Despite Obama euphoria, some begged to differ

January 21st, 2009 - 12:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Jan 21 (DPA) With millions of people on the streets of Washington to cheer the new presidency of Barack Obama, a few people chose to voice dissent.Some protest groups from across the political spectrum hoped to collect around John Marshall Memorial Park, near the start of the inaugural parade route along Pennsylvania Avenue, but the gatherings fizzled out, long before Tuesday’s procession even began.

Once the parade was under way, Matthew Fernandez, 21, of Alexandria, Virginia, stood within sight of Pennsylvania Avenue holding a hand-lettered sign: “Legalising marijuana will get the US out of debt.”

A group of teenaged girls took his picture, and one, with a quizzical expression, asked: “You strongly believe in this?”

Sniffling in the cold wind, Fernandez replied, “I wouldn’t be standing here if I didn’t.”

Finding himself being almost constantly photographed by passers-by, he insisted to one sceptical woman that marijuana is less harmful than tobacco or alcohol and could be a huge source of tax revenue if legalised. He estimated that about three out of four people who approached him Tuesday were supportive on the issue.

A psychology student with no group or political affiliation, he made the pro-legalisation sign only a few hours earlier, after deciding on the spur of the moment to make a public stand on drug policy.

“It was just a thing in my head, an idea. I just went for it,” Fernandez said.

“I just saw this as an opportunity to voice my opinion. It’s another opinion that’s out there, whether you agree with it or not. … If Barack Obama can be elected president, I can stand here and do this.”

On K Street, which famously houses Washington’s top lobbying firms, helicopters rattled overhead as an activist handed out copies for inauguration-goers of the weekly newspaper Revolution, mouthpiece of the Revolutionary Communist Party of the United States.

Inside, party chairman Bob Akavian advocates outright revolution and rejects those who would “give Obama a chance”.

“The question is: a chance to do what?” Akavian asks. “Obama has no problem with this system that causes so much misery and oppression, death and destruction, for so many people throughout the world. He is anxious to take over as head of this system. His problem is that this system is in serious crisis.”

In one of the few signs of opposition from the right, a truck rumbled past on K Street bearing anti-abortion messages, juxtaposed with a picture of Michelle Obama and a quote from the new first lady describing children as a gift.

Another man stood on the sidewalk handing out paper slips demanding “End the war on workers!” and promoting a website, Barely a metre away, a black stretch limousine was parked along K Street.

What organised dissent there was seemed to coalesce in Farragut Square, just two blocks north of the White House, were the Obamas spent the afternoon watching the nearly four-hour-long inaugural parade.

Some of the activists had been busy with chalk, peppering the sidewalks through the grassy square with political slogans and circular peace signs. One chalk statement asked: “Obama, why have the homeless been rounded up and arrested for your inauguration?”

The Washington Peace Centre was offering people walking past the opportunity to voice their hopes for the change in government.

Their yellow posters were printed with a message addressed to Obama: “Mr President, I hope for,” followed by a blank space for people to fill in their opinions. Each poster was taped to the Farragut Square pavement.

Some of the filled-in wishes called for gay rights, health care for all, US troops out of Iraq and the arrest of former president George W. Bush. One called for energy independence and was adorned with drawings of a wind mill and solar panels.

Ryan Olander, 25, a Washington Peace Centre volunteer, said the effort was meant to challenge Obama “to live up to the promises he made” during the campaign.

“That’s what democracy is all about, and that’s what’s behind these signs,” Olander said. “Let people pick the issues that they’re most concerned about.”

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