Inside protest headquarters, up a flight of stairs from a discount tire shop on New York Avenue, a recent coordinating meeting veered toward chaos.
The 70 activists, who had plenty of ideas but no apparent leader, got bogged down in making a decision about whether the group had the power to make decisions. People needed to lean in to hear one another over the din made by a drummer warming up in another room. Someone confessed he'd made 150 copies of an important proposal but forgotten to bring them, and a baseball cap made its way around the circle -- the evening's main attempt at fundraising.
This was low-budget, decentralized, improvisational organizing -- just the way the protesters like it.
"We just go with the flow," antiwar activist Jose J. Rodriguez of Alexandria announced in the middle of the two-hour meeting, undaunted. "We're like water going downhill. They can't stop us."
There will be nearly a dozen anti-Bush demonstrations during today's inauguration activities, and they provide the few elements of uncertainty in an otherwise meticulously choreographed celebration.
Not even the organizers are certain just how some of their protests will unfold.
From Union Station just after dawn, Critical Mass bicyclists plan to ride through downtown, but they'll disclose their route to the riders just minutes before they set off. From a Columbia Heights park, peace activists will march to McPherson Square and then tempt arrest by playing dead outside Lafayette Square. From Logan Circle, self-proclaimed anarchists will march somewhere, but they said it's hard to know exactly where because of "the unpredictable nature of inauguration security."
"I think it'll be massive, diverse and energetic," said Shahid Buttar, 30, a D.C. lawyer (and hip-hop MC) involved in counter-inaugural preparations. "Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine."
If it comes off as organized chaos, those behind it all see that as one of the benefits of having a number of local, national and ad-hoc groups separately coordinate actions scattered throughout downtown.
Organizers envision streets packed with thousands of protesters from across the country, with some foreseeing demonstrations bigger than those at George W. Bush's first swearing-in, the largest inaugural protest since one during the Vietnam War. Four years ago, protesters primarily rallied around one cause -- an election in 2000 that many believed was won unfairly by Bush. This time, they are creating a counter-inaugural with many messages, fueled by antiwar sentiment.
Protesters said they fear that another four years of the Bush administration will be disastrous for the environment, threaten abortion rights, benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poor and continue what they consider unjustified U.S. military interventions abroad. They said their anger runs deep, beyond simple Democratic disappointment over the election, and they see the nation's 55th inauguration as a way to focus the eyes of the world on their rage.
"We feel that democracy is broken and that our views are not being expressed on Capitol Hill," said D.C. resident Peter Perry, 35, an organizer with the D.C. Anti-War Network (DAWN), which is planning a rally in Columbia Heights, a march to McPherson Square and a civil disobedience "die-in" outside Lafayette Square.
Protesters opened the "convergence space" on New York Avenue NE last week, a kind of gathering place for people to share information and resources. They attended training sessions on "nonviolent direct action" and communicating with the media. They flooded e-mail in-boxes with a flurry of announcements, creeds and queries, posting Inauguration Day weather updates and hypothermia prevention tips ("NO TIGHT CLOTHING -- let layers breathe," an activist wrote). They made plans to staff the demonstrations not only with marchers but with street medics, legal observers and "independent" media.
On the other end of the political spectrum, the Christian Defense Coalition is rallying on Pennsylvania Avenue to encourage what one organizer called the president's "pro-life position." Also, the D.C. chapter of the Free Republic group is meeting on the parade route to show its support for Bush and troops overseas.
Anti-Bush demonstrators are using a variety of tactics, from permitted rallies to acts of civil disobedience, from the mainstream to the radical to the comical.
Activists with ReDefeatBush, who contend that Republicans engaged in fraud to win on Election Day, are hosting rallies that feature an Alexis de Tocqueville impersonator who will answer questions about democracy in America.
The antiwar, anti-racism group International ANSWER will rally on bleachers at Fourth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW -- the first time, they said, that antiwar demonstrators will have access to bleachers on the parade route.
Organizers of another event said thousands of protesters are expected to find spots along the parade route and turn their backs on Bush as he passes. Other activists, including the antiwar group Code Pink: Women for Peace, will hold a funeral procession from Dupont Circle to mourn the previous and the coming four years, complete with a church band and cardboard coffins.
"We're decrying the multiple blows to the American people dealt by the Bush administration, but it's also a celebration of rebirth, rejuvenation and change," said D.C. resident Susan Doran, an organizer of the women's procession, which is sponsored by the National Mourning Day Project.
Protesters also have called for people to stay home or not spend any money. Supporters of Not One Damn Dime Day are attempting to organize a national, all-day boycott of all forms of consumer spending, and an organizer said that by today, about 20,000 people will have signed up on a Web site to participate.
Other actions are likely, many by clusters of people known as "affinity groups" that operate independently of any organization in hastily planned protests.