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Coronation II
Thirty-six hours in the capital during the inauguration

WASHINGTON, DC — January 19, 6:30 p.m. The inauguration turns DC into a Republican prom. For the next two evenings, the capital city will be a slushy blur of recently retouched highlights, high heels, shiny patent-leather shoes, unwrinkled tuxedos, conservatively tailored suits, strapless dresses, black ties, top-shelf liquors, thick tweed pants, angular bow ties, pouffy Southern hair, twangy Texas accents, rolling limousines, and excited voices. There’ll also be more than a zoo’s worth of fur: mink, rabbit, chinchilla, fox, lynx, marmot, sheared beaver, longhaired beaver, reversible lambskin, Mongolian lambskin — all wrapped around a special breed of well-to-do women.

10:45 p.m. On Inauguration Eve, the predominant protest form is art. Anti-war poets read in Maryland; anti-corporate troubadour David Rovics performs at a place called the Electric Maid; there’s an underground hip-hop show on 14th Street; outside the "Black Tie and Boots" ball, a creative coterie of protesters dons cowboy hats, pink ball gowns, and pig snouts to demonstrate against war profiteers.

Two post-riot-grrl DC groups, Partyline and the Casual Dots, play at a "Bands Against Bush" show. The Casual Dots read stupid Bushisms on stage, while Partyline’s Allison Wolfe renames her band’s songs in honor of the occasion: "Fuck Bush" and "Fuck Bush 2." After the show, Partyline guitarist Angela Melkisethian plans for tomorrow’s protests. "All these people are dressing up straight tomorrow so that they can fit in and turn their backs on Bush. Fuck that! No way. I’m going to go down there and get my freak on. I don’t want to fit in and look like a bunch of Poindexters!"

January 20, 2:20 a.m. Republicans get the drunk munchies too. At a 24-hour CVS near my hotel, two women in evening gowns, high heels, and winter coats stumble in with two men. They’ve all come from the 9:30 Club. "Pop-Tarts! Cookies! Pringles!" one woman gleefully announces. "This is like being in a toy store when you’re a kid and you can grab anything you want!"

"Oooooh, Combos!" the other one squeals. When the women and their friends finally get up to the register, after 10 loud minutes debating the best Pringles flavor, their arms are so full that they keep dropping packages. One of their male companions, Jim from Utica, says he’s surprised he hasn’t seen more protesters. Meanwhile, the tired pharmacy clerk tallies one woman’s sweet-tooth booty: $18.17.

2:37 a.m. Across the street, outside a bar named Filibuster, two Republicans in formal attire make out on the sidewalk. Hey, you, I want to ask, is that a French kiss or a freedom kiss?

9:30 a.m. "We’re Freepers," explains Kristinn, a Pennsylvania woman who initially identifies herself by her Freeper Web-site user name, MVV. Despite evidence to the contrary, Freeper is not an abbreviation for Freaky Person. It’s actually shorthand for FreeRepublic, an archconservative group that Kristinn says "defends conservative rights" by protesting liberal causes. She points at a grinning older man with yellow teeth who’s holding a six-foot American flag in the middle of the lobby. "That’s Ziggy. He’s from Kosovo. He’s a Freeper too."

Ziggy, it’s important to note, is decked out in a thrift-store costume that Captain America would covet: red, white, and blue high-top sneakers; sweatpants with one candy-striped leg, and one with blue and white stars; an American-flag fanny pack; an American-flag patchwork long-sleeved shirt; a star-spangled scarf tied around his neck; and a matching kerchief pulled tight around his head à la Hulk Hogan. These, it strikes me, are Republicans who are very, very low on the conservative food chain. Dick and Lynne would never let this man sit on their couch, never mind have him over to dinner, but they sure can use his vote.

Freepers equate liberals with terrorist abettors, labeling the Bruce Springsteen/R.E.M. Vote for Change tour as "Saddam-Aid 2004" and "Tunes for Terrorists." Tomorrow night, they’re having a W2 ball that’ll be hosted by Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and played by a band called Capital Offense. For more information, Kristinn directs me to their online home, FreeRepublic.com. (Not freeper.com, which happens to be a porn site.) "We don’t care if you sign up or post or lurk," she says. "As long as you’re not against Bush."

10:15 a.m. A DC cab driver whose hack license identifies him as Emmias M. Wosenal says he’s astounded that there aren’t more visible protesters. I tell him that he’s taking me to a protest right now, about two-and-a-half miles from downtown, in Malcolm X Park. "If you protest down here, it doesn’t make sense," he says, shaking his head and dropping me off. "Who can see that march?"

10:30 a.m. The plan isn’t to remain in Malcolm X Park. The DC Anti-War Network (DAWN) called a morning rally here, to be followed by an 11:15 a.m. march to MacPherson Square, a muddy quadrant a few blocks from the White House. There, DAWN marchers expect to convene with other splintered groups like the Women’s March and Funeral Procession. Fifteen minutes after the main march leaves, a cabal of activists painted with fake blood and white bandages will leave together. They’re conspiring to participate in a "die-in" at the corner of H Street and 16th Street, near a gate where wealthy Republicans will be entering to watch the Inaugural Parade. Die-ins are exactly what their name suggests — street theater in which activists play dead in conspicuous spaces, usually to protest war casualties, and often get arrested if they’re obstructing traffic.

For now, hundreds of people mill around Malcolm X’s snow-caked grass. The plot’s centerpiece is a rectangular arrangement of approximately 200 coffin-shaped cardboard boxes alternately draped with American flags and black sheets. On the snow-packed green, there are the usual signs: NOT MY PRESIDENT; SEND THE TWINS; WHO WOULD JESUS BOMB? One woman’s placard insists her cat would make a better president. A middle-aged Asian woman holds a handwritten, cardboard rectangle challenging Bush to KISS MY YELLOW ASS. One enormous black sign with fluorescent pink, green, and orange lettering flings the king of all F-word derivations at the president with BUSH: MOTHERFUCKER.

Standing on the lawn is Sander Hicks, the punk founder of Brooklyn, New York–based Soft Skull Press. He published J.H. Hatfield’s controversial Bush biography, Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President, after it was dropped by St. Martin’s. Hicks was one of the 500 or so protesters to come to Boston during the Democratic National Convention. Surprisingly, he admits he wouldn’t be here if John Kerry had won, though he’s quick to point out that "the way Kerry ran his campaign showed the bankruptcy of the Democratic Party." I mention that I’m surprised there aren’t more protesters. "Remember, the march hasn’t started yet," he cautions. "But if the numbers are lower, remember that last time, the Supreme Court decision blatantly motivated people."

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Issue Date: January 28 - February 3, 2005
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