Peace by Pieces

Tia Steele
Tia Steele, whose stepson was killed in Iraq, at the "Eyes Wide Open" exhibit in Baltimore. "We can do something and we are doing something," she says. (Katherine Frey For The Washington Post)
By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 22, 2005

One after another their trails led them here -- from California, New York, Baltimore -- disparate members of the same movement, drawn by some strong instinct that told them: Now is the time. This is the place.

Folded into a couch at one end of the restaurant is Tom Hayden, silver-goateed eminence of antiwars past, while huddled with colleagues at a long table is Leslie Cagan, doyenne of the peace movement's present. Looking wan and wrung out in yet another corner stands Tia Steele, whose stepson was shot in the throat and killed in Fallujah.

It's not just the usual peacenik suspects. Washington Wizard Etan Thomas bounds up on the restaurant's stage to perform his updated Gil Scott-Heron-style poetry -- They knock down doors to start wars / With hands stained by the blood of foreign sands -- for a packed house that includes David Meggyesy, the former Cardinal who quit the National Football League in protest of the Vietnam War.

Vietnam? The unquiet ghost, the untamed analogy, is loose in the air. There's that old nervy feeling that Something Is Happening. Here. Now. But you could be mistaken.

Every movement needs a crossroads, a watering hole, an asylum. Busboys and Poets -- part restaurant, bookstore, theater -- opened a couple weeks ago, at 14th and V streets NW, just in time for the peace movement's headiest days in forever.

Plump couches, radical books, free WiFi, $5 microbrews, killer sound system, a menu that runs from catfish and collard greens to peanut butter, banana and honey sandwiches: a cool, comfortable, slightly bourgy haven for a hot, bothered, slightly bourgy peace movement.

Critics cannot easily dismiss this incarnation of antiwar enthusiasm as a fringe passion of anarchists, communists and freaks (though an author still tried to make that case last month at a Heritage Foundation forum). Recent polls say a majority of Americans -- as many as 59 percent -- think the war in Iraq is a "mistake" and the troops should be brought home. (Brought home when? That's another question.)

The news is almost too much to handle. Demonstrators walk around saying, We are the majority, trying it on like unfamiliar clothes.

It has been half a lifetime since the peaceniks felt so . . . mainstream. The last time a majority became disenchanted with a conflict as shots were still being fired -- including the Gulf War, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan -- was August 1968, when Gallup first detected that most Americans considered the Vietnam War a "mistake."

Cindy Sheehan, the movement's own Mother Courage, commands the kind of obsessive cable coverage usually lavished on titillating crimes. Her caravan from Crawford, Tex., rolled into Washington yesterday and 17 television cameras documented her first step onto the soil of the nation's capital in her quest to ask President Bush in person: "What is the 'noble cause' for which you sent our country to war?"

Seeking to capitalize on the momentum, Cagan's United for Peace and Justice and the ANSWER Coalition have organized a rally and encirclement of the White House on Saturday morning that they hope will draw 100,000. That will be followed by Operation Ceasefire, an 11-hour concert featuring Joan Baez, Steve Earle, Thievery Corporation and the Coup. United for Peace and Justice is planning more antiwar activities for Sunday and Monday. The overall message: Bring the troops home now .

Until then, it has been long days of testifying on the Hill, haranguing in Lafayette Square, fundraising, phone-banking, pounding out e-mails at 2:37 a.m. -- Re: FW: FW: FLYERING!

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