They came from across the country for yesterday's "National Day of Mourning" rally against President Reagan's budget cuts -- Hispanic farm workers in old pickup trucks from Texas, retired maids in a senior citizens center bus from Alabama, children from Anacostia chewing bubble-gum and wearing T-shirts and jeans.
But while the demonstrators were enthusiastic, chanting, "We're fired up, won't take it no more" as they marched around the White House and down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, the rally drew only 1,000 to 1,500 demonstrators, D.C. police estimated.
Rally leaders estimated the crowd at 3,000 to 5,000, but even they acknowledged that the turnout was small -- especially to launch what civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson had declared a new "national resistance movement" reminiscent of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Jackson and other blacks and Hispanics speakers criticized Reagan, charging that his budget will benefit the rich and mean "death" to the poor.
As they spoke, only a few hundred yards away in the Capitol, the House was approving the outline of Reagan's proposed budget.
Carrie Johnson, a 67-year-old grandmohter from Anniston, Ala., seemed to summarize the feeling of anger and frustration that flowed through the crowd. Sitting on a purple bath towel she had brought from home, Johnson said she had made her first trip to Washington because of "the children" -- including her 20 grandchildren -- she believed would be hurt.
"He [Reagan] ain't going to suffer," she said. "He already got his. Me, I'll be poorer, but what can I do? Nothing.
"We'll maybe no one cares, but I'm here. I just had to come."
It was a theme repeated over and over again by speakers and those in the crowd: President Reagan had ignored them and Congress, especially its Democratic members, had abandoned them.
"They [Democratic congressmen] have sold their Democratic heritage for a pair of cufflinks and a White House dinner," proclaimed the Rev. Joseph Lowery, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a march organizer. "We must take our fight to the streets. We must take our fight to the sonscience of America."
"Our power is not in following a slow-moving donkey," said Jackson, who claimed blacks had become satisified too easily, accepting small concessions rather than continuing to fight for more. Saying Reagan's budget and the country's swing to the right is a return to pre-civil rights days, Jackson proclaimed: "Down with the sweets, back in the streets. No more negotiating, time for demonstrating."
"March! Fight!" shouted Jackson, as the crowd waved placards that said, "Jobs not Jokes Mr. President" and "Oops, I fell through the safety net." "
Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.) accused her congressional colleagues of rejecting the 18-member Congressional Black Caucus alternative budget because of "racism" that "tontinues in the bloodline of America."
"Now is the time for revolution, time to raise up in arms, time to know the enemy . . . the corporate conspiracy," said Jose Angel Gomez, leader of the National Association of Farmworker Organizations and a rally organizer."
"It's just not fair," explained Gloria Dent, who works for the District's United Planning Organization and is one of the many social agency workers whose jobs are threatened by the budget tightening. "And it's really going to be bad in the District where we have been robbing Peter to pay Paul, because under Reagan, Peter don't have no more money."
"It's frustrating," explained Fernando (Chappy) Pro, a Miami farm worker organizer, who got an ovation earlier in the morning by saying it was time for the poor to stop turning the other cheek and "knock them on their a-- if they slap you around.
"You can't find people who work harder than farm workers. They have the true American ethic that Reagan loves to talk about. Yet, no one is listening. We are invisible to them. We have no political power.
"I'm afraid to say it, but until we take it to the streets again like the '60s, I'm afraid no one will listen."