Beneath gray skies and a persistent drizzle, a tiny band of Jews stood across from the Soviet Embassy yesterday and made a gentle plea for human rights -- the first of more than a dozen protests and celebrations marking the much-heralded visit of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev set to begin Monday.
Before he arrives and throughout his stay, the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party will be applauded by peace activists who have come to celebrate the arms treaty and will be denounced by anti-Soviet demonstrators from a myriad of ethnic groups.
Washington felt the first repercussions of the upcoming summit yesterday. Cars and limousines sporting signs that proclaimed "U.S.S.R. Embassy Car" jammed the street outside the Madison Hotel, where much of the Soviet entourage will be staying. One protest group took to the sidewalks and others sought coverage at news conferences.
On Capitol Hill, women activists, including Bella Abzug, called for acceptance of the arms treaty. Nearby, famous refuseniks, including Natan Shcharansky and Ida Nudel, starred at a hearing designed to call for Soviet compliance with human rights. On the other side of the Capitol, at the Heritage Foundation, a packed auditorium listened to former deputy assistant secretary of defense Frank Gaffney take on the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty.
This weekend, Washingtonians will feel the impact of the visit more directly. Tomorrow, streets will be closed around the Mall for a Jewish rally, and a handful of downtown streets will be closed for the duration of Gorbachev's visit. His scheduled arrival at 4:40 p.m. Monday at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County could cause rushhour tie-ups if he travels by motorcade to the city.
Gorbachev will be heavily insulated from the protests. From the moment his plane lands until his planned departure Thursday, he will be protected by the most intense security in Washington's history.
He will travel from the shuttered Soviet Embassy at 1125 16th St. NW to official stops at the White House and State Department in tightly sealed motorcades down blocked-off streets. "People aren't going to see him," said a source familiar with the preparations.
Some members of his entourage already have moved into the Madison at 15th and M streets NW, and the highest-ranking officials will join the others Monday.
The State Department has declared the Madison a "foreign mission" for the duration of his visit, which will prevent any protests within 500 feet of the structure.
About two months ago, the department was blasted on the Senate floor for declaring the State Department building itself a "foreign mission" to block a demonstration against Soviet human rights abuses during the visit of Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnaze.
But the department apparently was undeterred. According to a State Department source, buildings are frequently declared foreign missions to prevent embarrassing incidents during important meetings with foreign leaders.
While others in Washington are clamoring for invitations to any Gorbachev event, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry has turned down a reception at the Soviet Embassy Wednesday in favor of the inauguration of Kurt Schmoke as Baltimore's first elected black mayor. A spokesman said Barry had agreed to attend the inauguration before the "last-minute" Gorbachev invitation came. But one source said that he "did not want to get caught up in a meeting" with the Soviet leader because of Jewish pressure over Soviet emigration.
Barry, however, will attend the arrival ceremony on the White House lawn Tuesday, and he said through a spokesman that he applauds the attempts by Gorbachev and President Reagan "to defuse a situation that could potentially lead to the end of the world."
Yesterday, before the Jewish group held its quiet protest of prayer across from the Soviet Embassy, a peace group applauded Reagan, Gorbachev and themselves for the arms treaty. The peace movement "made this treaty possible," said the leaders of SANE/FREEZE, a pro-disarmament group. The group is planning a rally in Lafayette Park across from the White House today. Rally participants will link hands to form a symbolic bridge between the White House and the Soviet Embassy.
But by the end of Gorbachev's visit, there will have been far more protests against his policies. They mostly represent ethnic groups and national movements from around the world that are angered by what they believe is heavy-handed and authoritarian Soviet policy.
All week, Lafayette Park will be a laboratory of American democracy and a staging ground for anti-Soviet spectacles.
People from around the world with grievances against the 70-year-old regime -- Jews, Crimean Tatars, Afghanis, Ethiopians, Ukrainians, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians -- will converge on the parklands around the White House to voice their protests.
Certainly the largest rally will be the Jews', to be held tomorrow, starting around noon on the Ellipse with greetings to the gathering from Barry and others. At 1 p.m., they will march one mile to an area of the Mall at Third Street for a rally. Speakers include a broad spectrum of groups within the Jewish community and the American political scene. Two political candidates will speak, although they were invited for their roles and not as a statement of political support -- Vice President Bush and Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.).
Other speakers include House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.); Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), representing the civil rights movement; Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel; New York City Mayor Ed Koch and several former refuseniks, Jews who won release from the Soviet Union after years of struggle. One is Shcharansky, probably the Soviet emigration movement's hero.
Morris B. Abram, an organizer of the event as chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said yesterday that while the Soviet Union has released a few dozen well-known refuseniks in recent months, "there's been absolutely no change whatsoever in the attitude of the Soviet Union toward its Jewish population." Staff writer Lynne Duke contributed to this report.