The Nose knew security at the Jan. 20 Presidential Inauguration Parade was going to be tight. But little did we know when we traveled to Washington to witness the event that we were going to be treated to a free sample of what life is like under a police state.
If you weren’t there, you wouldn’t know: The televised version of the parade featured a sea of joyous Republicans, among which a few clusters of protesters scowled, standing along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route. But what the Nose witnessed firsthand was less a joyous crowd enjoying a spectacle and more a sort of prison-camp ambiance in which the gathered masses—both fur-coated ladies and black-jacketed anarchists—were barred from getting anywhere near the festivities.
Protesters and George W. Bush supporters alike marched absurdly from one stagnant checkpoint to the next, hoping to find an entrance onto the parade grounds, to no avail. Police officers staked out the restricted streets, armed with security gear ranging from black SUVs with roof-mounted cameras to a Critical Mass-esque bevy of bicycles manufactured by Smith and Wesson.
Despite the great show of force, a democracy of sorts flourished—more like exploded—on D Street. Unlike most demonstrations the Nose has attended, where shouting matches break out between opposing groups of protesters kept apart by barricades, people of all political and ideological persuasions found themselves stuck in the same checkpoint lines at D and Seventh streets.
Chants of “Bush Must Go” chorused with cries of “Four More Years.” A guy with a Veterans for Bush sign found himself next to a Vietnam-era anti-war protester. Anarchists waved red-and-black flags and banged on drums. Tempers flared. Snowballs flew. Moments later, a police car burrowed into the crowd, followed by a squad of motorcycle cops. When the pepper spray started to flow, it didn’t matter whether you were a veteran from West Virginia, an anti-war protester, or a student waving a poster-board collage of Iraqi civilian casualties. Everyone was gagging on the same poison air.
A man swooped up a girl, her eyes red and confused, as a police cruiser brushed by her. The anarchists’ signs were trampled. A well-dressed woman clapped with glee when the Riot Police came to the scene. A man in a Ravens hat supplied the audio: “Beat their ass! Beat their ass!” he yelled.
But the real moment of clarity came for the Nose during a surreal moment in the middle of Bush’s speech. We stood along a fenced-in area between checkpoints, peering through two rows of fencing, flanked on one side by a Republican and on the other by a Frenchman. Staring back at us was a trench-coated gentleman speaking into a lapel microphone. Bush’s voice was impossible to understand from this vantage point; it sounded like it was bleating from inside a tin can. Then came some strangely distorted music, wafting over the crowd. The only thing missing was a huge poster of Our Leader draped across the collonades of the National Archives building.