War protesters are seen and heard

By Mark Benjamin

Published January 20, 2005 10:47PM (EST)

In the four years since the last inaugural protests, it seems George W. Bush's detractors have come up with infinitely more creative ways to combine the president's last name and the vice president's first name into sexually explicit slogans that fit on poster board. Then again, much has changed since then. Four years ago, the protesters along Pennsylvania Avenue raged at a new president who lost the popular vote but won the White House. This time, George Bush won both, and the unifying theme among protesters shifted to the war in Iraq, the rationale for waging it and the skyrocketing cost. Nearly 1,400 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since that last protest, a fact that also fits neatly on a piece of poster board, as signs waving among the inaugural protesters demonstrated.

Right where Pennsylvania Avenue meets Fourth Street -- in plain view of Bush's motorcade -- protesters gathered by the thousands in a designated area, complete with bleachers and a speaker platform. "I am protesting because of a completely unjust war -- Iraq," said Mark Fangmeier, 23, from St. Paul, Minn. "It is mostly the war. There is also the Ohio election fraud. Half the country is still really pissed off and we are not going away." Also among the demonstrators was Lou Dunham, 53, from Rockville, Md., who served in the Air Force in Vietnam. His nephew has already served one tour in Iraq with the Army's 4th Infantry Division, and he is slated to go back. Dunham said his nephew's job in the beginning of that first tour was to collect the remnants of U.S. vehicles destroyed by insurgents. "He didn't have any body armor," Dunham complained.

"The reason I'm here is to pay back all those that protested the Vietnam War," said Dunham, who also protested at Bush's last inauguration. Dunham said the Iraq war, like the one he fought a generation ago, was becoming a quagmire, and he praised the thousands of protesters who braved the bone-chilling temperatures and waited in lines for over an hour to pass through security to the inaugural parade route. "I think it shows a spirit of common cause," said Dunham. His sign simply read, "Worst President Ever."

Despite the war, the mood among protesters this year seemed slightly less angry than on that cold and rainy day in 2001 when Bush was first sworn in and Al Gore, the winner of the electoral vote, was left only to watch. That might not have seemed clear to several dozen unwitting Bush supporters who, after the inauguration, made their way along the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue and passed directly through an antiwar protest staged by the A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition. As if they had stepped right out of central casting, a number of female Bush supporters -- wearing fur coats -- passed the protesters. The A.N.S.W.E.R. demonstrators immediately pounced, blocking the Republicans' path and chanting "No more blood for oil" and "Not our president, not our war."

Security along the parade route was tight. Police working in two-person teams peered at the crowd through binoculars from nearby rooftops. Two choppers incessantly hovered overhead, and a sleek propeller plane droned in circles all day. Police lined the entire stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue on either side, standing arms' width apart.

The protesters seemed undaunted. Pat Hersey from Columbia, Md., said she did not protest in 2001. But she has a son and daughter who are 20 and 18 and she does not want them to go to Iraq. She said of Bush and the vice president, "They are warmongers."

Mark Benjamin

Mark Benjamin is a national correspondent for Salon based in Washington, D.C. Read his other articles here.

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