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Monty Python, meet the pagan protestors


It's the Sunday after the big anti-war rally and march, when a nonviolent civil disobedience day is planned. About 500 people convene at Farragut Park for a shivering hour of speeches and songs. We are Jews, pagans, Catholic Workers, neighborhood groups, and the utterly unaffiliated. The plan: March to the White House fence at Lafayette Park and refuse to leave. One hundred intend to risk arrest.

Then there's a hitch--at H Street we find that police have sealed off Lafayette Park. Cops surround us on foot, horseback, motorcycle and bike. Art Laffin, a Catholic Worker from D.C. and a member of the facilitating team, asks affinity groups to meet and take stock.

The pagans break out bucket drums and begin the spiral dance ("We are a circle--within a circle"). Someone reads one of Martin Luther King Jr.'s anti-war speeches over a bullhorn. There's an abortive attempt at "This Little Light of Mine."

Suddenly, amid all this non-structured peacemaking comes a tremendous roar. It comes from 9th Street, around the corner. More cops?? Counter protesters?? No, by golly, it's the Youth March! Sponsored by International A.N.S.W.E.R., the youth are 1,000 strong, racially diverse and they are pissed. Some teens on a truck lead one rip-roaring chant after another: "Bush says MORE war? We say NO war! Bush says ATTACK? We say FUCK THAT!"

As they near, the civil disobedience organizers watch, scratching their heads. What to do? It's like the scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian where the Campaign for Free Galilee and the People's Front of Judaea show up at the palace on the same night: "What's your group doing here?" "We're going to kidnap Pilate's wife, take her back, issue demands." "So are we!" "What?" "That's our plan!"

Our leaders postpone further decisions until the youth pass. This takes time, as the youth have much to say to the White House and will not be rushed. With police spread more thinly along the now larger assembly, 16 folks take the opportunity to hop the fence. They're arrested immediately. One woman tries to fence-hop just as the youth show up; a cop shoves her back with such force that she lands on her head. She is shaken, but not seriously hurt. (Later I learn of two protesters injured after being pushed by police--an 81-year-old woman is hospitalized with head injuries and a Catholic Worker from Boston has a fractured foot.)

Meanwhile the pagans sit in the middle of the street and toss balls of yarn back and forth until the circle within a circle becomes one big jolly tangle. A bunch of little kids don plastic George Bush masks with "The true face of global terrorism" printed on them. Some of these miniature Dubyas pander to the crowd by pretending to pick their noses and then their teeth--at least that's my adult impression until I realize the teeth-picking is actually a dramatization of presidential booger-eating. This is peacemaking, up close and personal.

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