Jan. 24 - Can one man make a difference? Can a single patriotic American actually make himself heard as he protests the president? Last week's inauguration was as good a place as any to find out. My preferred candidate lost the election—got his butt kicked, frankly—but I knew there were still plenty of Americans like me who believed that the inaugural should not be a coronation. However, with the National Alliance of Black Panthers and the D.C. Anarchist Resistance planning on making trouble—and some rabble rousers encouraging people to sneak eggs through the security gates—I didn't know how to protest without somehow being linked to these never-satisfied whiners.
"In order to crash the party you must dress the part," said one of the typically paranoid emails. "Therefore this action requires participants to refrain from displaying signs, buttons, t-shirts, signs, hats or anything else that may distinguish you as a protester." The emails got even more weird. One told us to wear clothing with a nylon outer layer because "tear gas clings to cotton and wool and won't 'shake out' easily." Another offered the phone number of a group of lawyers who would represent us if we were arrested. We were advised that the number should be "written on your leg or arm" because, as we all know, the Secret Service is well aware of the names and political affiliations of every lawyer in the D.C. metropolitan area, and might be happy to deny access to those with the name of any noted liberal lawyers prominently displayed on their hands. One woman I know played it safe by toting a copy of "The Faith of George W. Bush" to better blend in.
We set out at dawn towards Pennsylvania Avenue, taking the underrated D.C. Metro to Federal Triangle (earlier reconnaissance had indicated that this was a favorable place to enter the frozen zone). After an hour on line, guys wearing camouflage uniforms and high-powered rifles told us to remove our bags for scanning, pile our metal on the table for inspection, take a sip out of open water bottles (to prove the contents were not acid) and surrender all our fruit (surrender our fruit?! But didn't the U.S. Department of Agriculture just recommend that Americans should be eating more fruit?) The guards' fruit-picking seemed futile. After all, just inside the security fence was an Au Bon Pain selling, you guessed it, apples, eggs and other messy projectiles.
And then we waited. For six hours. This wouldn't have been so bad, but we were standing next to a guy from North Carolina who berated anyone with an anti-Bush sign. "Loooooser!" he'd yell. "Maybe if you'd had a better candidate, you'd have had a chance, but noooo, you lost! Lost!" He did this in front of his 7-year-old kid, who no doubt learned a valuable lesson about the importance of being a gracious winner.
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