For the people on the fringe of the national fabric, the Fourth of July falls a little bit flat.
While thousands gathered on the Mall for the National Flag Raising or lined Constitution Avenue for the National Independence Day Parade or wore "I'm proud to be an Indian" buttons, a few hundred people in '60s threads carried signs and banners to the south end of the Reflecting Pool for a rally sponsored by the Citizens Against Marijuana Laws and the Youth International Party.
As they walked to Lafayette Park, they chanted, "We like pot and we like it a lot."
They passed joints and waved to their police escorts.
Dale Holmes, 19, of Gaithersburg, came downtown for the rally, not for the Fourth of July. He came because "Gaithersburg is boring and I heard that the people give out free pot." They did.
One member of the Youth International Party (Yippies), Mark Saunders, said, "The whole Independence Day thing is kind of weird because it is sort of a symbol of America winning a war and war is not cool. It's a holiday, basically. I'm not too crazy about our government. I don't think it should be destroyed but I think it needs work."
Saunders, 22, came to the demonstration from New York City. Saunders is his "political" last name. He won't give his real name because he doesn't want his parents to be harassed. "I live with my parents and yes, my mother knows I smoke."
Blake Spruill, 23, walked barefoot on the edge of the rally.
"I agree in principle, but I'm separate from the sponsors," he said. "My whole life is a protest march." Spruill wore a white toga and carried a white bedroll. He said he is protesting because "the nation's government was built away from God."
He said he could understand those who felt patriotic on July 4: "These people want it, they want a country that they can believe has a just law system."
He enjoys "the people partying on the lawn and so forth," but the day doesn't mean much. "I don't get real emotional," he said.
In front of the slogan-shouting marchers at Lafayette Park, Concepcion Picciotto kept her year-round vigil next to her signs denouncing nuclear war ("The world must renounce this madness. It starts with you."). She was not feeling particularly festive. During the night, she said, members of the Young Americans for Freedom had damaged some of her signs. Now they had gone and put up a couple of their own.
"God Bless America," read the YAF sign, with a large American flag attached.
"Every time I've driven past this place, I've felt a lot of the signs are inappropriate for a national park," said Jayt Young, 31, a YAFer for 15 years. "Everybody has a right to public speech, but I don't think there should be any signs."
Young said a Park Service officer did a U-turn after he saw the sign, to see if he had read it correctly. "He said he had to make sure he wasn't hallucinating," said Young.
Overlooking the Reflecting Pool, some skinheads and punks drank beer out of their cooler. The pot-smokers' march passed them by.
Kyle Brock, 22, of Buffalo, who was wearing combat boots, a ripped plaid shirt and a black mohawk, said he finds it hard to get into the spirit of the Fourth of July. "I think the symbolism has been lost over the ages. It's basically a time to get drunk and sit in the sunshine and have a good time."
What makes a punk a punk? "Punks basically don't have no solutions," said Ron Kemble, 21.
"We have one unifying cause. We don't like him," said Brock, gesturing toward the White House.
"I believe this is absolutely pedantic and we should move on," said Sean Henderson, 18, of Rochester, N.Y., who was practically bald and wore a blaring yellow and red T-shirt from the English group Exploited.
A few blocks farther north, the marijuana marchers moved on. One member, who calls himself Communrade Howard Lee Rojema, 36, carried the sign "Boo Rule," which he said "means 'boo to the rules.' "
Rojema wore a green summer dress and a knitted hat.
Even the fringe has its fringe.