When Words Collide

Organizers of the National Book Festival found themselves sharing the Mall yesterday with antiwar demonstrators. So they stationed volunteers in green T-shirts at the Smithsonian Metro station to make sure everybody got where they meant to go -- readers to nearby white tents, demonstrators to the Washington Monument grounds.

But Martin Freed of Fairbanks and his wife, Ruta Vaskys, were both. Toting his protest sign -- with "Alaskans Against War" on one side and something much less polite on the other -- Freed accompanied his wife into the Pavilion of States tent to check out authors at the Alaska table.

He was promptly surrounded by festival-goers, including a guard.

"I object to your sign," one said.

"Why don't you go outside?" another asked.

A woman declared, "You're crashing the wrong party."

"The war is a lot more offensive than the sign," Vaskys replied, reluctant to be dismissed.

But they had a protest to get to, and as the couple departed, Freed called over his shoulder, "This is the state the country has come to: You can't even have free speech at a book festival."

-- Karlyn Barker

Pounding the Pavement

Lots of speech was literally free. Relief for sore feet wasn't.

"Get your signs!" the baby-faced volunteer yelled, giving away antiwar posters on the Ellipse with the zeal of a popcorn vendor at a baseball game. "Signs here! Get your signs here!"

The crowd snapped them up, not pausing to consider one sentiment ("From New Orleans to Iraq, Stop the War on the Poor") over another ("Troops Out Now"). The distributor, Alex Gould, 24, of Providence, R.I., said thousands of the signs had been printed in New York by the Troops Out Now coalition.

"People want to express their opinions -- that's why we have different slogans," Gould said. "But the message is the same. The real threat is from the Bush administration and the capitalist class."

Steps away, Hayes Greene, a 27-year-old District resident, was making his capitalist contribution to the cause, selling small, lightweight stools at $12 a pop -- although business was hardly brisk. The young entrepreneur saw nothing contradictory about trying to make a few bucks off the march: If the demonstrators rested their feet, he reasoned, they'd stay longer and make a bigger difference.

"I'm killing two or three birds with one stone," he said.

-- Jo Becker

Officer and Gentleman

Julia Riches, a demonstrator from New York, teetered along the railing of the Treasury Annex in heels, a black-and-white gown, elbow-length gloves and a tiara.

"Darling, it's my White House, my Treasury Department," she told the police officer who evicted her from her perch and gave her a hand down.

-- Jo Becker

Protest Veterans' View

Evelyn Lambert, 72, sat on a corner bench at Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street NW. Beside her, her husband, Leon, finished an apple.

Age and infirmity have ended their marching days -- against poverty, against the Vietnam War, against the fighting in Afghanistan -- but not their protest days. They got on a bus in Long Island at 5 a.m. yesterday and arrived in Washington in time to secure this prime viewing and cheering spot.

"Just to have our voices heard," Evelyn said.

-- Susan Levine

A Mother's Hope

Deep in the clog of people inching up 15th Street toward the White House, Grace Friend walked with her husband and three close friends and held her sign high -- a large color photograph of a young Marine. Underneath, she had written "Alive, in Fallujah."

"Is that your son?" a woman beside her asked, suddenly focusing on the words.


"And he's over there?"

Again, Friend nodded.

Over there since July, in the 2nd Battalion. He's 19 and the latest in a long line of family members to choose military service.

In fact, she said, she has had a relative in every U.S. war since the Revolution. While she was in elementary school, two brothers enlisted and went to Vietnam.

She marched with her mother against that war.

-- Susan Levine

Eyes on Their Brethren

Kesha Taylor and Melanie Deggins came ready for a fight, or at least to record one.

They were among 11 city employees dispatched by the Office of Police Complaints with voice recorders, notebooks and digital cameras -- to make sure, Taylor said, "that people could protest freely and get help from police if they need it."

After protests in 2002, the District paid $425,000 to seven people caught up in a mass arrest in Pershing Park -- costly punishment for a court's determination that their civil rights had been violated.

This time, officials decided to do what the peaceniks have always done: dog the police and document any bad behavior with an eye to preventing it next time.

Wherever they went, little stirred. Still, at the White House, the Mall and Freedom Plaza, the women took notes. Twelve police cars at this corner. Two unmarked vehicles on that corner. Their ears perked up near the National World War II Memorial when a D.C. officer leaned out of his patrol car to tell a pedestrian crossing against a red light to step up the pace.

"What did he say?" asked Taylor, who is assistant chief inspector of the complaints office, before deciding that it didn't much matter.

Another couple of hours of more of the same, Taylor said they'd gotten exactly what they'd hoped for.

"We were hoping to see officers following procedures," she said.

-- Robert E. Pierre

The Picture of Freedom

Limousine driver Mohamed Aly stood outside the Marriott Hotel on 14th Street NW, his camera phone held high to capture the crowd going by, still swelling in late afternoon.

Aly, who was born in Sudan, has lived in the United States for 15 years. He and his wife have a 9-month-old son, whose photograph is also stored on the camera phone.

Someday, he'll show yesterday's picture to the boy to show that he is "against people killing for no reason" -- and glad to be allowed to say so.

-- Susan Levine

Thousands of signs fill the scene of the war protesters' march near the White House. Many of them came from the Troops Out Now coalition and were given out for free.Sylvia Taylor, 15, left, of Kent, Ohio, and her mother, Sheri Leafgran, find common ground during the protest. Leafgran said she feels a sense of hopelessness in the nation.Some were lured to the Mall by the emotion of the written word, not the war. Steve Chan carries the bags for his family.