Locals mourn the 'death of democracy'

Posted: Sunday, January 21, 2001

In a gusting drizzle, the brown coffin draped with an American flag wound through downtown Juneau's streets - from Glacier to Willoughby to Egan to Main.

"The American people made the coffin," said Errol F. Arnaud, one of the six men carrying the coffin. "The American people want to bury injustice. The American people who have not been heard want to say it isn't right," added Arnaud, who identified himself as "a disabled American veteran."

Two dozen residents turned out at noon Friday at the Federal Building to protest the inaugural of George W. Bush as president. They carried a coffin, American flags and placards all the way to the steps of the state Capitol.

Some marchers wore black overcoats or funereal black top hats. Many carried signs with slogans such as "Hail to the Thief" or "Take Back Our Democracy." The placard on the front of the coffin read, "One person, one vote, RIP, 1965-2000."

One man handed out copies of an article arguing the Florida election count squeezed out black voters, primarily Democrats, who might have turned the election in favor of Democratic candidate Al Gore.

The sign which accused Bush of thievery showed him wearing a black highwayman's mask. Another portrayed him as a chimp for being "an oil pimp."

Many marchers carried the same sign as MaryAnn VandeCastle, a quote from J. Liberman: "If every vote counts, we have to count every vote." VandeCastle, who identified herself as a "state paper shuffler," said, "We are here to protest the Bush operation."

Paul Emerson, 86, said he was unable to march the entire route but had come to the Federal Building to show solidarity with the other marchers. "There is no way that I couldn't be here. I wanted to lend a body; it's really important to get this started," Emerson said.

Emerson said that he was protesting "the absence of any issues in the whole presidential debate on both sides. The biggest issues," he said, "were reversal of the strides that we have struggled to make over the last three or four generations, including women's rights, abortion rights, and civil rights."

He was particularly alarmed that "racism never came up in all the debates," Emerson said.

"I am marching because I am expressing deep sorrow that this country is still in the business of disenfranchising black voters, which I believed was decades in the past," said Rob Miller, 47.

"Whichever (presidential candidate) won, I would believe the same way. I see it as a coup d'etat. The voters did not choose the president; the Supreme Court did. I feel ashamed at how the rest of the world is looking at us," Miller said solemnly. "My friends in Canada were shaking their heads."

Marcher Dale Whitney agreed. "It's not about Bush or Gore. It's about democracy that is not as modern and reliable as Mexico's or as passionate as Yugoslavia's," Whitney said.

"I am marching because essentially the Supreme Court said 'We ran out of time for democracy,'" said Karen Greeney, 50. "To me this isn't about Gore, it isn't about Bush; it's about democracy and a legal election."

There were a few kibitzers along the route. Alex Masters, 15, shouted catcalls from a bus shelter. "I think it's stupid; it's pointless. Bush is president. It's over," Masters said when asked his opinion of the march.

On the other hand, bystander Jay Chrondahl admired the marchers. "I am not sure it's going to do anything, but it's good to voice your concerns," Chrondahl said. "I think we all have hesitancies about Bush being president. He is 'well oiled' by the oil industry and I hope he does not manage to get ANWR (the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) opened."

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.

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