By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 20, 2008
There was a brass band of protesters dressed in green. There was a woman in a pink bed being pushed through busy downtown D.C. intersections. There were demonstrators in black who lay down in the middle of the street.
But in the end, there weren't that many of them, and yesterday's 12-hour protest of the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war created only minor disruptions across Washington and appeared to have been among the smallest such demonstrations in the city since the war began.
Fewer than 1,000 people participated, according to rough head counts from the various events.
The Federal Protective Service arrested 32 people at the Internal Revenue Service building, charging them with attempting to enter a federal installation without proper documentation and blocking entry. D.C. police said they arrested one person for crossing a police line, but officers seemed to go out of their way to avoid arresting people, at one point routing traffic around a knot of activists camped on L Street.
"It's nothing we want to do," said Capt. Jeffrey Herold of the special operations division. "As long as I can keep traffic moving around them, we don't want to take action like that."
Organizers downplayed the low turnout. "This is a different type of action than the peace movement has done before," said Ted Glick of the No War, No Warming Coalition. "It's more edgy. . . . We think this is actually an important step forward for the peace and justice movement."
But demonstrator Gary Krane, of Oakland, Calif., expressed dismay.
"The apathy of my fellow Americans is very frightening, very horrific," he said. "I thought there would be hundreds if not thousands of people getting arrested."
There were a few incidences of vandalism. Demonstrators threw rocks and bottles filled with red paint that splattered outside a military recruiting center on L street and at the 15th Street offices of Bechtel, a U.S.-based company that has done contract work in Iraq.
The protest, which was dampened by rain in the afternoon, made up for scant numbers with energy, mobility and noise.
Augmented by the drums and brass of the social justice-oriented Rude Mechanical Orchestra and the activities of the antiwar group Code Pink, with its rolling four-poster bed decorated with placards reading "Wake Up America," bands of demonstrators roved across downtown Washington from sunrise until dusk.
They targeted the IRS building at 8 a.m., at 12th Street and Constitution Avenue, blaming the agency for its role in funding the war. They hoped to shut it down.
"The idea is to say, 'How about calling this a vacation day?' to the employees," said protester Ed Hedemann, 63, from Brooklyn, N.Y. "We want to disrupt business as usual, to call attention to the horror of this ongoing war. Something needs to be done. Marches and rallies are good, but they don't seem to be sufficient, so some of us are escalating our tactics -- nonviolently, of course."
But the building remained open. Police said the protesters caused no major disruptions.
Later, about 200 activists gathered outside the American Petroleum Institute at 13th and L streets NW.
Carrying signs reading "No Blood for Oil" and chanting, "More justice, more peace, U.S. out of the Middle East," demonstrators tried to block the intersection but were pushed to the sidewalks by police. Protesters also tried to close the intersection by stringing green tape across the streets, but police tore it down.
Motorists honked their horns, sometimes in frustration, sometimes in support.
"People are trying to get to work," Herold told Alix Davidson, a member of the group, as cars whizzed through the intersection. "They're not interested in what you're doing. They're going to [hit] the people that get in the street."
About 10 a.m., demonstrators did manage to shut down the intersection at 17th and L streets NW for about an hour.
Eight women clad in black robes, head scarves and flesh-colored masks bound their arms together with what appeared to be cardboard tubes covered in black tape. While activists chanted on the street corners, police used bolt cutters and a power saw to slice through the tubes and separate the women.
Officers took the activists out of the intersection and sat them on a curb. No one was arrested.
Meanwhile, about 100 people with Veterans for Peace marched down Constitution and Independence avenues, stopping traffic along the way. Some jumped a fence and scaled a wall at the National Archives to read excepts from the Constitution over a bullhorn to schoolchildren waiting to get inside.
"I think I realized that I have to speak out against this war when I lost a very close friend [and] it became personal," said Daniel Black, 25, a Marine Corps veteran from South Orange, N.J., who said he served in Kuwait and Iraq. "I couldn't walk away."
Staff writers Petula Dvorak and Sue Anne Pressley Montes contributed to this report.