By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
After Saturday's raucous antiwar rally near the U.S. Capitol led to the arrests of 192 demonstrators, police at the Rayburn House Office Building yesterday braced for a confrontation with protesters who showed up to deliver written rebukes to members of Congress who support President Bush's Iraq policy.
As about 150 peace activists gathered by an entrance to the building on First Street SW, chanting slogans and singing protest songs, a dozen officers took up positions by the doors, a duffle bag filled with plastic handcuffs at their feet.
But getting arrested wasn't on the agenda.
Before leading the group into the building, one of the protest organizers, Medea Benjamin, a founder of the antiwar group Code Pink, approached the officer in charge, Capt. William Hanny of the U.S. Capitol Police.
"Okay, if we do anything you don't want in there, would you give us a warning first?" she said. "We don't want to get arrested today. We've got people catching planes tonight."
"We will give you a warning," Hanny replied. "But it's going to be up to you."
"Because sometimes people want to get arrested," she said. "They do what they have to do to get arrested. This is not one of those days."
The captain nodded. "Just don't block the hallways. Don't blow whistles. Don't cause a disturbance. Don't do any of that, and we'll be okay."
"Will you tell them to put the cuffs away?" Benjamin, 55, asked, smiling. She believes the Iraq war is criminal. So she said, "You can take those cuffs to the White House."
Hanny did not smile back.
And so it went yesterday as protesters took their antiwar message to the halls of several congressional office buildings -- an edgy demonstration at times but peaceful in the end.
"I don't believe we made any protest-related arrests at all," said Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, a Capitol Police spokeswoman, after the activists had left.
As for the 192 demonstrators arrested Saturday, about five were still being detained yesterday because of outstanding warrants in other cases. The others, charged with illegally crossing police lines, were freed after paying fines or being issued summonses to appear in court, Schneider said.
Code Pink and numerous other groups opposing the Iraq war have planned several demonstrations this week in Washington and other cities, including protests yesterday at military recruitment centers. In front of a recruiting station, closed at the time, in the 1300 block of L Street NW, protesters marched all morning, their chants partly drowned out by construction noise.
"We have so many domestic needs right now," said Code Pink member Ellen Taylor, 54, of the Dupont Circle area. "We have education needs. We have serious health-care needs. We have reconstruction needs in New Orleans. And all these projects are getting shorted because money is being siphoned off by war contractors."
At the Rayburn building, the protesters gathered in the cafeteria at noon for lunch, talking excitedly about the afternoon ahead and occasionally shouting antiwar slogans. Then they rallied outside, chanting, singing and taking pictures, before organizing themselves for their march through the building's halls.
"People around the country have made it very clear," Benjamin said, addressing the demonstrators. "They went to the polls. . . . They voted to get out of Iraq. And the people in Congress are playing politics. They're playing inside-the-Beltway games."
Back in the building, the long line of protesters snaked along the halls, to the offices of Reps. Duncan Hunter and Dana Rohrabacher, both California Republicans; Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) and Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.). To each they delivered a "certificate of Induction into The Hall of Shame." Then they moved on to other congressional buildings.
"We'll keep pushing and pushing, and hopefully people will begin to listen," said Alexandra Herskovitz, 23, a Code Pink member from Los Angeles.
"There's just no way that over 100 people can come here and walk the halls of Congress and demand an end to the war and not be heard," said another demonstrator, Samantha Miller, 22, also of Los Angeles. "I know this will have an effect."