January 22, 2001

Inauguration 2001: Local Viewpoint

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The frigid weather, the endless waiting and cheers of “racist, sexist, anti-gay, Bush, Cheney go away!” marked President George W. Bush’s inaugural parade in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.

On the sidewalks which lined the parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue, Bush supporters seemed few and far between, among the banner-waiving Gore supporters.

“I felt like five percent of the people I saw were in fur coats and cowboy hats and the rest were carrying anti-Bush signs,” Natalie Benjamin ’02 said.

Kailash Narasimhan ’02 said that, although they didn’t wave signs, several Bush supporters at the parade were highly conspicuous because of their “fur coats, jewelry, and ten-gallon hats. It was very humorous.”

One Bush supporter, a sales representative for an oil company who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the day as “rainy, cold and very few Bush supporters.” He speculated that most Republicans were staying at hotels or over at the ticketed Capitol viewing areas.

The atmosphere did not seem so innocent to Ryan Dwyer ’02, a Bush backer, who said that the inauguration seemed “very contentious from where I was standing. The Gore people came out to make their point. Even during the speech they were booing and some screamed ‘fascist.’ Whenever there was a moment of applause, the Bush supporters tried to match the intensity of the protesters.”

Police arrested five protesters among the 350,000 who attended the parade, according to Washington Post figures.

From her vantage point at the Mall, Lindsey Schuh ’02 said she saw Gore supporters physically restrained by the police in full riot gear, “apparently just for chanting,” she said.

Dwyer, who did not witness any violent confrontations, thought that the protests were not out of bounds. “I saw people either laughing at the protesters or conversing amicably with them,” he said, adding he generally respected those protesters “who came out honestly to make a point without showing disrespect.”

The protests and parade didn’t just take place in the streets, and emotions were also running high in the Washington subway, according to Emily Wecht ’02. “We saw some lady in a fur coat and cowboy hat hit someone’s sign with her umbrella that made fun of the ballot,” she said.

Parades of bikers and mounted police units took over the Washington streets, waiting for the presidential convoy. Meer recalled that after waves of mounted police rode by, “the horses left manure and the pooper-scooper guys didn’t pick it up, foreshadowing the years to come.”

Between various military and police units, the Southern Methodist University Mustang Band appeared wearing cowboy hats, boots, and chaps.

Wecht said she enjoyed watching the band in their western gear, but Russell Miness ’02 said that the band and their dancing “reinforced the Bush stereotypes.”

Comedian Ben Stein, a former Nixon speech writer, appeared at 2:00 p.m. to entertain bystanders. “He’s one of about five people in Hollywood who have the stomachs to admit they’re conservative,” commented an anonymous Bush supporter.

But crowds seemed to quickly grow tired of his routine, which consisted of presidential and inaugural trivia. Some of his jokes provoked outrage from female attendees who screamed “Ben Stein you sexist pig!” in protest. Others retaliated with cheers of “We love you Ben!” and “Say Bueller! Say Bueller!”

When the President’s motorcade finally appeared at 3:30 p.m., many found themselves disappointed as House Speaker Dennis Hastert rode with the windows of his S.U.V. open, while Bush followed behind closed, dark windows after a protester threw an egg.

“I just saw a slow-moving limo with a secret service guy. The cool thing was meeting the people [in the crowds],” Eisenberg said.

Russell Miness ’02 said he had “felt cheated that we waited out there for five hours in the rain and the cold, and when the limo finally passed it was blocked by two other cars and it sped up. The best view I got was of ATF [Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms] agents in an S.U.V. with shouldered assault rifles ready to open on the protesters at any moment,” he said.

Aside from a few “very minor incidents” with protesters, the procession went well, U.S. Secret Service spokesperson Jim Mackin said. “Every inauguration presents new challenges,” he said.

Several Cornell students who were present at the Inauguration compared the political activities of demonstrators with the state of activism on the Cornell campus.

“Everybody in Washington, everybody on the Mall, everybody in the parade route had an opinion. At Cornell, everybody is complacent. If people were protesting at Cornell on Jan. 20th I would be very surprised,” Schuh said.

Dwyer admitted that his experience with Cornell politics consisted in witnessing demonstrations outside the Straight. “Based on my experience, the similarity [between Cornell and Washington] was that it was encouraging to see people voicing their beliefs on both ends without violence. “

He also emphasized the difference in scale between the events. “When you’re in Washington and at an inauguration of this nature that was so bitterly contested, and you see such a diversity of people who were protesting for different reasons … you see how deeply people’s passions run. From Cornell to here it’s as if you’re going from a scrimmage to the real game,” he said.

Archived article by Ken Meyer