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Protesters to share Obama’s big day

Inauguration gives them an opportunity to be seen, heard

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Abortion, drone strikes, guns, military spending, unemployment — demonstrators highlighting these issues and more are expected for President Obama's inaugural parade, though perhaps the most visible of the planned protests will be made by D.C. government officials outside city hall.

Officials Wednesday showed off a banner championing D.C. voting rights that will hang on the enclosed viewing stand outside the John A. Wilson Building. That modest protest will be among at least five others for which groups were issued permits in the District on Inauguration Day.

Of the five groups — the ANSWER Coalition, Arc of Justice Coalition, Reform America Created Equal, Elaine Wooten Organization, and the Westboro Baptist Church — only three are authorized to be along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route, National Park Service officials said.

Instead of gathering on the route, the Arc of Justice Coalition plans to gather in Meridian Hill Park, about a mile and a half north of the White House. The group expects about 400 protesters with various gripes — from objections to the use of drones in military operations to concerns about social justice — to rally and march south toward the parade route.

"The goal of it is to bring attention to issues that have been ignored or minimized by the Obama administration and the Congress," said organizer Joan Stallard, 71.

It's unclear whether the number of protesters will be larger this year than four years ago, but Ms. Stallard — a veteran demonstrator — said she's seen a shift in people's perceptions of the inauguration this time around.

"We were carefully supportive four years ago because Obama represented the hope for important change," she said. "The expectation this time around is we've seen what happened and we can see that we need to get much more forceful in demanding the kind of America that we had been promised."

While law enforcement officials will be ready to react if protesters become disruptive, security likely will be focused on the crowds at large, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer said.

"I think our biggest issue continues to be crowd control and how to get people in," Mr. Gainer said. "If people have permits and are as loud as they can be loud and stay legal, then god bless them."

In 2009, six permits were issued by the National Park Service for demonstrators along Pennsylvania Avenue.

The protesters who demonstrated during the 2009 inauguration were largely lost in the massive crowds that came out to witness Mr. Obama being sworn in as the first black president. Estimates put the number of attendees at the 2009 inauguration at 1.8 million, but this time around officials are planning for between 600,000 and 800,000 attendees.

Other permitted protests were expected to be smaller, although in some cases it was not entirely clear what they plan to demonstrate against.

The Westboro Baptist Church, best known for controversial demonstrations outside military funerals, has obtained a permit for a 25-person protest, while the anti-abortion group Reform America Created Equal expects about 20 people, according to its permit. Both those groups will protest along the inaugural parade route.

The Elaine Wooten Organization, with a permit for 100 demonstrators, will gather in Dupont Circle in Northwest.

Protesters with the ANSWER Coalition, or Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, could mount the largest of the protests. The group will assemble in Freedom Plaza — the former temporary home to Occupy D.C. protesters — to draw attention to issues surrounding unemployment, foreclosures and student debt. The group sought a permit that allowed them to demonstrate for a month and a half and listed up to 10,000 protesters over that period of time.

Across the street from the ANSWER Coalition's Freedom Plaza location, D.C. government attached its own protest message.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Wednesday revealed the glass-enclosed, carpeted pavilion with a banner outside proclaiming, "A more perfect union must include full Democracy in D.C."

The room, constructed at a cost of $342,000, holds enough space for about 100, most of them guests and constituents invited by D.C. council members and executive members of the local government.

A spokesman for Mayor Vincent C. Gray's office said the District hung a similar banner during Mr. Obama's first inauguration, but it was lower to the ground and not easily seen.

"This is an opportunity we get every four years to say to America there is not full democracy in this city," Mr. Gray said. "This is a unique opportunity to communicate to the world, to communicate to our policymakers, that this city deserves to be treated with full citizenship."

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