President Bush, his brother Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and congressional leaders have all but abandoned their efforts to keep Terri Schiavo alive. But not Mary Porta and her giant spoon.
When she heard on Sunday that religious activists planned to stage a protest in Washington on Monday, the Florida woman left the vigil outside Schiavo's hospice and checked herself -- and her five-foot-high Styrofoam spoon that says "Jeb, Please Feed Terri" -- onto a flight to the capital. The utensil was still wrapped in United Airlines plastic and tagged with a security seal from the Department of Homeland Security when Porta carried it into a rain-soaked Lafayette Square yesterday to demand action to save Schiavo.
"I'm wanting the government officials in D.C. to come in, even if there's force involved," Porta said, using some of the wrap that covered the spoon as a makeshift poncho.
Fellow demonstrator Bob Hunt heard Porta's idea and seconded it. "The government should declare martial law for the whole county, arrest the judge, arrest the sheriff," said Hunt, who identified himself as a government subcontractor.
The battle over Schiavo is well into its denouement. The Franciscan monk who serves as a spokesman for her parents said as much yesterday. But a small, hardy band of about three dozen demonstrators would not concede: They assembled for a prayer and a news conference across from the White House at noon, braving a downpour that caused softer souls to shut down the annual Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn.
"Terri has not given up hope," the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition and organizer of the rally, said into a dozen microphones. Citing her endurance through 11 days without food or water as evidence that she wants to live, Mahoney shouted: "She is speaking from her hospice bed, saying, 'I want to live. Will you help me?' "
Mahoney turned his fury on his erstwhile allies in the Schiavo case: the brothers Bush and congressional leaders. "They are lacking the political will," he said, criticizing Congress's failure to enforce its subpoena to question the severely brain-damaged woman. "Is this a political stunt by the Republican leadership?"
Michael McMonagle, another speaker, proposed that the Justice Department take Schiavo into protective custody, that her husband, Michael Schiavo, be arrested, and that the president call Congress back from its recess.
Even these most ardent advocates of reinserting Schiavo's feeding tube acknowledged that the battle was not going well. Mahoney, who repeatedly slipped into the past tense in describing the fight for Schiavo's life, justified the relatively sparse turnout at the rally by reminding the assembled media three times that the event had been scheduled on Sunday night.
It's true that the photographers and reporters outnumbered the demonstrators by about two to one. But the small and soggy group of protesters lacked nothing in enthusiasm standing in the mud beneath a statue of Andrew Jackson and waving signs saying, "The fruit of abortion is nuclear war" and "Women are not their husbands' property."
Brandon Fancher came with a roll of red duct tape and handed out strips inscribed with the word "Life" for demonstrators to wear as if gagged. "We're identifying with the silence of Terri Schiavo," he said, briefly removing the tape from his mouth to answer a question.
For those who would reinstate Schiavo's feeding tube, the adversity did not end yesterday. Mahoney contended with skeptical questions from reporters, including one about how House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's family declined medical intervention to extend the life of his critically ill father 16 years ago. Not comparable, Mahoney said.
At the end of his news conference, Mahoney heard from a heckler claiming to be from "Concerned Sodomites for America" who demanded: "Why are you not lobbying the president for the [expletive] Sudan?" Mahoney waved off the interloper and led the band of demonstrators in a benediction that was part prayer, part news release.
"This is not a game; it's not an appropriations bill; it is not some kind of political issue," he prayed to supporters huddled under umbrellas. "This is the life of a woman who is being starved in broad daylight against her will, oh God."