As the chants of hundreds of spirited Revolutionary Communist Party marchers ricocheted off the drab storefronts of 14th Street NW yesterday, Billy D. Williams, 28, leaned on his bicycle on the sidelines and shook his head.
The marchers, their red banners snapping in the bright afternoon sun, snaked through Washington's black ghetto, fervidly calling for armed revolution and death to capitalism.
"Ain't nothing but pie in the sky," Williams muttered.
Some other bystanders, like Williams, also scoffed. Some, like the well dressed man standing in front of the Metropolitan Baptist Church on R Street, said the marchers had a just cause. But most stood impassively, watching, listening.
It was not your everyday parade. The appearance of the marcher - mostly young, white middle-class ideologues bused from New York, Chicago and other cities for this May Day demonstration - seemed to contrast with the brown faces past which they marched.
It was the first political parade through the Shaw ghetto area that many bystanders could recall. Most political parades and portests are staged in the federal enclaves of the city - around the White House and the Capitol and along Pennsylvania and Constitution avenues.
But the Revolutionary Communist Party, a small militant Maoist faction that clashed violently with police here last January in Lafayette Square, purposely brought its march to the ghetto yesterday.
"This is to show our solidarity with the people living where the rebellions of the 1960s happened," said RCP spokesman Andrew Gordon, referring to the 1968 riots trigged by the assassination of civil rights leader Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. The marchers yesterday paraded alon the Seventh and 14th Street commercial corridors that were heavily damaged by fires during the 1968 riots.
"Break the chains, free the people, long live the RCP," chanted the marchers. "Uncle Sam, run, run, run, people of the world are picking up the gun."
Scores of D.C. police on foot and on scooters shepherded the marchers along. Scores more with full riot equipment were held in staging areas nearby but wer not used. Deputy Police Chief Robert Klotz, Commander of the special operations division, estimated 550 people marched in the parade.
The RCP provided its own marshalls and legal observers to help intercede in any confrontation with police, but the parade went off smoothly.
Marchers distributed literature and urged bystanders to join them. Few did.
"Shoot, if they were over in Russia, they'd have 'em all in concentration camps," said C.H. Wells, a retired cab driver near Seventh and T streets.
"I'm not going to join them," said a barber at the Virginia Barber Shop just down the block. "But these people maybe they got something good. . . I don't know. The politics is too deep for me."
Like the barber, many were not sure what the demonstration represented.
"I thought they were Iranians," said one woman standing in front of the United House of Prayer on Seventh Street.
"Yeahm they handed me some stuff (literature) but I ain't looked at it," said Roscoe Malloy at 11th and R streets.
The marchers also drew some supporters. "I'm for them. They got a good idea," said the man standing in front of the Metropolitan Baptish Church. "These working people, they're the life blood of the system. They got a just cause."
The parade ended with a rally in the Howard Theater at Sixth and T streets. Earlier in the day, some 350 RCP activists rallied at the State Department to protest what they say is U.S. policy to trigger World War III
"It is not just policy," said RCP spokesman Gordon, "but a political and economic necessity driven by the law of imperialism, which is to expand or die."