WASHINGTON - In advance of today's planned "massive non-violent direct action at the White House," antiwar protesters spent yesterday engaged in civil-disobedience training sessions, interspersing their seminars with diatribes against President Bush and justifications of armed resistance against American and Israeli troops.
Gathered at the Ellipse yesterday were remnants of a cohort of demonstrators from around the country - estimated by organizers at around 300,000, and by the Washington, D.C., police department as in excess of 100,000 - who descended on the capital this weekend to express their dissatisfaction with the war and to urge Mr. Bush and Congress to withdraw American troops from Iraq immediately.
Saturday brought a massive parade around Washington and past the White House, with appearances by such antiwar luminaries as Cindy Sheehan - an itinerant, protesting anti-war mother whose son, Casey, died in Iraq - and a Vietnam-era folk singer, Joan Baez. Today, those who remain in Washington have planned a lobbying effort on Capitol Hill to remind Congress of its role in approving the war. They also say they will encircle the White House to the sound of tolling bells, calling out the names of both Iraqis and Americans killed in the conflict until Mr. Bush agrees to withdraw the troops.
Yesterday, at tents clustered on the Mall, many convened for seminar-style training in how to avoid conflict while being arrested. One organization, the Iraq Pledge of Resistance, spent the afternoon role-playing, dividing the group into protesters and "right-wing counter-protesters" and staging hypothetical shouting matches in anticipation of conflicts today with pro-troops demonstrators and police.
The weekend's "mobilization" was organized by United for Peace and Justice, a New York-based coalition of left-leaning, anti-war activist groups. One, the U.S. Campaign To End the Israeli Occupation, maintained a "Palestine Tent" on the Mall yesterday. There, Joyce Joseph, 55, an activist who identified herself as a Lebanese-American psychotherapist who lives in the Washington area, said she was demonstrating to raise awareness about the occupations both of Iraq and "Palestine," both of which, she said, were illegal.
"Sharon is wanted in the Hague as a war criminal," Ms. Joseph said, referring to the Israeli prime minister. "They're totally violating all of the basic rights of the Palestinians. It's just like apartheid," Ms. Joseph said.
Both Mr. Sharon's and President Bush's policies, Ms. Joseph said, had contributed to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, adding that Mr. Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq had only worsened the situation in the Middle East.
As a result, Ms. Joseph, who said she had not protested since the Vietnam War but felt called to demonstrate this weekend because of the "outrageous" actions of Mr. Bush, said: "I think insurgency is justified against any occupation." She added, of Iraqi terrorists who have killed American troops and Palestinian Arabs who have attacked Israelis: "I think they're all freedom fighters."
Another Washington resident, Carol Moore, also said she felt insurgencies against American and Israeli soldiers were justified. "When you're being attacked, you have a right to defend yourself," she said.
Ms. Moore, who identified herself as a 57-year-old full-time protester, spent part of yesterday afternoon distributing fliers advertising a protest planned for this morning outside the headquarters of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. At the demonstration, according to Ms. Moore's literature, "Peace, anti-war and pro-Palestinian rights activists will protest pro-Israel lobby, neoconservative and Christian Zionist-promoted U.S. wars against both Iraq and Iran."
While most of her fellow demonstrators spent the weekend expressing their outrage against American military action against Saddam Hussein's regime, Ms. Moore said the use of force against Iran was of far greater concern.
Citing Seymour Hersh's "The Samson Option," Ms. Moore expressed concern that an Israeli attack on Iran would result in Russia's launching nuclear missiles at America. Moreover, she explained, the Iran conflict would come without warning, unlike the two-year lead-up to the Iraq war. "We're going to wake up with martial law the next day," Ms. Moore said. "They won't even let us demonstrate against that one."
In the meantime, however, the ability of Ms. Moore and her colleagues to demonstrate appeared undiminished, as they spent the weekend mounting a colorful opposition to the war in Iraq and Mr. Bush.
During Saturday's procession, protesters - who marched to the cacophony of bongo drums and buckets, contained by police in riot gear brandishing clubs - carried signs connecting Hurricane Katrina to the war, carrying signs that said "Make Levees, Not War" and "Bush Is a Category 5 Racist."
Yesterday, on the Mall, protesters had erected a papier-mache shark - painted with "Katrina" on the torso and "Iraq" and "Gitmo" on the fins - devouring Mr. Bush in effigy. "Reality Bites," read the sign beneath. At the "Palestine Tent," a protester wore a button that read "Stop Bush," decorated with blood-spattered bullet holes.
Outside the White House, protesters shouted obscenities at the president, while one demonstrator carried a sign urging Mr. Bush to dispatch his twin daughters to combat in Iraq.
Despite the crowds denouncing the war, however, there was also a significant pro-troops presence here yesterday. A rally supporting military action in Iraq drew "several thousand" participants, organizers said, and Senator Sessions, a Republican of Alabama, stopped by to give the demonstrators words of encouragement.
Despite having water bottles hurled at them at their counter protests over the weekend, those demonstrating in support of American military action will also undertake a "counter-lobbying effort" in opposition to today's protests on Capitol Hill, a spokesman for the Support the Troops Weekend, Kristinn Taylor, said.
"We're sending a message that we need to support the mission that our troops are fighting for over in Iraq," Mr. Taylor said. "We're not going to let them take the field of battle unopposed politically," he added, referring to the anti-war protesters.