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Protesters Disrupt Bush’s Inaugural Address

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We continue our coverage of inauguration 2005, looking at the protests in Washington DC that were ignored by the corporate media. We speak with two people who disrupted President Bush’s inaugural address, Medea Benjamin of CodePink and Jeremiah Jenkins of Harvard Divinity School. [includes rush transcript]

As reported on Democracy Now!, the second of inauguration of George W Bush Thursday was met by thousands of protesters who took to the streets of Washington DC amid unprecedented levels of security to oppose the policies of the Bush administration–but you wouldn’t have known it by watching the corporate media.

The major cable news networks showed footage of the presidential inauguration on the Capitol, the motorcade through Pennsylvania Avenue and President Bush and the first lady getting out of their heavily-armored Cadillac to walk the last block to the White House. In the evening, news anchors reported from glamorous events as they followed the president and his wife to nine inaugural balls.

This past weekend, the organization MediaMatters issued a report criticizing the major cable news networks for ridiculing the protesters at the inauguration and for downplaying their numbers. It is estimated over 10,000 protesters took to the streets of Washington.

At one point Fox News reported only a few dozen people showed up at a large rally organized by the ANSWER coalition. On the next day the New York Times reported thousands of protesters had shown up in the area where ANSWER receive a protest permit CNN host Wolf Blitzer described the protesters as “angry, angry people” and he also explicitly tried to downplay the protesters significance.

On air he said, “We don’t want to make too much of the protesters, because we don’t know how many there were. Certainly, the nature of this business, the nature of television, we could over-exaggerate based on the images, and they might just be a tiny, tiny overall number.”

And Fox News host Brit Hume said the fact that protests were occurring “isn’t very important.” In addition, MediaMatters also tracked the degree that Republican and conservative guests and commentators outnumbered Democrats and progressives. On Fox, the ratio was 17 to 6 on FOX. It was 13 to 2 on MSNBC and 10 to 1 on CNN.

On Democracy Now we continue our coverage of inauguration 2005 by bringing you the voices of dissent not aired in the corporate media. During the official inauguration proceedings Thursday, a number of protesters managed to disrupt President Bush during his address. We caught up with two of them after they were removed from the Capitol by security officials.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On Democracy Now!, we continue our coverage of the inauguration 2005, by bringing you the voices of dissent, not aired in the corporate media. This weekend, I caught up with two of those who interrupted President Bush’s inaugural address. Among them, Jeremiah Jenkins of Harvard Divinity School.

JEREMIAH JENKINS: My name is Jeremiah Jenkins, the editor of “No Empire: A Journal of Conscience” at Harvard Divinity School. I received a ticket the morning of the inauguration to the blue zone, which is as close as you could get to the president. I got in about the time that Cheney was reciting his oath. I sat down, I heard the rumbles behind me of CODEPINK and some other demonstrators that were unfurling signs and chanting. And towards the end of his speech, I began booing him loudly, loud enough that he heard me and was startled for a moment. Then I began chanting: “Hey, Bush, where are the poor? Did you ship them all off to war?” And then I continued to chant that as I was dragged out of the inaugural zone.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you near the press?

JEREMIAH JENKINS: I was actually right next to the press. So, initially, the first people that surrounded me were the press, and then I was kind of overwhelmed with the police. But it was near the press tent. It was about 30 rows back from the president. He could see and hear me.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you know that?

JEREMIAH JENKINS: Why? I had the suspicion that he heard me just because of the tone of his speech and everything, and sort of there is a pause there. But the Boston Globe actually reported that all of the dignitaries and Bush could hear me, and that he was momentarily startled.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you do it?

JEREMIAH JENKINS: Well, actually, I guess I could say that I was really encouraged by his rhetoric, that young people should find a cause greater than themselves to live for, and I thought that was my cue. So, if he was going to use the rhetoric of liberty and freedom of democracy, I’m going to show him what it really means.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremiah Jenkins. I asked Jeremiah Jenkins how he chose the chant, “hey, Bush, where are the poor, did you ship them all off to war?”

