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Friday, 1 December, 2000, 19:37 GMT
Eyewitness: Supreme Court under siege
The US Supreme Court
The protests were marked with discord but also debate
By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington

Normally, the US Supreme Court is a quiet place, both inside and out.

Sitting in the shadow of the Capitol, it seems largely forgotten except for the odd protest over abortion.

But today, the normally placid scene was mobbed with journalists, protesters and those who simply wanted to witness history in the making.

It was political theatre at its finest, and many groups in addition to supporters of the two presidential candidates hoped to get a little airtime from the highly concentrated pocket of the world's media.

Mingling among the Bush and Gore supporters were anti-abortion protesters and supporters of the Chinese meditation movement Falun Gong.

A Gore supporter dressed as a rabbit
Democratic rabbit: Bush bugs Bugs
The candidates' supporters knew that to get their message out, they had to rise above this noisy fray, and they tried to catch the attention of the media with costumes and colourful signs.

One supporter of the vice-president, dressed in a bunny suit, held a sign saying: "No fuzzy math! Gore got more!!!"

Another protester, dressed as Darth Vader from Star Wars, held a sign saying: "Keep counting until the Dark Side wins!"

Young pragmatist

Many came out to make a political statement, but a few also came as students of history.

Chris Zirpoli came with his government class from a school just outside nearby Baltimore. Not content to simply watch history being made, he hoisted a sign saying: "Down with Ralph Nader."

Chants and signs outside the court
Cheney needs a heart! Gore's got a heart!
First Monica, Now chad. Enough is enough.
W: Daddy said I could have it
Bush is a winner! Gore is a whiner!
He was concerned that the Green Party candidate had split the liberal vote and deprived the vice-president of victory.

"He cost Gore the election in Florida, and I'm kind of miffed," he said.

But now the young Gore supporter thought the Democrat should step aside.

The government student whoed a steely pragmatism, reasoning that the Republicans enjoy a razor thin majority in Congress.

Historically, the party in power loses seats in off-year elections, and he thinks that Mr Gore should concede and try again in 2004 with the possibility not only of victory but also of a Democratic majority in Congress.

Angry exchanges

Washington is accustomed to this kind of thing, and by comparison to the protests during the World Bank/IMF meetings in April, the protest was downright civil.

A Bush supporter dressed as Darth Vader
Republicans rail against the "evil empire" of Clinton and Gore
Yes, there were heated exchanges between the protesters. When one group of Gore supporters started chanting, "Don't steal the election!" a group of Bush supporters angrily shouted in reply, "Learn how to vote!"

But, on the edges of the crowd, instead of angry exchanges, there were small pockets of civil, reasoned debate.

Veterans of street protests in Washington might have been reminded of the chant of anti-globalisation protestors: "This is what democracy looks like!"

Agreeing to disagree

Jane Bonvillain of Virginia held a "Sore Loserman" sign that she had printed from, which describes itself as "The Premier Conservative News Forum."

And she was discussing the election with Frederick Burton, also from Virginia, who had brought his two young daughters to let them witness history.

He hoped when the girls were older that the day would remind them of the importance of voting.

Ms Bonvillain and Mr Burton talked about chad and recounts, going into the minutiae of the legal cases and recounts.

Mr Burton said that he admired both men, and putting himself in the position of the two candidates, he said that he understood why they were fighting so hard to win the presidency.

But Ms Bonvillain thought that Mr Bush would have done the honourable thing and conceded, if the situation had been reversed. She thought that Mr Gore would do anything to win.

They did disagree, but they also agreed on a few points:

  • They thought that some of the signs at the protest were inflammatory, especially ones that raised the issue of race. Ms Bonvillain is white. Mr Burton is black.
  • Whoever eventually is named president will serve only one term. Mr Burton thought that if Al Gore did not win this election he would have missed his opportunity.
  • And they also agreed voting systems needed to be updated. In four years, they did not want to hear word one about dimpled, pregnant or hanging chad.

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See also:

28 Nov 00 | Americas
Bush's cabinet in waiting
27 Nov 00 | Middle East
Gaddafi offers US election advice
27 Nov 00 | Americas
Press fed up with election saga
01 Dec 00 | Americas
Q&A: US poll timetable
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