Protesting at the 2013 Inauguration

There was less of everything at the 2013 inauguration than in 2009 – spectators, protests, and police. The protests made up in diversity what they lacked in numbers.

A 1997 court ruling requires the National Park Service to permit some protest signs along the inaugural parade route. The NPS strategy was to allow a little bit of protest, in small, scattered spots along Pennsylvania Avenue, that wouldn’t cause too much disruption. The allocated space in 2013 was less than in the past three inaugurations, but so were the groups who wanted some place to raise their objections to the Obama administration’s policies.

The National Park Service issued five permits for “first amendment activity” for Monday, January 21. Three were for spaces on the parade route, where only those who got up very early in the morning could get to their assigned spots, and only those people in the parade, with bleacher tickets, or who were equally early risers, could see any protest signs. The Secret Service writes the rules, and among the prohibited items inside the security zone was “Supports for signs and placards.” This meant protestors had to hold up their signs in the cold if they want them to be seen.

ANSWER, which was the plaintiff in the 1997 court decision, got its usual spot on Freedom Plaza, but so many bleachers were on the Plaza facing Pennsylvania Avenue that there wasn’t much room for ANSWER to display its posters demanding “JOBS not WAR.” A few blocks down the street, the Westboro Baptist Church didn’t even have enough people to fill its few feet of permitted space. This is the group that HATES FAGS and promotes its views by picketing anything official, including military funerals. The third group was a pro-life entity that no one had heard of and which appears to have no presence on the internet.

Across the street from Freedom Plaza the DC government hosted its own protest, without having to get a permit. It built a booth in front of its executive office building with a sign demanding “full democracy in DC.” It also persuaded the White House to put DC license plates on the Presidential limousine imprinted with the slogan “taxation without representation.” As if that wasn’t enough, the Mayor of DC, who had an official place in the parade, walked the route holding a sign with the same sentiments as those on the booth.

The other two permits issued by the NPS for federal space were for a rally at Meridian Hill Park, followed by a march down 16th St. and an event in Dupont Circle involving native American claims.

The first of these was the largest protest on January 21. Called the “Arc of Justice” march, it sought to capture the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The pre-march rally was held in an NPS park but it was the DC police which blocked traffic so that about a hundred protestors could march down 16th St. to disperse at K St. Organized by the remnants of the DC anti-war movement, marchers particularly protested the use of drones, but tried to say something on every other issue Dr. King might have supported on which Obama has done nothing.

When the march ended, most people went their separate ways. The anti-warriors regrouped at Union Station before staging a “die in” outside the security zone. About two dozen anarchists converged in McPherson Square, the small park that Occupy DC used as its base of operations the year before. Advertised as an Unauguration, the anarchists led the DC police on a three-hour meandering march through streets around the edge of the security zone. They were often outshouted by the Obama supporters in the streets.

In the meantime, an anti-GMO group held a dance party near the Washington Monument while passing out organic carrots and apples. Individuals with anti-abortion signs showed up at different spots around the security zone, including one man who climbed a tree near the Capitol and refused to come down. He had a ticket to the zone where the tree was located and the sign he brought through screening was not one of the prohibited items. When he finally descended five hours later, he became the only protestor to be arrested during the inaugural day weekend.

The protest that drew the most people was held Saturday after sundown. Jewish Voice for Peace brought 300 people to another small park to “Stop Israel War Crimes.” Demanding that aid to Israel be conditioned on the end of settlements and the occupation of Gaza, numerous leftists were joined by NKUSA, an orthodox Jewish group based in upstate New York, which believes that Israel has no right to exist.

Some more permanent protestors were temporarily evicted. Connie Picciotto, who has camped on the sidewalk across from the White House to protest nuclear weapons since 1981, was moved while the press stand was constructed, and removed entirely from Lafayette Park for the day. Her right to protest across from the White House is protected by a court order, so she returned when the celebrations were over. Homeless veterans, who have been camping out in front of the Department of Veterans Affairs since October, were also evicted, even though the VA is just outside the security zone.