WASHINGTON – President Bush's second inauguration-day parade is still a week away,but the pushing and elbowing for access along the route has already begun.
Planners in Washington expect as many as 100,000 people to converge along the 1.7-mile stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House. The Presidential Inaugural Committee is erecting bleacher seating to accommodate 42,000,but those seats come at a price – between $15 and $125.
Bush opponents are upset that normally public sidewalk space has been turned into prime real estate. One group,the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition announced that it has gained permission to erect its own bleachers for anti-war protesters.
“We're standing on the site of what we believe will be a historic event,” Brian Becker,national coordinator for the ANSWER Coalition,said at a press conference Wednesday at John Marshall Park on Pennsylvania Avenue. “The first time in the history of the presidential inauguration where anti-war organizations and the anti-war movement will not only gather along the parade route but be able to set up their own bleachers.”
Security is tight as authorities brace for a polarized crowd at the first post-9/11 presidential inauguration. Protesters demonstrated in large numbers in 2001 after President Bush's contested victory,but with fewer than 10 arrests,they remained tame,at least in comparison to last summer's Republican National Convention in New York,when police arrested more than 1,800 demonstrators.
But the simple concern over access to this year's parade led ANSWER Coalition members to threaten legal action against the National Park Service. The two sides reached an agreement Tuesday.
The ANSWER Coalition will erect bleachers in John Marshall Park to seat between 500 and 1,000 people and will welcome as many anti-war demonstrators as can fit on the 210 feet of sidewalk in front of the bleachers,Becker said. President Bush and his motorcade will pass in front of the park,which lies just two blocks from the Capitol grounds.
The group considers the deal a small victory,however.
“What about all the other locations up and down this route,all the locations where you see bleachers? It's not that the PIC is acting as if it is a neutral facilitator for street activists,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard,a lawyer with the Partnership for Civil Justice. “What the Bush administration is doing,working with the Park Service,is privatizing Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Ben Porritt,PIC spokesman,declined to comment on this claim,but he said sidewalk space not lined with bleachers is open to the public.
“We will have designated standing areas for individuals who plan to stand along the parade route,and we are working to ensure ample space for as many people as possible,” he said.
Verheyden-Hilliard said her group could still go to court to keep parade organizers and officials from denying the public free access to the parade route.
Becker insisted,however,that ANSWER's efforts are not just in the interest of anti-Bush demonstrators.
“The ANSWER Coalition applied for these permits a year ago,” Becker said. “If John Kerry had been elected and continued Bush's policy of war and occupation in Iraq,we would be here,too. We're not for the Democratic Party or John Kerry,we're here to stand against the war in Iraq.”
Verheyden-Hilliard said the ANSWER Coalition recommends arriving as early as 9 a.m. to ensure a view of the parade,which is not scheduled to start until 2 p.m.
Porritt was unable to provide exact numbers for the amount of bleacher space and standing room along Pennsylvania Avenue. He said bleachers are still being installed.