Wait a minute -- today's antiwar march is turning its back on the Capitol and marching east, toward the Anacostia River?
After speeches on the Mall beginning about 11 a.m. -- please let them be short, it will be freezing -- the demonstrators will parade down Independence Avenue SW, veer onto Pennsylvania Avenue SE, make a right at Eighth Street, pass the Marine Barracks, and rally outside the Washington Navy Yard on M Street.
They have permits, so D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey may not be tempted to use his favorite demonstration-suppression tactic of late: mass arrests followed by hogtying.
The route is about two miles, and in the 109-year history of national marches on Washington, it is novel, even radical.
Mass movements typically make their pilgrimages to that Sweet Land of Tourists between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial. Marching up and over to the other side of Capitol Hill is rare, if not unprecedented.
The savvy organizers of the International ANSWER coalition -- who last brought 100,000 peace demonstrators to Washington on Oct. 26 -- may realize that the national march as a form of public expression is teetering on the brink of cliche and self-parody. They're adding a couple of twists:
When the marchers reach the Navy Yard, their "people's inspection team" will demand to search for weapons of mass destruction. And the route itself -- to what the organizers call a "working-class" neighborhood -- may help bring the peace movement closer to The People.
Never mind that this section doesn't become very working-class until the hill flattens out and slips under the Southeast Freeway. The marchers will indeed be offering their message to a wonderfully motley swath of Washington -- a corridor of bars, boutiques, churches, schools, gas stations, nail salons, nonprofits, restored rowhouses, public housing complexes . . . populated by shoppers, diners, street vendors, veterans, defense contractors, drug dealers, immigrants, yuppies, bureaucrats, bikers and cranks.
The neighborhood has everything there is to love about the Washington away from the Mall. Let us walk the parade route ahead of the marchers and pose the question: Peace or War? If we are lucky, the rumor of war might reveal a truth about the neighborhood -- and the neighborhood might reveal a truth about the rumor of war.
Taking the First Step
Near the start, at 221 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, is the Trover Shop bookstore. Owner Albert Shuman says, "We don't talk politics from this side of the counter because we know we may offend 50 percent of our customers."
Curses! If everyone is so discreet, this tour will flop.
In the shop window, where the marchers may spy it, is a new volume called "Marching on Washington." It's a study by historian Lucy G. Barber. She writes that this great American political tradition began in 1894 with Coxey's Army, the column of unemployed people led by maverick businessman Jacob Coxey. They marched from Ohio to the Capitol in support of a jobs bill that was never passed.
On Page 43 is a quote from a Connecticut senator who warned his colleagues "that it may become a habit to make pilgrimages annually to Washington and endeavor to dominate Congress by the physical presence of the people."
The Peace Dividend
Marjorie Tuttle is taking a break from selling jewelry at her shop Art & Soul, with her golden retriever Isabelle at her side.
Ah, the sound of the fearlessly opinionated Washington we love best.
"I'm going to lose the three Republican customers I have."
Tuttle thinks war on Iraq will cause America to upset its allies and risk even greater retaliation on American soil.
"I'm going to put a sign in the window: 10 percent off for those who are not supporting this war."
She pauses, as her business self checks her antiwar self.
"Ten percent off non-sale items," she clarifies.
Life Goes On
Upstairs at Tammy's Salon, a nail and facial place, a customer is holding out 10 fingers for the practiced ministrations of one of owner Tammy Phan's manicurists.
"I haven't decided if war is necessary yet," says the customer. "I'd rather we take our time to make sure we're heading in the right direction."
She's embarrassed to be having her nails buffed while speaking of such matters.
"It seems so trivial," she says.
But by that standard, few endeavors seem up to the burden of this moment in history. On the avenue, people are picking up dry cleaning, making photocopies, ordering another beer, emptying trash, pecking at keyboards, lugging groceries, worrying about rent, begging for spare change.
What else are they supposed to do?
Birds of Opposing Feather
The Hawk 'n' Dove tavern is where people have gone to mull questions of war and peace since the joint opened in 1967.
"As long as there are politicians, there will be wars, and as long as there are wars, there are going to be hawks and doves," says Stuart Long, dove and co-founder with hawk Michael Lange.
They created a Hawk room, decorated with guns and the heads of dead animals, and a Dove room, accessorized with stained glass, angels and a clock bearing the name Harris Mortuary.
They did some of their best business during demonstrations against the Vietnam War. Once Jane Fonda dropped in wearing tie-dye. "She had a draft," Long says.
He's skeptical of the Bush administration's motives. "I think they just want to have a war," he says. "They got, what, 175 inspectors over there, and they can't find one smoking gun? Then you have an absolutely crazy country like North Korea -- but they don't have any oil."
