WASHINGTON – The buses were scheduled to return to Baltimore at 4 p.m. Saturday even though the inaugural protests were still in full swing, but by that time most of the protesters were happy to go home.
With temperatures hovering in the 30s and a freezing rain that had gotten progressively worse throughout the day, they could barely feel their hands and feet, and they were tired. Many had already sought shelter in a nearby fast-food joint.
But while they might have been physically drained, the enthusiasm among the protesters was palpable. As the bus stopped to drop people off on the way back to the All People’s Congress in Baltimore, each person who got off got a round of applause from the remaining riders.
They were happy they came, saying it was cathartic and even life-affirming to spend time in solidarity with others who felt the same way they did.
“It wasn’t fun,” says Zack Pearson, a Johns Hopkins University student who strongly supported Al Gore. “But we had to come and see all these people validating the problems with the election.”
When the bus arrived at 426 E. 31st St. in Baltimore, organizer Sharon Ceci encouraged everyone to come back Thursday for the group’s weekly meetings. A number of the protesters expressed interest.
For Ceci and others, the inaugural protests that marked the end of a bitter presidential election also marked the beginning of what they hope will be a renewed sense of purpose for progressives.
“We are starting a new movement in this country,” Ceci had told the crowded room at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, as protesters prepared to board three yellow school buses to Washington. “It’s ironic that a rotten corrupt conservative like George Bush is bringing together a new exciting movement for progress in this county.”
The plan for the Baltimore group was to stay together and join with thousands of other protesters along the inaugural parade route, at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington.
That lasted all of 10 minutes.
As soon as the group merged with the sea of protesters trying to get through the security checkpoint to the parade, people broke off into smaller groups. The Baltimore delegation wasn’t reunited until the ride home.
That didn’t stop the protesters from making their voices heard. Some got to the front of the crowd, shouting at the politicians and at Maryland’s own Pat Sajak, as the game-show host marched in the parade.
The Maryland protesters expressed themselves with signs ranging from “Hail to the Thief” to “George W. Bush — Ideas Are For Sissies” and “In the Spirit of Bipartisanship, I’ll hug your elephant if you kiss my. . .” followed by a picture of a donkey.
Many in the group were young, but it was a hodgepodge of young and old, white and minorities, experienced protesters and novices.
“The Republicans say they represent ‘real Americans.’ But we’re the face of a truly representative America,” said one protestor who didn’t want to be identified.
Many had never protested before.
“I don’t view Bush as my president,” said Leslie Best, a Pikesville resident and first-timer. She did not vote in November, but was so outraged by what she views as Bush’s theft of the election that she felt compelled to protest.
Philip Thomas, a recent high school graduate from Baltimore, came after the prodding of friend and fellow protester Terrence Mabe.
“I see all this stuff happening, and we’re just sitting there watching it on television,” Thomas said about earlier protests in Seattle and Washington. He said he wasn’t going to sit by this time.
There were a few stereotypical rabble-rousers in the group — the kids with purple hair and multiple facial piercings and the aging hippies who have more hair on their faces than they do on their heads. Some came in costume. Phil Andrews of Baltimore dressed in a three-piece suit and carried a sign that read, “Oil Execs for Bush.”
But most looked like regular folks. If not for their signs, it would have been hard to distinguish them from neutral spectators.
The protests went smoothly: There were isolated incidents of violence but nothing on the scale that some feared. The Baltimore group was unscathed, but Jerry West of Laurel wasn’t so lucky.
“I’ve had people kick me. . . .I’ve had people hit me,” said West, who said he was attacked on three occasions by Bush supporters.
Were the taunts and catcalls of “get a life” and “go home” from Bush backers worth it?
It was a good beginning, said Gary Abraham of Timonium. “We just need to build from here.”
“We showed Bush in real terms how many people are upset about what’s going on,” said Alan Blake, of Baltimore. “Then again, maybe he’s too stupid to care.” — CNS reporter Robert Patrick contributed to this article.