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Rail Against the Thief 

A protester’s guide to Inauguration Day

Wednesday, Jan 17 2001
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Whatever Washington‘s weather is on Inauguration Day, rain will come down on George W. Bush’s parade from several directions. Squalls of protest are expected along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route. Demonstrations are also planned in Los Angeles, Tallahassee and San Francisco, among other places. And clouds will continue to shadow the appointed president as ballot counting resumes in Florida under the sponsorship of major media organizations.

District of Columbia police, aided by the Secret Service and other federal security agencies, are preparing for the arrival of tens of thousands of protesters on Saturday. For the first time in U.S. history, parade attendees will be forced to pass through police checkpoints. At least five groups -- from distraught Democrats to the Rev. Al Sharpton‘s National Action Network -- are sponsoring separate rallies around Washington that will later converge near Pennsylvania Avenue. The theme of disenfranchisement is resonating through black-majority D.C., says Adam Eidinger of the Justice Action Movement. “The city is pissed about the election process because it’s already denied congressional representation,” says Eidinger, and some rallies will highlight the need for D.C. statehood and the denial of voting rights to convicted criminals. No civil disobedience is planned by the Justice Action Movement because of fears that such tactics might prompt police overreaction against peaceful black and suburbanite protesters. However, giant puppets and stilt walkers, prominent at last year‘s demonstrations against the World Bank and World Trade Organization, are expected to emerge from hibernation.

In addition to the veteran protesters, sizable detachments of mainstream Democrats are expected to gather under the banner of the “Silenced Majority,” while pro-Bush counterprotesters will hold a “National Patriots’ March” from the Supreme Court building to the Mall “to defend the will of the people as expressed in the election,” says organizer Kevin Conner. In addition to rallies granted permits by the National Park Service, there will be miniprotests along the parade route by small groups of less than 25.

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Locally, the Los Angeles Counter-Inauguration Coalition is gathering at 11 a.m. Saturday at Sixth and Olive streets for a Pershing Square rally; at 1:30 p.m., protesters will march to the downtown Federal Building. Many attendees will heed the call by Southern California Americans for Democratic Action to wear black in mourning for the democratic process snuffed out by Katherine Harris, GOP lawyers and the Supreme Court. The funereal tone will yield to a fighting spirit as Tom Hayden, State Senator Sheila Kuehl, Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg, activistscreenwriter Lila Garrett, and the Rev. Leonard Jackson of First African Methodist Episcopal Church analyze Bush‘s right-wing agenda and strategize on how to block it.

“The candidate who lost is in the White House and we’re stuck with that,” says Garrett. “But when Bush throws down the gauntlet with an attorney general who doesn‘t believe in civil rights and an interior secretary who wants to turn Alaska over to oil companies, we can’t accept that -- they have no mandate, they are illegitimate.”

Speeches will span a broad array of issues, from protecting choice, affirmative action, the environment, and gay and immigrant rights to stopping Star Wars and drug wars in Colombia. Mobilizing to stop the confirmation of John Ashcroft as attorney general and other extremist nominees is another likely focus. Political points will be made in a lighter vein by the satirical songs of Billionaires for Bush and Gore and along the parade route with a mock coronation of King George. Onstage, actoractivist Ed Asner will share MC tasks with Brian Jones of the Campaign To End the Death Penalty. Among the attendees, African-Americans mobilized by the NAACP, Rainbow Coalition and Brotherhood Crusade will mingle with disgusted Democrats, activists from labor unions, environmentalists and women‘s groups. “Bush promised to be a unifier,” says Jones. “And he’s really brought a lot of people together -- against his appointments. We hope they‘ll stay together for four years to fight the agenda.”

In Tallahassee -- decrying the election theft at the scene of the crime -- the Rev. Jesse Jackson will lead a morning prayer vigil and rally, followed by a noon march to Florida’s state Capitol building. Joining in the protest are national AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Richard Trumka, NAACP chief Kwesi Mfume, women‘s group leaders and Florida legislators. The Saturday rally follows Jackson’s two-day bus tour of northern Florida to bolster turnout and caps a “week of moral outrage” called for by his RainbowPUSH Coalition.

In an action likely to keep moral outrage alive for some time, a handful of the nation‘s largest newspapers, the Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles TimesTribune Publishing -- along with CNN, the Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post and the St. Petersburg Times -- announced plans on January 10 to examine about 180,000 Florida ballots on which no presidential vote was recognized during the official counting process. About one-third of these ballots were disqualified as “undervotes” where no presidential choice was discerned, while two-thirds (the “overvotes”) were thrown out for showing more than one choice. The ballot inventory will be administered by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), a nonprofit opinion-survey agency affiliated with the University of Chicago.

The NORC study will take eight to 10 weeks and cost about $500,000, the St. Petersburg Times reported. Under the guidance of a steering committee of news-organization representatives, NORC will hire and train three-person teams of independent coders who will sort ballots into a variety of categories -- the now-famous dimpled or dangling chads, write-ins, and ballots spoiled by marks or punches for more than one person. Calculations could then be made, said Washington Post election expert Dan Keating, who helped design the survey, to see what the outcome would have been if various standards had been applied in a statewide count.

In their annoying, objectivity-beats-truth manner, media types were careful not to characterize the project as a “re-count.” (No one simply said: “We’re not sure who won the election because not all of the votes were counted, and that‘s what we intend to do -- count ballots.”) Instead, the media stepped back with varying degrees of reticence from appearing to challenge the legality of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision anointing Bush president. “The re-counts have already been done, and the next president has been elected,” said L.A. Times editor John Carroll -- in spite of a November Times article pointing out that no re-counting of ballots had been done in many Florida counties. “This is an effort to find out what useful information those ballots may contain. We‘ll leave it up to our readers to decide what they think about whatever we find,” Carroll added. Similarly, “We are not going to determine whether a ballot with a pregnant chad is a vote for somebody,” said Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. “We will describe them and how they were apportioned. This is not an attempt to discover whether one candidate or another should have won the election. That is not our job.” Mike Silverman, managing editor of the Associated Press, said, “A thorough inspection of all the disputed ballots and a public categorization and description of them will become part of an important historical record, but we are not going into this with any notion of being able to say who really won or anything of that sort.”

The media group has asked election authorities in all of Florida’s 67 counties to segregate ballots without a recorded vote for president. Some large counties have said that doing so would be difficult, time-consuming and costly. One of those is Duval County, where more than 20,000 ballots were thrown out when voters, especially in Jacksonville‘s African-American precincts, followed misleading sample-ballot instructions and cast votes on both of the pages listing presidential candidates. The media group has agreed to pay any costs incurred in preparing for the ballot examination.

A separate Miami Herald survey, focusing on the 60,000 undervotes, is already well under way, and results are expected to be published soon. After two days, a total of 872 ballots were reviewed in Broward County. With about 6,600 ballots to be examined, the tabulation could take about three weeks. The review includes all the ballots that were contested and decided by the canvassing board. The Herald hired the national accounting firm of BDO Seidman to look at ballots in all Florida counties.

As the Herald’s review of Broward County ballots crept along on its second day, Republican Congressman Mark Foley blasted the process, saying it would “cast a pall over the presidency. Mr. Bush is the president-elect. Mr. Gore has conceded. It is not time to start speculating on what voters might have meant.” Foley did not indicate when the appropriate moment might occur. Congressman Peter Deutsch, a Gore supporter who observed the Broward review, praised the Herald and other news organizations for their work. “The truth is the truth,” Deutsch said. “For the good of the country I hope the review shows that George W. Bush wins, but if he doesn‘t, Americans have a right to know that.”

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