The votes are counted. The people have spoken. And on Inauguration Day President Bush’s motorcade will again creep down Pennsylvania Avenue as throngs of admirers express support. But not everyone in attendance will be celebrating. Despite the Bush Administration’s best (unspoken) efforts to reduce the visibility of dissenters, countless protesters are expected to navigate the obstacles and make their feelings known.
Among them will be the supporters of “Turn Your Back On Bush,” a large, organized group of men and women from around the United States who plan to descend on Washington D.C. and personally express their dissatisfaction with President Bush.
“We are planning on lining the entire parade route,” says Turn Your Back On Bush field director Sarah Kauffman, “and as Bush’s motorcade passes we're going to turn our backs on him in a gesture that shows that we withdraw our support from his presidency.”
While some other protesters will be vocal and self-evident, the organizers of Turn Your Back On Bush are committed to this unique, silent, non-violent protest. “A silent protest is strong in that it’s disquieting. When you are in a situation where you are expected to respond and you don’t, it’s the most polite way to [say], ‘Sorry, but I don’t recognize you’,” says Kauffman.
The organizers have drawn much of their inspiration from Gene Sharp, author of “From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation,” which not coincidentally is a guide towards pushing a government towards becoming more democratic. Although the techniques Sharp advocates are most often utilized in countries led by dictators, under the Bush Administration Sharp’s techniques may now be somewhat useful in America.
According to Kauffman, the inauguration itself is an example of the Bush Administration’s restrictive policies. “As you look at the parade route only about 30 percent [of the sidewalk] is available to the general public for free,” she begins. The overwhelming majority of the sidewalk space will be covered by high-priced bleacher seats designed to be occupied by the President’s wealthiest most ardent supporters. “It's very similar to the presidency in that you have to be someone with capital to be in the President’s audience. It’s a shame that there’s so little public access. It has turned into a privatized event,” claims Kauffman.
Meanwhile, many of the so-called security measures seem designed to marginalize dissenters. For example, spectators may not carry signs, posters or any other item that security officers deem a potential threat. “That’s part of the reason we are doing this action,” begins Kauffman. “It hinges on action rather than a slogan. It’s really a unique opportunity for people from all different backgrounds and experiences to unite in their opposition to the President. Rather than focusing our vision on the President we are looking to each other for compassion and support as a way to begin acting to counter Bush’s policies.”
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Turn Your Back On Bush is that no one really knows how many people will ultimately participate. Currently, there are organizers in 41 states that promise to bring in thousands of individuals. “It can be really powerful when you just change the way you’re gazing,” says Kauffman. “It would be most gratifying to turn on a television [after the fact] and see large groups of people on Pennsylvania Avenue turning their backs as the motorcade passes. To me that would be chilling.”