com: A day of pomp and circumscription
WASHINGTON (Los Angeles Times) -- George W. Bush will assume office Saturday amid the tightest security measures ever at an inauguration, as police officials and political activists gird for an outpouring of protest not seen since Richard Nixon began his second term during the Vietnam War in 1973.
A coalition of 24 law enforcement agencies, led by the Secret Service, will deploy about 7,000 personnel to keep peace at an event that is attracting activists whose causes range from electoral reform to banning the death penalty to abortion rights to justice in the global economy.
Estimates of the protest contingent range as high as 30,000. Washington police, mindful of recent wild demonstrations in Seattle, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and their own city, worry that perhaps 500 of the group may be "rowdies." The first three arrests were made Thursday, as two men scaled three floors of the Interior Department and unfurled a banner to protest Bush's environmental agenda.
"We think most people will come here to demonstrate lawfully," said Peter J. Dowling, the Secret Service special agent overseeing inaugural security. "We have no problem with that. It's unlawful for us to take a position on that. . . . But once people cross the line into civil disobedience and lawlessness, we have to take action."
One big unknown: the weather, which is predicted to be chilly and wet. A mix of rain and possibly sleet could put a damper on all outdoor activities, although some demonstrators vowed that they will not be deterred.
"There are people sleeping on the streets of L.A. every night who have no place to live," said Magda Miller, a Los Angeles County employee who plans to leave today for Washington. "I know I can tolerate one day of snow."
On what could prove a frenetic Inauguration Day, metropolitan police plan to stand no more than 8 feet apart along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route. For the first time, onlookers will have to clear checkpoints and submit to bag searches along the entire route. Police have banned an array of props that they say could cause harm, including stilts, coffins, crates, crosses, cages, statues and large sign poles, triggering a federal lawsuit over 1st Amendment rights. Two subway stations will be shut down, and large sections of the Washington Mall will be fenced off.
Before the controversial Florida vote recount, political activists had planned to seize on the inauguration as a time to spotlight their causes. But protest organizers said that the Florida election outcome struck a broader public nerve, particularly among African Americans who charge that they were denied access to polls, and sparked a movement to reform the electoral process.
The sentiment is captured in one of the more popular protest slogans for Saturday: "Hail to the Thief."
"There needs to be major reform," said Adam Eidinger, an activist with the Justice Action Movement, a coalition of protest groups that plans a rally and march to the parade route. "This was not a fair election. Bush did not legitimately win. And something's wrong when the largest number of people vote for president and that person doesn't win."
In Florida on Saturday, thousands of angry voters are expected to march on the state Capitol in Tallahassee.
In the nation's capital, meanwhile, a shadow inauguration organized by civil rights activists will feature a march to the U.S. Supreme Court, where participants will "be deputized" to protect the Voting Rights Act and to work in future elections to safeguard the interests of African Americans.
"The shadow inauguration is our effort to be proactive in response . . . to the use of tactics that denied African Americans the right to vote on Nov. 7," said Walter E. Fauntroy, a former District of Columbia delegate to the House of Representatives who is organizing the effort along with the Rev. Al Sharpton, a New York civil rights leader. "Our goal isn't so much to overwhelm Washington on Jan. 20" as to launch an effort for electoral reform in coming years, he added.
Other demonstrators have focused on the president-elect's support of capital punishment during his years as Texas governor, and on women's rights, gay rights, corporate influence and protecting the environment. "We don't believe that Pennsylvania Avenue is the private property of people who support the death penalty," said Sarah Sloan, an organizer for New York-based International Action Center.
In the Nixon era, the Vietnam War was the dominant theme of protest. And during the 1973 inauguration, the most aggressive demonstrators threw tomatoes and apples at Nixon's motorcade. More recently, demands for economic justice have emerged as a protest cry, fueling a movement that since late 1999 has startled police with its tactics of civil disobedience.
On Tuesday, activists brought suit against the Washington Metropolitan Police and federal law enforcement agencies for what they said were unconstitutional restrictions on their right to protest. As of Thursday, for example, police were still deciding whether to allow giant puppets, which protesters wish to employ as political street theater. Some police claim that wire inside the puppets is a potential weapon.