Fifty-six protesters from the Ithaca area participated in rallies, marches and general expressions of dissent against President George W. Bush’s inaugural celebration yesterday during a trip to Washington, D.C.
According to Patrick Young ’06, one of the student coordinators of the trip, one-third of the group consisted of Cornell students, one-third Ithaca College students, and one-third members of the Ithaca community.
“[The protest] was emotionally invigorating. A lot of like-minded people getting together in a time of despair. You can see how dedicated people are to stand outside for ten hours in 20 degree weather,” said Brian Eden, who headed the group of protesters from Ithaca.
Upon arrival, the group immediately dispersed to participate in individual events in the nation’s capital. Several Cornell students traveled to Meridian Hill, also known as Malcolm X Park, where the D.C. Anti-War Network (DAWN) held a rally and a march. The Cornellians helped the organization to set up one thousand cardboard coffins in the park, draped with American flags and black cloth to represent U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq.
Eden estimated at least 5000 people had gathered at the rally, and exchanged flyers, pamphlets, stickers and pins made by organizations with particular grievances against the Bush agenda or even against the very form of state government. The numerous posters held by protesters ranged from saying “Fuck Off, Bush” to “‘Support the Troops’ Means Bring Them Home” to “Mindless Obedience is Un-American.”
The entire group then acted as pall-bearers for the coffins and proceeded to march down 17th Avenue for over two miles toward the Washington Monument.
After the march ended, this group of Cornellians unsuccessfully tried to get through a security checkpoint to watch the parade. According to a nearby security guard, at 3 p.m. all checkpoints were closed, shutting out protesters and Bush supporters alike.
Michael Lepage ’05, president of the Cornell College Republicans, and a number of other members of the club managed to get tickets to Capitol Hill to attend Bush’s Inauguration. “I had a very good time. The protesters didn’t seem to be really disrupting anyone, and we’re happy Bush was reelected,” Lepage said.
Ross Blankenship ’05, executive director of the Cornell College Republicans, disagreed with the protests. “While I respect their right to protest in our politically charged nation, these specific protests serve no value, show no purpose and give our nation and our University no sense of direction for the future,” he said.
Lepage added, “[The protest] is pretty stupid. Their protests have less to do with getting ideas out and promoting debate, and instead, they’re just angry and upset about the election results.”
Upon being asked why he attended the protest, Dominic Fragillo ’05 said, “I want to be able to tell my grandchildren I did everything I could for this cause.”
While at the protests, Young handed out pamphlets for the Student Peace Project, an organization of college students that he hopes will expand to universities nation-wide. The organization’s pamphlet states, “Today … we are fighting for our friends serving in the military all over the world, for our little brothers and sisters who are going to talk to more military recruiters than college recruiters before they are even old enough to vote.”
Darya Mattes ’05 added that it was her first protest of such a magnitude, saying, “Everyone was very positive; it was cool to see so many people out doing this.” She pointed out, “It was a good time to come since Cornell’s not in session.”
Blankenship , who watched the Inauguration on television, commented, “The news focused mostly on the speech, and the message was clear. This speech will go down as a historic one, right up there with JFK’s … Our president did a great job.”
Scott Campbell ’07, a politically active Republican, added, “While a counter-protest to Bush’s reelection is considerably news-worthy in a town like Ithaca, or a campus like Cornell, I for one am not phased by this weak cry of helplessness on the part of the last few Democrats who still might think that Kerry rightfully won, neither do I believe their protest will have much, if any, effect.”
Young responded, “A good proportion of people at the protest didn’t even vote for Kerry. We’re protesting not against Bush, but against the Bush agenda. We’re protesting war; we’re protesting poverty; we’re protesting inequality. It has little to do with the outcome of the election. I doubt today would have looked much different if John Kerry would have won.”
Blankenship concluded, “I respect the fact that they’re out there … They don’t respect the fact that they have the right to protest — a fundamental aspect inherent to America — but other nations don’t have it … I admire the passion that the president has to bring freedom to the world. It’s empowering to see that we can protest.”
Sophie Desancenot ’06, who attended the counter-inaugural protest and is a Cornell student from France said, “I was impressed by the courage of all these people who represent a minority in the United States, but also who represent all the beliefs in solidarity with what the rest of the world thinks. It is kind of reassuring from a French perspective.”