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A Trip Back In Time: It wouldn't Be Inauguration Day Without Protesters


Washington, D.C. is bracing for an influx of visitors for Donald Trump's inauguration later this week, and this includes both supporters and protesters. As reporter Patrick Madden of member station WAMU tells us, protests have long played a part in this American tradition.


PATRICK MADDEN, BYLINE: Few events embody pomp and circumstance like inauguration. From the military bands to the troops, the horses, it's a highly choreographed affair.


FORMER PRES FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT: I, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, do solemnly swear...


FORMER PRES RONALD REAGAN: That I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States...


FORMER PRES GEORGE W. BUSH: And will, to the best of my ability...

MADDEN: But these peaceful transitions of power sometimes clash with another hallmark of our democracy - the First Amendment and the right to peacefully assemble and protest. TV coverage of George W. Bush's 2001 inauguration captured raucous protests along Pennsylvania Avenue, a fallout from the bitter recount fight.


UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: Tom, the protesting is now very intense as we're coming up here. Got the National Organization for Women screaming fraud, Bush stole the election. The police are now in...

MADDEN: The tradition of protests at inauguration goes way back, According to historian Jim Bendat, a former public defender and author of "Democracy's Big Day."

JIM BENDAT: You can go back as far as 1853, Franklin Pierce. There were a small group of unemployed people who wanted to countermarch.

MADDEN: One of the more memorable demonstrations took place in 1913. As Woodrow Wilson was preparing to take office, thousands of women - suffragists - marched down Pennsylvania Avenue the day before inauguration to push for voting rights.

BENDAT: That was a very big event. There weren't any arrests, but some people treated them well, but other people insulted the women as they marched by.

MADDEN: Bendat says while large-scale protests aren't common during inaugurations, they have happened, like in 1973 for Richard Nixon's second swearing in.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) One, two, three, four, we don't want this [expletive] war.

MADDEN: Thousands descended on D.C. as anger over the Vietnam War boiled over.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Out, out, out, out, out, out.

BENDAT: By 1973, his second inauguration, that was probably the most amount of people to ever show up in Washington, D.C. for an inauguration. The estimate was 25,000 to 30,000 protesters.

MADDEN: And what do the presidents think? Bendat says the loud protest during 2001 clearly left an impression with the incoming president. He reads an excerpt from George W. Bush's memoir.

BENDAT: (Reading) I spent most of the ride in the presidential limo behind thick glass windows. While I couldn't make out their words, their middle fingers spoke loudly.

MADDEN: Striking the right balance between the rights of protesters and the needs of the inaugural ceremony can be a delicate dance. In recent years, it's become tougher for groups to protest along the parade route. But with more than 200,000 demonstrators expected in D.C. for inauguration week, there's little chance the protesters won't have their voices heard. And for Bendat, the inauguration historian, that's OK.

BENDAT: Generally these protests have been very peaceful. That should tell you that most people who want to make their feelings known want to do so in a peaceful way, that's the tradition.

MADDEN: And Bendat that says it's healthy for democracy. For NPR News, I'm Patrick Madden in Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNWED SAILOR SONG, "RUBY'S WISHES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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