They Protesteth a Whole Lot

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Washington is getting ready for parties and protests

Saturday's inaugural festivities are stirring up a lot of excitement in the nation's capital. But not everyone looking forward to the 20th is spending the week in search of the perfect dress or tuxedo — thousands of protesters are also eagerly planning their descent on Washington, ready to speak out against... well, pretty much everything.

The mantra appears to be: If you've got a cause, get yourself to Washington for the weekend. Dozens of organizations, from the National Organization for Women to the Christian Defense Coalition, will be there, protesting for and against George W. Bush, for and against abortion rights, for and against the death penalty. The interests are varied, but the intent is not: Black leaders plan a "Day of Outrage" to protest the "illegitimacy" of Bush's presidency, while the Justice Action Movement will mobilize against "corporate dominance of the political process," and protest to abolish the electoral college. Everyone gathering to protest hopes to draw and keep the attention of the world on their cause — even if it means being arrested, which several organizers have already promised to make happen. Many planning visits to D.C. are veterans of the IMF/World Bank protests in Seattle, and further honed their skills last summer at the conventions in Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

According to organizers and police alike, this year's counter-inaugural protests will be the largest since Richard Nixon took the oath of office in 1973, during the heyday of anti-Vietman war outrage. And protesters aren't limiting their activities to Saturday: Several groups, including the George Washington University Action Coalition, are sponsoring teach-ins and planning workshops — during which they hope to spark ongoing political interest among protesters of any age.

Such promises have not gone unnoticed in D.C. police headquarters, where plans are afoot to place nearly 5,000 officers in and around the inaugural parade route. The Secret Service has been placed in charge of security arrangements, which signals a heightened seriousness about rules and regulations; parade-goers will be required to pass through a security checkpoint and have their bags checked. Protesters already up in arms over newly erected barriers surrounding inaugural sites are newly frustrated by the small spaces around the city in which they will be allowed to gather. Police have designated three spots near the parade route where protests are permitted: McPherson Square, two blocks from the White House; Freedom Plaza between 14th and 13th streets; and on the actual route, next to the Justice Department.

Police and organizers both say they expect the vast majority of the inaugural protests to be nonviolent and without incident. That's not to say, of course, that there may not be a lot more to watch on the ground this Saturday than up on the Capitol steps.

What's happening? A few of the counter-inaugural protests planned...

  • Day of Outrage: Saturday-morning march from 14th Street to Pennsylvania Avenue; against incoming conservative administration's effects on black Americans

  • National Organization for Women: Gather at Navy Memorial, then split into small groups along parade route; in defense of abortion rights

  • Shadow Inauguration: Rally at Stanton Park followed by march to Supreme Court; protesting disenfranchisement of black voters

  • Justice Action Movement: Protests along parade route and rally in Dupont Circle; protesting corporate control of political process, demand end to electoral college

  • Christian Defense Coalition: Rally alongside parade route; protesting current abortion laws, defending Bush Cabinet nominees

  • Voter March: Rallies at Dupont Circle, the Ellipse; urging Congress to adopt campaign-finance reforms, defend against future voting system failures