Thursday, January 20, 2005

Austin Counter-Inaugural Protest

I got off work and headed downtown where I hoped to catch the protest at the state capitol. As I drove I noticed the large number of police around, in cars, on motorcycles, on foot. And then I spotted the column marching down Congress Avenue towards the Colorado River bridge. I drove all over trying to find parking, and ultimately settled pretty far away. I started walking towards the protest and I noticed lots of other people moving in the same direction. Some of them were obviously protestors, with "Impeach Bush" signs, while others looked like passers by. Eventually, I got the the light before the bridge and caught sight of the police blockade.

I made my way across the street and into the crowd. The news later said there were "several hundred" protestors; I estimated anywhere from 500 to 800, but I am horrible at guessing. The Austin Police estimated there were 1,500 protestors. As all of the promotional material had suggested, we were limited to the sidewalks lining the bridge, though the bridge itself was closed off.

Soon enough, though, the police tried to let one lane each direction through.

Most of the cars that passed honked their horns or rolled out their windows to support us, which elicited some loud cheers from the crowd. Around this time I first noticed the large burkha-wearing effigy one protestor carried. When I looked at the picture later, I also noticed the "Bush is a pink-ass chimp" sign, which I somehow missed while I was there.

It wasn't long before the police decided to fall back and close off the bridge again, allowing the protest to spill into the street itself.

At this point the protest turned into more of a street festival. There were a number of people playing drums, often in time with the crowds chants. There were the old standards. "What do we want?" "Peace!" "When do we want it?" "Now!" One person got a round of the song War going. Then some protestors came in with a Chinese dragon-styled King George effigy.

The crowd was large, civil, and very diverse.

There were several small children at the protest, even infants.

The man who was essentially leading the chanting due to his megaphone calmed everyone down for a moment and announded that several protestors had been arrested, and that after the demonstration on the bridge ended they were heading to the jail to demand their release. I later learned from the news that at least one of the arrested had been tasered when he got in a police officer's face and possibly pushed him. The exact circumstances of the other arrests isn't known. The protest leader mentioned "police brutality," but he's not exactly objective. For what it's worth, here was the barricade while we were on the bridge.

After we had access to the street, people started writing with chalk pretty much everywhere. There were few untouched sections of pavement in the protest area.

Among the chalking were several police-style chalk body outlines, which I assume were referring to the 100,000+ dead as a result of President Bush's Iraq adventure.

When I saw someone interesting, I asked them to pose.

I thought this graffito summed up the message of the protest rather well.

At around 6:30 the downtown side of the protest started marching up Congress Avenue, back towards the capitol. I joined them. There were chants of "Whose streets?" "Our streets!" and "Show me what democracy looks like." "This is what democracy looks like!" Again, many passers by honked or lowered their windows to shout approval.

Ultimately, this wing of the protest ended up at the jail where the protestors were being held.

When I left at 7:30, there were still over 100 people outside the jail demanding their release. News vans had their transmitting booms extended and helicopters circled ahead. Several protestors were writing statements about witnessing the arrests, which they said were uncalled for and an infringement on free speech.

All in all, it was a great experience. I had forgotten how good it felt to actually do something in the face of adversity, even if that something is to no avail.

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