Fewer Bleachers To Be Erected
Reprinted from Washington Post
By Nikita Stewart and Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 13, 2008; B01
People hoping to watch Barack Obama's inaugural parade are getting more sidewalk space on Pennsylvania Avenue to catch a glimpse of the new president's historic trek from the Capitol to the White House than in past events.
Fewer bleachers will be set up this time, meaning more space for standing-room crowds. It has nothing to do with the record crowds expected for the Jan. 20 celebration, although it will allow more people to attend the parade for free.
The changes stem from a lawsuit filed by war protesters, who said they were unfairly swept aside during President Bush's parade. In 2005, so many bleachers were set up, for people who bought tickets, that space was extremely tight for those who wanted to stand curbside and watch for free.
There will be 8,700 reserved bleacher seats this year, compared with 20,000 in 2005, officials said.
Ticketing details for the bleacher spots have not been set, pending the creation of a Presidential Inaugural Committee. In 2005, bleacher seats were priced from $15 to $150 but fetched $500 or more from scalpers. The bleacher tickets typically go on sale several weeks before the event.
National Park Service spokesman David Barna said yesterday that a regulation being made public this week will open any unused bleacher seats to the public for free 10 minutes before the parade begins.
The ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) filed a federal lawsuit in 2005, alleging that the many bleachers blocked demonstrators from a view of the parade and interfered with their ability to wage a protest.
The lawsuit made its way through U.S. District Court, with Judge Paul L. Friedman deciding this year that the large number of reserved and ticketed bleacher seats was unfair. "The Inauguration is not a private event," he wrote in his March 20 decision.
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a lawyer with the Partnership for Civil Justice, who represented ANSWER, said the outcome helped create more space for everyone. "I think it's just a wonderful opportunity to take to the sidewalks for what is defined as Main Street of America," she said. "Pennsylvania Avenue is for the people."
The decision was a long time coming, said Brian Becker, the coalition's national coordinator. "We decided after the last inauguration not to let it go. . . . It's an important victory," he said.
In 2005, when police estimated that 150,000 watched Bush's second inaugural parade, people complained about being crowded 10-deep on the corners where they were permitted to stand. It was not immediately clear how many more people can jam the street without as many bleachers there.
ANSWER also said the bleacher tickets, controlled by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, were unfairly limited to Bush supporters, which officials denied. When people called Ticketmaster, they were told they needed an invitation and identification number to buy tickets.
"Other than the Bush-Cheney bleachers and the tiny sidewalk, there was nowhere [to stand]," Verheyden-Hilliard said.
Brad Freeman, co-chairman of the 2005 Presidential Inaugural Committee, said he did not recall the flap. Limiting the number could drive up the price, he said. "The fewer that are available, the more valuable they will be," he said.
In his decision, Friedman did not tell the Park Service how many bleachers were too many.
Instead, he asked: "How much, if any, of the Pennsylvania Avenue sidewalks can be reserved for the exclusive use of the government and its ticketed guests on Inauguration Day, and how much must be left open for any peaceful speaker or demonstrator to have access regardless of viewpoint or message?"
For this inauguration, Barna said, "about 17 percent of the route will be bleachers, and 83 percent will be open to the public."
Some of that room will be taken up by ANSWER, which plans to keep up its protest tradition. This time, the group will draw attention to foreclosures, Becker said.
"We're bringing the human face of people who are suffering but aren't being bailed out," he said. "People will be jubilant, but we also want to send a message on that first day: Justice first, people first."