Sending a Message, With Unimpeachable Clarity

By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 29, 2007

The protesters assembled on the Mall yesterday with a plan to voice their less-than-generous views about a certain president and his vice president. They would form a human chain to spell out I-M-P-E-A-C-H, even including an exclamation point.

But only 150 or so showed up, far fewer than the 1,000 organizers had hoped for. As their photo opportunity approached, they knew they'd be lucky to spell I-M-P.

"We're going to have to scrap the big plan," George Ripley, the protest's leader, announced. He advised his allies to rearrange everyone. They would still form I-M-P-E-A-C-H-!, he insisted, only on a tad smaller scale.

"A nightmare," a pony-tailed confederate said, shaking his head.

Ripley, 57, grabbed a megaphone and chanted stage instructions, and the scrum began its realignment. There were mothers dressed in pink, Naderites, peaceniks in tie-dyed T-shirts, a guy in a George Bush mask wearing prison stripes, and one Robert Greenough, with two dandelions entwined in his long red beard.

"It's sad, isn't it?" he said of the turnout. He and his wife, Joyce, had certainly done their part, bringing their sons, Jordan, 10, and Josh, 14, who seemed happily lost in his iPod, which blared A Static Lullaby, a rock band.

Ripley paced back and forth, exhorting everyone to find a spot. The Columbia Heights resident said he had slept near the Mall overnight to get tickets so news photographers could go to the top of the Washington Monument and capture the moment for posterity.

"Letter A!" he called out to the crew forming the letter. "You've done a spectacular job!"

A few feet away, Chris Driscoll, 53, of Takoma Park, refused to read a scintilla of significance into the crowd's size. "It's an important effort no matter how many people we get here," he said.

The apparent apathy puzzled Jaime Todaro, a software writer who attended as a member of Code Pink, a group that has been especially active in waging war protests lately. No less than four peace medallions dangled from her ears.

When the subject of protesting the war comes up, she said, her friends and neighbors in Rockville express interest. "But they always seem to have something else to do; their own lives seem to be more important," she said. "This is the most important thing I could be doing today."

While everyone waited for the photographers to reach the top of the monument, a guy in a tie-dyed T-shirt led them in a chant:

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