From Bryn Mawr College she had come, a tiny wisp of a social activists, and she wore the circles under her sleepy eyes like dark badges of courage, Karen Beetle braved police lines and handcuffs, locking arms with her fellows and singing songs against the nuclear age, protesting at the Pentagon.
It looked like the 1960s to some, maybe even sounded that way, but the feeling, Beetle and her pals asserted, just wasn't the same.
Beetle and the other 1,200 blue-jeaned youths who moved on the Defense Department Monday demonstrated with a studied precision that set them apart from what they saw as the zealous but crude hippies and freedom riders of days gone by. These me-decade activists marched confidentaly into the fray, clutching elaborately printed "Civil Disobedience Action Training" handbooks, complete with chapters on "Nonviolence," "Noncoopeation" and "Doing Time." Many had attended workshops in nonviolent protest before descending on D.C., role-playing into readiness.
Protest, they believed, had become academic.
"We learned somethin from the 1960s," said Beetle, a 19-year-old Quaker, as she sat on the lawn outside U.S. District Court in Alexandria Tuesday recounting the "really neat" protest of the day before and waiting for some of her friends to be released from police custody.
"We learned that you just can't show up somewhere and start yelling. You have to organize and know what you're going to do so things don't get out of hand. You need to practice how to confront the police and be prepared for the consequences of your actions. We aren't like they were back in the '60s," she said. "We are students of protest."
With Beetle were John Zevolis, a red-haired, bearded son of a carpenter, himself a doctoral candidate in physics at Princeton, and his friend Dennis Auerbach, 19, a freshmen at Princeton who listens exclusively to Bob Dylan. The fourth member of the group was Stewart Thomas, 19, a short, thin social thinker from haverford College with the beginnings of a stubble above his lip.
They had come to Washington, like the others, self-styled new-wave protesters, tried of the social inaction of the 1970s. Living in the shadow of world events they believe could lead to nuclear diaster, they helped jam entranceways and block traffic in a massive symbolic attempt to "shut down" the huge five-sided heart of America's military-industrial complex.
Three of them, Zevolis, Auerbach and Beetle, had come with the express PURPOSE OF BEING "CDs" -- civil disobedients in their jargon -- and getting themselves arrested for the cause. They, and more than 300 others, were successful.
And they loved it.
For these four, the protest began on Sunday, when they met at the Calvary Baptist Church in D.C. Beetle and Thomas had come down with five other Bryn Mawr and Haverford students, a group that drilled for six hours in civil disobedience before busing to Washington.
At the church they met Zevolis and Auerbach. "We sat down with these guys," said Thomas, whose parents are Presbyterian missionaries in Iran, "and shared who we were and who they were, did some role playing and then had dinner at a natural food restaurant. We needed some more CDs for our group and the feeling was right, so we took them in."
On Monday morning, after spending the night in the offices at the Clear Water Action project, an environmental lobby, the newly formed group got together with several other groups in front of the Department of Energy and, Thomas said, "started a legal slowdown. We leafleted people, talked to the DOE workers about nuclear energy as they came to work. It was really good -- people were really communicating, singing. Some read poetry. We weren't just people shouting at the air. We knew what we were doing, had a group purpose."
At about 11 a.m., the group proceeded across the 14th Street Bridge and on to the Pentagon. There they set up shop with 80 others on the entrance ramp leading to the building from the north parking lot.
"We sat down in double rows, back to back," said Auerbach, scratching his unwashed hair after a night in jail, " and locked our arms. We have developed that technique in role playing."
While the CDs sat, the "support people" -- those demonstrators unwilling to be arrested -- made sure the lines stayed strong as Pentagon employes tried to get through the barriers. "Some people in jogging clothes tried to jump over the lines," said Zevolis. "One guy stumbled and kicked a woman protester in the face . . . I got my hands stepped on, but overall the people were pretty nice about it."
Meanwhile, Zevolis said, police began struggling with protesters, trying to establish corridors within the lines. "They kept dragging people out of the way, but as soon as they moved one person, someone else would fill the gap."
Eventually, police began making arrests.
Bound in nylon handcuffs, the protesters were taken in paddy wagons to a bus depot under the Pentagon. "It was awful," said Zevolis, "like a dungeon. There was soot on the ceiling and all this salty stuff on the walls like in a cave. . . They only had two portable toilets, and they had set up all these folding tables to process us -- it was sort of like registration at school. They took our pictures, but stopped trying to fingerprint us after people started smearing the ink all over the place in protest."
Hours later, the demonstrators were bused to Alexandria. Beetle said she was put in a van with seven other women who were getting legal advice from a volunteer lawyer.
"I wasn't worried about getting a record," she said, fingering a "No-Nuke" button on her coat, "but I didn't want to plead guilty and pay my fine because what I did was not as bad as what they are doing every day as the Pentagon. Some people were deciding to plead nolo contendere and spend their lives in jail. I was upset and crying. I just went ahead and paid my $25 -- I didn't feel good about it, but I have two tests and two finals left up at school and I knew I couldn't stay around here to stand trial."
Zevolis and Auerbach, arriving abut 2 a.m., were too late to pay their fines. They went to Alexandria city jail, where officials had set up cots in a recreation room to handle the overflow.
"They had food ready for us -- cheese sandwiches, coffee and milk -- it was a pretty high-class operation," Auerbach said.
"We all felt very good about being in jail," said Zevolis. "Someone said it was the best thing he had done in his life. We got together, there were about 100 of us there, and formed a large circle. We locked arms and talked, sang, had a moment of silence and chanted 'earth, water, wind, fire, return, return, return.'
"It was very moving. We felt like we had done a positive thing."