Long says his partner is ill and unavailable to offer the hawk's perspective, but some hawks are having lunch.
"It's been so long since we had to defend our own soil that people have forgotten you have to or you lose it," says Joe Jean, a consultant. He thinks Saddam Hussein supports terrorism. "It's defense. We already know he has weapons he intends to use."
"We should have taken care of business in '91 during the first Gulf War," says Jeff Guide, who works for the Library of Congress. "We've got the son taking care of the father's problem. . . . It's part of the war on terrorism."
But doves are in greater abundance. "I think we risk destabilizing the Middle East," says Gary Luczak, a congressional staffer smoking a pipe. He's for war only if proof of chemical weapons emerges, and only with the support of allies and the United Nations. "We're bogged down in Afghanistan, we haven't found Osama bin Laden, we've got North Korea to deal with. . . . Saddam is contained. We've got sanctions in place, we've got no-fly zones. Where is he going to go?"
Doug Johnson, a lawyer finishing a burger, tells how he was wounded in Vietnam and how he decided the nation had few reasons and a dubious game plan for that war.
Today, he says, "we seem to be coming up with better game plans but fewer reasons to go to war."
Anti Get Your Gun
The avenue relaxes onto the grassy oasis of Seward Square, then resumes its commercial gusto at Sixth Street, where Mr. Henry's restaurant stands in Victorian dignity -- the room where Roberta Flack got her start and where, just now, co-owner Larry Quillian is sipping bean soup and making his case for war.
Hussein, says Quillian, is a threat to American interests in the region. Eliminating the Iraqi regime would serve two purposes:
"One, they're gone. Two, they serve as an object lesson to everybody in the region that you can only tweak a sleeping giant so much. They're the perfect candidate for the object lesson. They're the ones who gassed their own citizens."
Quillian warms to his subject and forgets his soup. What if the inspectors turn up nothing?
"How are you going to find weapons of mass destruction when they've spent the last four or five years carefully hiding them? . . . The bottom line is it doesn't make any difference what the inspectors find. There's only one answer, and it's war."
That said, he's glad for the protesters. It's important for someone to raise the debate, he says.
"Being antiwar is a good instinct," Quillian says. "I'm antiwar."
Just not right now.
Not the Ideal Solution
It would not be Capitol Hill without tireless idealists toiling at obscure addresses to influence the government. Or so you picture them.
Upstairs from a storefront that says "Taxpayers for Common Sense," the tireless ones are staring at computer screens and sifting through files spilling onto the floor. Some are cranking out cost estimates for this war. They're pretty sure the price tag is going to be way more than Bush admits, something like $200 billion or more.
Taking off her policy-wonk hat and speaking for herself, Taxpayers President Jill Lancelot sounds even more skeptical. "What's so irritating to me about people in the administration supporting this, they seem to forget what war is," she says. "I am certain that thousands of Iraqi civilians will be killed" -- in a conflict for which she has yet to see justification -- "and that is wrong."
Keith Ashdown, the Taxpayers communications director, lives nearby. "We have a big bull's-eye on us," he says. "The first victims of war are our troops. The next line is people living near potential targets."
A Chip Off the Old Shoulder
After 19 years, Frank Lloyd has earned the right to hang his "Frank's Place" sign at Seventh and Pennsylvania. This vital corner near the Eastern Market Metro station is where he sells scarves, gloves, hats and T-shirts from a vending stand.
Protesters are good customers, he says. Usually they're heading in the other direction.
"It seems like the president just wants to have a war for his satisfaction," Lloyd says. "Is it worth people's lives?"
Al Byrd, who helps run the stand, says, "It's stupid. How are you going to go to war with Saddam and he might have nuclear weapons, and ignore North Korea, which you know has nuclear weapons? It must be something else: plain old arrogance, because his father didn't do the job."
Capitol Hill also has its oilmen. One is John Distad, whose family has run Distad's American Service, the Amoco station just past Eighth Street, since 1959.
He's still making up his mind about war. "If we go over there, can we finish what we start?" he asks. "But if you do nothing, what are the repercussions? If he gets his nuclear bombs, he could put one in the back of a pickup truck and drive it here.
"I guess I don't see enough evidence now to swing one way or the other."
But he is worried about the price of oil going up if there's a war. Profit margins are thin, he says. As prices rise, more customers will decide to ride bikes or Metro or walk. "At $3 a gallon, your shoes look better and better."
Inheriting the Whirlwind
On Eighth Street, there are discount places and vacancies. But the quiet side streets a block or two in either direction reveal fetchingly gentrified two- and three-story rowhouses.
