For the majority of Americans, Election 2000 came to a close with a feeling similar to a door being slammed in your face. At first it is shocking, but then you're angry, and during my trip to Washington, D.C., this weekend I saw a lot of anger. Hundreds of groups, from the grass-roots Greens to the National Organization of Women, organized the biggest counter-inaugural protests since 1973. Nearly 100,000 people showed up to the presidential inauguration to express their discontent. Signs reading, \Hail to the Thief,"" ""Ashcroft is an A**hole,"" ""Snub the Shrub,"" ""Bush Doesn't Count"" and ""GWB: You're Fired, (Oops, Never Hired)"" were everywhere. Many people were wearing crowns and some were wearing black. Chants like, ""Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay, Baby Bush, go away"" and ""Selected Not Elected"" sprang to life every few minutes. It seems that the government's covenant with the people has been broken and I don't think that this Humpty Dumpty can put the pieces back together again.
The judicial coup d'etat coupled with a Jim Crow election and the majority's choice losing put intense pressure on President Bush to at least make appearances that he was humble and felt our pain. This is the strategy that a reasonable, tactical politician would have taken, and for awhile it appeared that Bush was heading in that direction with his appointment of moderate Colin Powell for secretary of state. But forgetting that he only received 25 percent of the vote from eligible voters, Bush chose for cabinet positions corporate ideologues John Ashcroft, Gov. Tommy Thompson, Gale Norton and Donald Rumsfeld, who are staunchly against civil rights, women's reproductive freedoms, clean water, clean air and the Endangered Species Act--issues that the other 150 million of us support. Dan Rather said Bush's appointments were a little like ""doing the moonwalk in the end zone after a touchdown,"" considering how Bush's triumph was dependent on the systematic disenfranchisement of blacks, Latinos, nonviolent offenders and the poor. Bush has recklessly handed the wheel to the far right for a four-year joyride.
The illusion of democracy was further weakened by police attempts to restrict freedom of speech, grievance and assembly. The entire Mall from the Capitol building to the White House was fenced in and only ticket holders who were rich and Republican were allowed anywhere near the swearing-in ceremony. In addition, riot police beat protesters with billy clubs, pepper gassed them and illegally detained hundreds on a bus. This continued until the Million Voter March surrounded the bus and forced the police to release their captives.
Angered by police misconduct, several protesters ripped down flags from the Navy Memorial, burnt them and flew a black flag with the American flag upside-down. They also broke windows at a bank and at an army recruiter office. Ice chunks and an egg were thrown at the presidential limo and a construction site was dismantled with its fence used to block traffic along with several newspaper stands that had been thrown into the street.
Whether you agree with these tactics or not, a democracy is a little like a dam. Dams are built to manage a river. If the river becomes too full, then small gates are opened to release pressure. If these outlets are closed off and a storm hits, pressure builds up, cracks form and the dam bursts open washing away everything in its path. Pressure is building in America as the inevitable consequence of increasing poverty, corporate recklessness, social isolation and denial of governmental access. The only thing Americans had left to feel they could participate in was the election of the president and now even that has been denied to them. In one fatal swoop, the institution of the Supreme Court, the Electoral College and the presidency were totaled. For many people this was the last straw.
Little room is left within the insider politics of the two-party system to enact any serious social change or investigation into corruption. Now the Republicans and some Democrats are calling for healing, reconciliation and peace without justice. The protests will continue because the wounds to our democracy are too deep. It will take mass mobilizations like the ones that occurred during the inauguration to cripple an administration that is intent on crippling our civil liberties and human rights. As Langston Hughes said, ""We want to make America what it has never been--a democracy.""
Sarah Turner is a senior majoring in sociology. Her column runs every Tuesday in The Daily Cardinal.