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Protesters mount limp attempt at civil disobedience
By Greg Barrett
WASHINGTON — War and rain dampened the spirit of a once-fiery peace movement Thursday.
The morning after the first bombing in Iraq, roughly 100 war protesters in the nation‘s capital braved the weather, but not the police, in an attempt to disrupt the rush-hour commute.
The march from Virginia into Washington was in sharp contrast to the tens of thousands of pro-testers who have packed the city‘s streets this winter. The anti-war movement roared in the weeks before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. On Thursday, it whimpered.
The demonstration‘s game plan, printed on wallet-sized pieces of paper, was supposed to be kept secret "to ensure the success of action." It called for "confrontational tactics" and a "shutdown" of a "major artery" of traffic.
"We want to show people that the day after war will not be business as usual," said Zein El-Amin, 40, a civil engineer from Washington and an organizer for the Shirts Off Coalition, an umbrella of protest groups.
He began planning Thursday‘s protest four months ago.
"We knew there would be war," he said. "So we knew we had to do something the day after."
The march‘s final written orders sounded more belligerent than the protesters, many of whom car-ried cameras and posed for each other.
"Those of us living in the belly of the beast, those closest to the war-makers, must act out and make resistance visible!" the instructions read. "We will not be complicit in this unjust war."
Yet most of the protesters complied with the first police warning to move to the sidewalks or face arrest. Three people were arrested for obstructing justice early in the march, but they had appeared eager to go into custody.
One marcher carried a black flag, which designated the group of people who wanted to participate in the confrontational tactics. Another marcher carried a white flag, designating a group that included people who had other obligations and could stay only long enough to shout slogans.
"Why did I choose to go with the white flag?" said Anthony Sharma, 21, who wore a blue jacket bearing the name of J.B. Hunt Transport Inc. "I have to go work. "
Organizers insisted the low turnout and relatively docile behavior did not reflect the energy of the peace movement. Demonstrations that resonated worldwide went unheeded by the White House, but that would not dissuade future protests, El-Amin said.
"This does not prove the ineffectiveness of the peace movement," he said of the bombing of Iraq. "It only proves how detached this administration is from the people of this country and from the peo-ple of the world."
After El-Amin attempted to rally the protesters near the U.S. Capitol, they rode together on the subway to Virginia, then marched across the Potomac River into Washington‘s trendy Georgetown district. Police already had shut down the incoming lanes of Key Bridge and gave the marchers an escort.
"How did they know?" one protester asked another as they emerged from the subway into a wait-ing cordon of police officers.
When 30 protesters linked arms and fanned out across the bridge, most remained with the white flag. Police allowed them to block all but one lane of traffic.
"Shouldn‘t we chant something?" asked coalition leader Virginia Rodino, trying to muster encour-agement for the protesters risking arrest in the street. "C‘mon let‘s support them!"
Rodino, 27, an assistant professor of public relations in the mass communications department of Baltimore‘s Towson University, led the cheers:
"What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!"
As the marchers neared the Washington side of Key Bridge, a dozen police officers waited with batons drawn. Twenty yards from the first intersection, a threatening voice from the loudspeaker of a police car told the marchers:
"This will be your only warning. Move to the sidewalk."