JEREMIAH JENKINS: I grew up poor and I have a deep compassion for poor, poor people and I feel that this administration has neglected poor and working people. And so, as I was there, I was surrounded by wealthy people. There were fur coats everywhere. And I knew that poor people needed to be offered more than just military service. So, I feel that by taking all of these resources, diverting all of these resources into, you know, a bogus war instead of investing it into poor people, working people, I think that is just a sham, and I — so, I felt that by chanting this, I would be communicating to him that he has abandoned poor and working people.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: I’m Medea Benjamin with Code Pink and from various sources, we got eight V.I.P. tickets into the inauguration. And we spent the whole night until about 4:00 in the morning before making banners. And we literally, each one of us had one or two, some of us three banners on us that we wrapped around our bodies. We figured most of them would get caught, and maybe one would get through. So we went through the security, and it’s a pretty serious security. You have got to show everything, empty out your pockets, open your jackets. They pad you down, they feel you all over the place. Every single one of us got through with every single banner that we had.

We went in, and we had tickets that were at the very end section, which first we sat down on the end section and realized, nobody is really watching and we could just start making our way up a little further. So first, we would send two people and they would sit up there and pass us back some tickets in case we needed them. Then we would get the other two up there and finally, all eight of us were sitting in a higher section. And we thought, wow, you know, that’s pretty easy. Then George Bush started speaking, and we were waiting for a good moment. And we found a perfect moment, good thing we didn’t wait for him to say Iraq, because he never said that the whole time but he did say the freedom of dissent and how important that is for people around the world to have that freedom. We thought, okay. That’s our time. So, we pulled out our banners. We get up on the chairs. We stand there with our banners. And immediately, security starts running over, grabbing our banners. The Bushites start grabbing our banners. We’re saying, didn’t you listen to the president? He just said the people of the world need the freedom of dissent. That’s what we’re doing. It’s okay. It’s on message. They’re looking around. They don’t know what to do. The cops literally say, okay. And then they leave. And they said that you better be quiet this time. And so they are gone.

And then we’re sitting there for a couple of more minutes, then we thought, well, he is saying more things that we really don’t agree with, maybe we should get up again. So, we get up again and we had extra banners. So took out the other set of banners and got up there. And this time the police came and the Bushites were really mad. They were struggling with us and grabbing our things.

AMY GOODMAN: What did the banners say and what were you chanting?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: The banners said everything from: No war; End the occupation; Champagne is flying, soldiers are dying. One banner said: Stop the celebration, end the occupation. And this time, we started chanting: End the occupation, stop the celebration, bring the troops home now. And so, the police came over, and they dragged six of the women out, and then two of us were literally, like, arms and legs wrapped around each other and around the chairs and wouldn’t let go, and wouldn’t let go. They were tugging at us from one end to the other. They were pulling at all angles. We were just holding on for dear life. And finally they all look at each other and they just give up, and they say, these women, they are too much. And then they say to each other, can you believe it? They spend billions of dollars on national security. They’re looking for all of these weapons of mass destruction, and they can’t stop these protesters from getting in with their banners. That’s pathetic. So, we’re all laughing, and this — then we said, would you like us to get up, and they said, sure, so we walked out with them. They arrested us, we were charged with loud and boisterous disorderly conduct. We spent the night in jail. We got let out at 3:00 in the morning. And the most amazing thing about all of this is for the crime of interrupting the president, we got a $25 fine. I recommend it to anyone. The best $25 I have ever spent.

AMY GOODMAN: Thanks. What was your response to being charged with that on inauguration day. Not the fine, but the charge, disorderly conduct?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I felt that they probably got it backwards. They really meant that George Bush was the guilty one of disorderly conduct, that Dick Cheney was certainly guilty of disorderly conduct, and Condoleezza Rice is guilty of disorderly conduct. We could go down the chain. So, we laughed with the police officers back in the jail, too. They agreed with us, you know, D.C., they don’t like Bush very much here and we had a good laugh talking about how they really should reverse the charges.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK and Jeremiah Jenkins of Harvard Divinity School, separately engaged in actions during the inaugural address and were taken out.

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