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More by the authorBiographyE-mail the AuthorGersh Kuntzman-American Beat
The Perils of Protesting
During a silent protest at the inaugural parade, our columnist finds himself caught in the midst of a verbal volley between the president's supporters and critics
WEB EXCLUSIVE
By Gersh Kuntzman
Newsweek
Updated: 4:17 p.m. ET Jan. 24, 2005

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.

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Then I heard about a group called "Turn Your Back on Bush." Their approach seemed just wimpy enough to suit me perfectly. When the presidential limousine passed, members of this loosely affiliated group would spin around and show their backs to the newly anointed president. Simple disrespect without any of the annoying chanting or mass arrests. But still, it sounded pretty damn futile: I wanted to give Bush the finger, but only had the guts to give him the back. Well, I'd probably miss with the egg anyway, so I signed up.

Still, it wasn't going to be easy. The TYBOB email updates informed me that the District of Columbia police, the Secret Service, Homeland Security and virtually everyone in this country with a gun permit was going to be on hand to make sure no protesters even got through the security perimeter.

"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.

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In the end, all of us got in and even found open space along the inaugural parade route, which was no small feat considering that the Inaugural Committee had lined Pennsylvania Avenue with bleachers for Republican supporters, leaving almost no space for opponents of the president.

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.

CONTINUED>>
Page 2: Secret Society with a Secret Handshake

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

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