Round-the-clock demonstrations had been roaring for more than a week when Doris Mariani decided she could no longer stay silent.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves,” she said to Code Pink protesters trying to pass food to colleagues who had barricaded themselves inside the Venezuelan Embassy. “Get out of here!”
It was the ninth day of protests inside and outside the embassy, where leftist demonstrators have been holed up since April 10 at the invitation of embattled President Nicolás Maduro. Anti-Maduro protesters lined the sidewalk. Their tents and lawn chairs surrounded the building.
“I’m all for peace, but to pretend that the Maduro government has somehow done right by his people? I don’t understand these people. Truly, I’m appalled,” said Mariani, a resident at the nearby James Place Condominiums.
As she spoke, a young woman approached her.
“Do you live here?” asked Isabella Deyavorsky, 24. “Thank you for what you said. I’m so sorry — about the noise, about everything.”
“No, no,” said Mariani as the woman began to cry. “Don’t apologize. You have every right to protest. You have every right to protest for your people. Don’t apologize.”
As the intensifying standoff between supporters of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó and pro-Maduro demonstrators entered its third week Monday with police surrounding the building and posting eviction notices on its doors, Mariani and her neighbors have been thrust into the center of the enduring protests.
Residents, businesses and workers along 30th Street NW — a typically quiet, tree-lined street in Washington’s affluent Georgetown neighborhood — have adjusted to, and in some cases, embraced the tumultuous demonstrations. Still, most say they wish the protests were not on their front step.
“The first week was really the most annoying, but now I just don’t go up 30th Street anymore,” said Walter Groszyk, 75, a retired federal worker who lives on the street. “The war of the decibels is certainly affecting all of us, but well, this is Washington. These things happen.”
Georgetown, known for upscale dining and name-brand shops, is not typically the center of Washington protests and sit-ins, which often are directed at Capitol Hill or the White House. That changed April 10, when a handful of far-left demonstrators moved into the building housing the Venezuelan Embassy.
At the time, a handful of Maduro government officials still were working in the building. But in mid-April, their visas expired, forcing them to abandon their posts and leave the embassy occupied solely by members of Code Pink and other groups who dubbed themselves the “Embassy Protection Collective.”
They invited speakers and performers to host events inside the building and live-streamed their occupation. It caught the attention of Venezuelans and Venezuelan Americans, who turned up en masse April 30 to protest the American demonstrators inside — and many have not left since.
On May 5, pro-Guaidó protesters sent a letter to James Place residents meant to “address the unfortunate situation the occupation of the Embassy of Venezuela . . . has created in the neighborhood.” In it, they included phone numbers of organizers and encouraged residents to demand that Code Pink and its supporters vacate the premises.
The pro-Guaidó demonstrators created a self-imposed curfew and agreed to turn off music and try to regulate noise each night after 9:30. Handwritten codes of conduct they posted along the brick building’s exterior walls instruct demonstrators to be “calma y cordura.” Calm and collected.
“It’s important to us that they see us in a positive light, even though we’re out here protesting in their front yard,” said pro-Guaidó demonstrator Robert Nasser, a member of Lucha Democratica. “We do what we can.”
About a dozen people have been arrested since the beginning of May, according to police.
During a news conference last week, Code Pink supporters outside the embassy retreated into Baked & Wired cafe to escape the noisemakers and chants of pro-Guaidó demonstrators. A manager ushered customers in past a crowd of reporters, insisting, “Come in. Yes, we’re open.”
Several businesses in the area reported disturbances over the past month — and a lack of parking — but said they did not mind the demonstration.
“I personally feel bad for the people of Venezuela,” said Elizabeth Pierotti, who owns a hair salon on the block. “Their need is greater than mine. So, if they need to protest — the great thing about the United States is they can. They can protest. And if it’s an inconvenience for me, I’m willing to be inconvenienced.”
In an attempt to engage residents and passersby, Code Pink members handed out leaflets explaining their mission to protect the embassy from forces not granted entry by the Maduro government, said Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin.
“We’ve really gotten a lot of sympathy from people around here,” she said. “There are people every day who come by and say, ‘I live in the neighborhood. Can you explain this more?’ One couple from down the block has been out here every day since.”
On May 10, the James Place Condominium Unit Owners Association wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the commotion. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) also were sent copies of the letter.
“The protesters have been using loudspeakers, bullhorns, drums, cymbals, portable sirens, loud chanting, singing, etc., causing excessive noise levels near the Condominium,” wrote Joseph D. Douglass, a lawyer representing the association. “Many of the residents are elderly retirees, and some have mobility issues, which means that they are homebound for much of the day. The continuous noise from the protests is causing some of these residents to suffer from anxiety and stress, and is very disruptive to the lives, and to the sleep, of other residents, including families with children.”
On Monday, police officers cleared the courtyard at the back of the embassy and instructed pro-Guaidó demonstrators to take down tents, canopies and food stations. Police set up new lines — yellow tape and metal barricades that reinforced a perimeter around the embassy that officers would not let members of either group cross.
Officers then removed chains that kept the embassy locked for more than a month, hours after posting an eviction notice. But after a brief conversation with police, activists remained inside and police closed the door. Officers fastened zip ties around the handles, sealing the entrance.
Police issued a warning Tuesday evening via megaphone to activists in the embassy building, saying that they must leave “immediately” and that “any person who refuses . . . will be trespassing in violation of federal and District of Columbia laws.” But those inside — two men and two women — seemed unbothered, waving to supporters and brandishing protest signs.
“I think I speak for most people around here when I say, ‘Yeah, it is noisy, but this is democracy.’ We all believe these people — especially the Venezuelan people — have every right to protest,” Mariani said. “On the one hand, there is this element of inconvenience, but on the other hand, we all feel sympathetic to what’s going on here.”