Deep in a cluttered basement in Southeast Washington, the message comes to life. A 51-year-old courier from San Diego and a 24-year-old law student from New Jersey's Rutgers University crouched over a yellow banner yesterday, dipping brushes in black paint to complete the slogan that brought them both to Washington: "End the occupation of Iraq."
"I think we're not going to solve this problem just at the voting booth," said David Tworkowski, who flew in from San Diego on Wednesday night to help with logistics and banners at an organizer's office in preparation for tomorrow's antiwar march. "We have to put people in the streets."
Tworkowski was part of a small first wave of protesters that began arriving Wednesday. Tens of thousands more are expected to call for an end to the occupation of Iraq at tomorrow's demonstration, organizers said, as protesters from across the United States and Canada try to give renewed energy to the antiwar movement.
Buses are picking up participants at 13 locations in and around New York City. The Boston area is sending nine buses, and Philadelphia is sending eight, organizers said. Cleveland and Buffalo will fill four buses each, and one veteran opposed to the occupation started driving in his RV last week from Washington state.
"I have two granddaughters," said Nancy Jakubiak, 54, a legal assistant preparing for a 12-hour trip to the District on a charter bus leaving Louisville tonight. "They're 3 and 1, and I do this for them. I tremble when I think of the world they're going to grow up in."
With two of the biggest antiwar coalitions sponsoring the demonstration, International ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice, a broad range of protesters is planning to take part. Student activists from Columbia University, Ohio State University and several Washington area colleges will join the march. Muslim and Arab American activists are expected in large numbers, as well as family members of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, organizers said.
U.S. Park Police and D.C. police officials said yesterday that street closures would follow the marches, both with and without permits. Cmdr. Cathy Lanier, head of the D.C. police special operations division, said that based on permits for the event, police were expecting "well over 30,000 people." She said no disturbances were expected. D.C. police announced they will activate their network of 14 closed-circuit cameras in the downtown area and set up five more cameras along and near the march route to "assist with crowd management and public safety."
At 9 tonight, veterans and military family members have a vigil scheduled at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to demand that the troops come home. Among them will be Stephen Cleghorn, 54, an executive at a D.C. nonprofit group whose stepson is in the U.S. Army in Iraq. "I believe he's a conscientious young man who went into the service to defend his country," Cleghorn said in an interview. "I just think he's been put on the wrong mission."
Protest leaders estimated tomorrow's crowd, in discussions with the National Park Service, at 30,000, but some organizers expect to exceed that. ANSWER organizer Brian Becker said the gathering would not be as large as ANSWER's Jan. 18 march, which police said drew 100,000 but organizers said attracted 500,000. Activists have said one of the movement's challenges has been to mobilize large numbers in the face of an occupation as opposed to the imminent threat of war that sparked previous demonstrations.
In the days leading up to the January march, protesters in about 250 cities across the country were coordinating transportation to Washington. This time, activists in about half that number of cities are organizing bus and car trips. "The bar was set very high last winter," said Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of the United coalition, which organized a protest in February in New York. "It's really not a numbers game. It's about keeping alive the notion that there is a place for public dissent."
The purpose of tomorrow's march, organizers said, is to demand the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and to protest the Patriot Act, the legislation enacted two years ago that expanded the government's powers of surveillance and detention.
The last major peace rally in Washington was an ANSWER protest in April that police said as many as 30,000 attended. The weeks and months since then without major street protests were not a sign of defeat, organizers said, but instead a period of reflection and education. Some said they and others felt a kind of demoralization when their efforts failed to stop the war. One New Jersey organizer even had a name for it: "discouraged peace activists syndrome."
ANSWER announced plans for tomorrow's march at the end of June, with the date selected to coincide with the Patriot Act's anniversary and to give organizers time to mobilize college and high school students. Activists said ANSWER's timing for a display of dissent could not have been better, as attacks continue against U.S. forces in Iraq, as the House and Senate discuss different versions of an $87 billion spending package for Iraq and Afghanistan and as support for President Bush's Iraq policy slips in the polls. "It's called a movement for a reason," Cagan said after a news conference Tuesday in Washington. "It has its ebb and flow."
The permitted protest begins with an 11 a.m. rally at the Washington Monument. A march at 1:30 p.m. will pass the White House and the Justice Department. Black Voices for Peace and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation are planning separate feeder marches.
Anti-capitalist activists in the Washington area said they will protest an expo to attract residents to the District at the Washington Convention Center before joining the main march. Protesters say they will meet at Seventh and P streets NW at 11:30 a.m. Michael Loadenthal, 20, an American University student and an organizer with the unnamed group sponsoring the event, said the purpose of protesting the city-living expo is "to send a very loud message to the mayor and real estate prospectors that there are people in this city who say no to gentrification."
Kristinn Taylor said he is helping to organize a counter-demonstration to let protesters know that "their anti-American message is not going to go unanswered, like it was during Vietnam." Taylor, 41, co-leader of the D.C. chapter of Free Republic, said 1,000 people are expected for a rally at 11 a.m. at the West Front of the Capitol to show support for U.S. troops and protest tyrannical regimes. At 2 p.m., they plan on being at Pershing Park on Pennsylvania Avenue NW to greet marchers, though they are not looking to start trouble, he said.
Staff writer David A. Fahrenthold contributed to this report.