Part II: In Which I Protest the Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States

by Jonathon Van Maren

Read Part I here.

We battled our way through the throngs of people whose excitement was rapidly turning into distinctly metropolitan irritation at the sight of huge lineups everywhere—for food, for coffee, for access to the Inaugural Parade route along Pennsylvania Ave, and for our destination, the metro. Fortunately for us, we discovered a set of stairs into the Federal Triangle Metro station through a food court that most of the annoyed celebrants had not yet discovered. We squeezed onto the train and headed off to the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, where our pro-life friends from Created Equal had set up signs depicting graphic abortion imagery on the Inaugural Parade route directly across from the National Archives.

We took the metro three stops down, exited, and began to wade through more crowds towards the Secret Service checkpoints that we would have to pass through in order to access the parade route. Police officers, soldiers, and military vehicles were everywhere, a number of them clustered around a drum-beating anarchist group, who mysteriously felt that abolishing government and “establishing” anarchy was the answer to stopping war. “You believe we live in a democracy? Give me one piece of evidence!” one of the oblivious anarchists screamed over the heads of a few long-suffering police officers. Well, the fact that none of these cops are currently using their billy-clubs on you and your collective, for starters, I thought to myself.

We stopped briefly for lunch, and then squeezed into a lineup half a block long at a security checkpoint near the National Archives. People chattered cheerily, almost all of them sporting unnecessarily large Obama buttons. It was a long half-hour to the checkpoint, where Secret Service was assisted by soldiers and Marines in checking everyone’s bags and administering pat-downs to those who set off the metal detectors. My four friends and I exited the check point and rounded the corner to the Navy Memorial, where members of Created Equal had set up their abortion display, surrounded by metal barricades. Unlike in Canada, where while anti-abortion demonstrations are not forbidden but certainly not assisted, here the police gave Created Equal a permit and fenced off space right on the parade route for their use. Perhaps the anarchists should have applied for a permit, even though I can see how paperwork would take valuable time away from raging against the machine.

Now, I realize that there are two types of people who could be reading this article—my anti-abortion friends, who would probably disapprove of my going to Obama’s Inauguration without protesting it, and my left-leaning friends (whom I love dearly), who, if they have been so kind as to read this far, are shaking their heads and wondering why I’m determined to be such a buzz-kill. Come on, Jonathon, I can hear them saying to themselves, Can’t you lose the anti-abortion stuff for one single day?  Well, no, not really. While I feel privileged to have witnessed the presidential inauguration—the peaceful way in which American democracy re-establishes itself every four years being a global phenomenon since George Washington first turned over the presidency to John Adams in 1797--I don’t think I have the right to ignore the fact that 52 million pre-born Americans have been aborted since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, something Obama celebrates. I don’t consider abortion a political issue; I consider it a human rights issue, and a fairly simple one at that. This isn’t something I can agree to disagree on, because this debate isn’t about me and my opinion’s rightness—it is about a human being’s right to life and abortion’s wrongness. But I digress.

File 1596The crowd around Created Equal’s abortion display was not particularly pleased that the “anti-abortion people” had been given a sizeable chunk of space right on parade route—especially those whose view of the parade would be obscured by inconvenient pictures of dismembered inconvenient American fetuses. However, police officers from states across the Union lined the route almost arm-to-arm, and a few severe looks from police officers and park rangers prevented the resentment from becoming too vociferous, even after one of my friends responded to their complaints by quoting a few of Obama’s Inaugural comments concerning our duty to defend the marginalized and our being created equal and such. They clearly felt that the consistency of one’s views was not nearly as important as having a consistent view of the parade route.

The parade announcers kept us apprised of the parade’s imminence, while interspersing their commentary with the verbal sewage of pop diva Lady Gaga. Created Equal’s executive director, Mark Harrington, explained to us that when the presidential motorcade passed by, two of the girls were to hold up abortion signs for his personal presidential consideration. Hopefully, he would see them. While my reading of his political manifesto The Audacity of Hope didn’t leave me at all hopeful that this would have any impact on him, at least the presence of America’s most marginalized would be seen, however briefly, by the President of the United States. In a day full of symbolic acts, this would be ours.

File 1600The parade started with police chiefs and other law enforcement representatives driving and marching past, followed by several marching bands. And following them—the much-anticipated presidential motorcade, its arrival signalled by a swell of cheering travelling along the crowds lining Pennsylvania Avenue. We could see the sleek black cars in the distance, and as they drew up alongside us, the girls held up their signs. Through the back window of the black limo, President Barack Obama’s face appeared. He was waving at the crowd—waving at us—seeing us. The limo moved on, but the president had seen, for just a moment, the faces of America’s abortion victims on the day he swore to protect them.

We packed up the signs and moved quickly through the crowds and the security checkpoint, and set up our signs across the road facing it. Shortly thereafter, people began to stream through the checkpoint, towards us and past us. Reactions, of course, were varied---Really, today? This is disrespectful. Is it just because it’s Obama?

What I found surprising were not the annoyed or negative reactions, but rather the number of people sporting all types of Obama gear who came up to us to offer their support. One older African-American man came up to me to tell me how when his daughter had faced an unplanned pregnancy, he had pushed for an abortion. His wife and daughter had refused, and now, he said, he can’t believe he had thought of aborting his little grandson. “This is good work you folks doin’,” he told me. Another lady gave me money “for our work,” while a few others came up to shake our hands. Do none of these people realize that the man they came here to celebrate supports abortion more unequivocally than any other president in US history? I wondered. The cognitive dissonance is one that should be taken note of—Republicans should think twice before abandoning an issue that matters to so many people, especially in communities that at this point vote almost universally Democrat.

File 1604After a few hours conversing with the Inaugural crowds, we all ducked into a barbeque joint for supper, and then walked the signs several blocks to Created Equal’s “Truth Truck,” which had also been circling the city. We loaded them in the back, bid our American comrades good night, and headed back through city streets that were rapidly filling up with men in tuxedos and women in ball gowns heading off to Inaugural Balls across Washington, DC.  We climbed on the metro, and tried to fight off sleep as the train carried us out of DC.

It was a historic day—a good day to protest an injustice of historic proportions. Today was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and to paraphrase him—there may be times in which we cannot stop an evil. But there must never be a day in which we fail to protest.