News & Politics

Protesters Ask Court for Prime Spots Along Trump’s Inaugural Route

Protests in Washington on January 20, 2001. Photograph by Flickr user Elvert Barnes.

After this contentious election, thousands have protested Donald Trump across the country, with many protests in front of the president-elect’s hotels in New York and DC. Like the real estate mogul, protesters understand what’s important: “location, location, location.”

Inauguration Day will be no different. On Monday, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit heard arguments from the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition against the National Park Service, which decides where protesters can and cannot be on Inauguration Day. This year, ANSWER wants to be on Freedom Plaza and the sidewalk in front of Trump’s DC hotel. The Park Service wants to reserve it for the inaugural committee’s “ticketed bleacher viewing stands.”

The case was filed before Trump’s election, but post-election protests have put additional pressure on the day the country expects to celebrate a new president. Normal protests have been exacerbated by the fact that Trump won the presidency but not the popular vote. The last time that happened was in 2000, when George W. Bush beat Al Gore. Thousands protested his election on Inauguration Day 2001 along the parade route. “The hatred was palpable,” Salon reported at the time. “At one particularly dark moment, a protester lobbed an egg at the presidential limo.”

Since Bush’s inauguration, advocacy organizations have sued the National Park Service every four years for space to protest along the inaugural parade route. The cases have had varying verdicts: according to the Washington Post, in 2009 ANSWER protesters were allowed to use part of Freedom Plaza for President Obama’s inauguration. The coalition said it was a “unique, prime location” for their protest. In 2013, however, the inaugural committee claimed the plaza for itself. The regulations also reserve the space in front of the Trump Hotel for the inaugural committee.

In its response to ANSWER’s suit, the government claims some 84 percent of the sidewalks along the parade route will be open and available for the public, including protesters. That may prove more effective: If protesters are concentrated in one location, they would be easy for the incoming president to overlook, even if there were in front of his hotel. In 2001, Salon said there was a “steady stream of heckling” along the entire Bush inaugural route because protesters were dispersed throughout the crowd. It was easier for the police to de-escalate any problems, despite egg throwing. 16 years later, the crowd might be just as large and just as rowdy. It’s just no one knows yet exactly where they will be.

Rosa is a senior editor at Bitch Magazine. She’s written for Washingtonian and Smithsonian magazine.