Presidential Inauguration

Charles Dharapak/AP

Obama’s Inauguration Will Be Mostly Celebratory, But Not Controversy Free

January 09, 2009 08:58 AM
by Rachel Balik
In contrast with the heavily protested George W. Bush inaugurations, Obama will be sworn in with only a small amount of quiet dissent.

Washington Prepares for Large, Mainly Enthusiastic Inauguration Crowd

Washington security agencies are implementing a range of new costly practices to bolster security for the inauguration, but mostly because of the large crowds expected to descend upon Washington, D.C., in support of the new president.

The inauguration is not entirely without controversy. The root of most complaints is Obama’s decision to have Reverend Rick Warren officiate at the inauguration. The appointment has troubled gay rights groups because the conservative Warren is reputed to be anti-gay. But no large-scale rallies on the matter are planned for on Inauguration Day. The director of Equality California, Geoffrey Kors, plans to express his disapproval by boycotting the event.

Despite Obama’s assertion that he intends Warren to be a unifying figure, gay rights groups point to Warren’s active support of California’s Prop 8 ballot initiative to ban gay marriage. Steven Walden’s blog of shares the most “controversial” portions of an interview with Warren about same-sex marriage.

Warren has also drawn criticism from atheist groups who wish all mention of religion to be entirely removed from the inauguration ceremony. Their objections are not limited to Warren’s inclusion in the ceremony; Michael Newdow, who has attempted to force the government to excise the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, is suing to prevent Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. from prompting Obama with the words “so help me God” when he administers the oath. Newdow doesn’t object to Obama saying “so help me God” if he chooses, but argues that it should not be an official part of the ceremony’s wording.

An anarchist group intends to protest the inauguration, and plans to actually be present on the day of the event. Come Out 2009 is the Web site of a group planning to protest on Jan. 20, 2009, on the grounds that our democracy is not really a democracy, and the American system of government is intrinsically unjust.

An editorial on Press Action asserts that there should be a protest at all inaugurations, to express that among the crowd of supporters, dissenters still exist. Furthermore, the blogger argues, while the election of an African-American president is indeed historic, many of the views that the man himself holds are objectionable.

Historical Context: Protests at Bush, Nixon Inaugurations

The second Bush inauguration in 2005 also featured a substantial amount of security. But in that case, the high security measures were in anticipation of protests. Democracy Now reported on the “lockdown in DC” that was planned to quell any disturbance from the large number of protesters expected. More than 100 groups across the country were planning anti-inauguration events; a law enforcement staff of 7,000 was scheduled to manage local protests as well as monitor a crowd of 500,000 coming to watch the inauguration. By contrast, anywhere from 1.5 million to 3 million people are expected in Washington to celebrate Obama’s inauguration.

The Washington Post writes that if the weather is bad, fewer people may show up to support Obama on inauguration day. However, thousands of demonstrators endured an unpleasantly wet day in 2001 to express dissent at Bush’s first inauguration after a highly contested election that required a decision by the Supreme Court. Those protestors felt that the democratic process had been circumvented in order to get Bush into office, Salon reported.

Displeasure over Bush’s inauguration was so intense that protests occurred in cities other than Washington. In Los Angeles, a crowd of 2,000 assembled for “The Mourning of the Inauguration.” Various speakers, including actors, politicians and grassroots organizers, addressed the crowd.

At Nixon’s second inauguration in 1973, 75,000 demonstrators protested the Vietnam War at the Lincoln Memorial. Some members of Congress joined the protestors, but Time magazine described the event as “quiet” and “passive.”

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