A mother is hosing down a highchair in a front yard on E Street while two young children peer out the front door.
She starts laughing.
"It's a really bad idea. It's nuts. It's like right out of the Reagan playbook on how to stay in office another four years. I've got two kids. The last thing I want to deal with, the last thing I want them to deal with, is the legacy of this. If we go over there, the legacy will go on for generations. We're creating generations of enemies for the United States among Islamic people."
Also on E Street: "If the world community agrees something needs to be done, then do it," says Bill Davis, carrying boxes into his house. "We have to play nice with the rest of the world. You don't need to go farther than Canada to find people who say we are the rogue nation in the world."
The Marine Barracks take up the long block south of G Street -- a row of brick buildings and wrought-iron fences facing Eighth. Every once in a while a guard in camouflage with a black gun belt comes out and makes sure the fences are secure.
The barracks house the commandant of the Marine Corps and about 1,000 Marines assigned mainly to ceremonial and security duties. The Marine Band and the Drum and Bugle Corps are based here.
The Marines on their way in and out of the gates are all trained to say little about war or protest.
"I hope I go to war," says one.
"That's what we get paid to do," says another. "If I didn't want to do this, I wouldn't have joined the Marine Corps."
"We're ready for it," says another.
What about the protest march?
"It'll be nice to watch."
A woman from Marine public affairs appears. She says the men have nothing to say -- and they scatter.
The War at Home
South of the freeway, Eighth Street becomes desolate. People wait for a bus and order takeout fish, while a block away men drink from bottles in paper bags. The only sit-down restaurant is the Port Cafe, a buffet-style place whose owner, Army veteran Ken Jones, is firmly against the war.
To the west are the Carrollsburg Dwellings, a public housing complex where young men occupy corners, money changes hands in a yard and nobody wants to talk about war or peace.
"The economy is already screwed up and we're talking about war?" says Bryant Shelton, 25, enrolled in a job training program. "We're struggling over here. We got a war in the streets."
Next door is the Arthur Capper Senior building, a public housing high-rise. The rumor of being displaced by new development is as urgent a topic of conversation as the rumor of war.
"I lose a lot of sleep over seeing different scenarios of today that are really polished-up scenarios of the past," David Wright, vice president of the residents council, says, referring to new schemes for both urban renewal and for war.
"Every time America fights a war since the Korean War, there's always some kind of wealth coming out of the ground, whether it's oil, opium, gold, diamonds," says the vet, who served during the Korean War.
"It's all about big corporations. They know Iraq is one of the largest producers of oil, and they're talking about how they're going to divide up the booty already."
The Longest Yard
Behind a half-mile facade of red-brick walls and whitewashed buildings on M Street lies the vast Navy Yard on the shore of the Anacostia. The chief of naval operations lives there, and 10,000 people work there.
The headquarters of some important branches of the Navy are in the Yard. The Naval Sea Systems Command supports aircraft carriers dispatched to the Middle East, and the Military Sealift Command transports forces.
But Yard jobs involve more analysis and paper-pushing than munitions handling. The destroyer anchored on the river is a museum. Lt. Cmdr. Rachelle Logan, public affairs officer, says she knows of no weapons of mass destruction. But she won't let us inside to inquire about war and peace. So we must settle for catching personnel coming and going on the sidewalk.
"The defense of our country is important, but personally I have a lot of questions about how well the case has been made for war," says a Navy contractor in a leather jacket carrying a notebook. "I'd like to see our country doing more to avoid war."
A Navy engineer in a green jacket says: "I'm still not sure what side I should be on. I haven't heard enough evidence either way. I gotta see more proof. I'm an engineer. I can't make a decision without more stuff, numbers, facts."
Says another Navy contractor: "I think we really need to know for sure [U.S. officials] have evidence of weapons of mass destruction. The so-called smoking gun needs to be revealed here pretty quick. If not, world opinion will not be with us, and I'm very concerned about that."
The Common 'Hood
Lessons along the parade route? Truth is elusive, of course. But the diverse denizens of this colorful slice of Washington seem to have more in common than it might appear at first.
And the doves are asking a lot of questions.
And the hawks still have a lot of explaining to do.
She fears retaliation on U.S. soil if war is waged on Iraq.The Washington Navy Yard, above, is the rally point for the demonstrators, whose line of march will take them past the Hawk 'n' Dove, whose co-owner, Stuart Long, right, comes down on the side of peace.David Wright, vice president of the residents council at the Arthur Capper Senior public housing high-rise, is more worried about the war of survival at home.