By Michael Ruane, Sue Anne Pressley Montes and Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writers / March 19, 2008; 1:02 PM EDT
Hundreds of antiwar demonstrators this morning tried to stop workers from entering federal government buildings, sat down in busy streets to block traffic, and staged a “March of the Dead” parade from Arlington National Cemetery into the District to protest five years of fighting in Iraq.
Code Pink Leads Protest at IRS
Small roving bands of protesters moved from intersection to intersection in the downtown D.C. area, slowing traffic before police officers hurried them along. There was some street theater — eight women in white death masks and black robes sat for nearly an hour in the intersection of 17th and L streets NW until police dragged them away. But even participants said they were disappointed at the low turnout.
The activities, which began at 8 a.m. and were to continue throughout the evening, targeted an array of institutions that organizers blame for prolonging the Iraqi conflict, including the Internal Revenue Service and news outlets such as The Washington Post. It was the second day of a two-day protest marking the fifth anniversary of the start of the war.
“The war continues. People continue to die. We don’t want our tax dollars spent on funding the war in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Ed Hedemann, 63, from Brooklyn, N.Y., who hoped to shut down the IRS for the day. “I refuse to pay my taxes for it.”
The IRS, however, remained open. Police said the protesters had caused no major disruptions, but Federal Protective Service officers, who have jurisdiction in and around federal buildings, had arrested about 35 people for crossing police lines. D.C. police had made one arrest, as of late morning, for crossing a police line.
“We anticipate more arrests because the protesters are expected to try to block rush hour traffic later this afternoon. . . . We anticipate rolling street closures,” said D.C. police spokeswoman Traci Hughes, who added that the process will be streamlined “They will pay a fine and be on their merry way.”
Today’s activities began early as several hundred demonstrators gathered at McPherson Square and Franklin Square, then moved on to their targets at the IRS, the American Petroleum Institute and other locations.
A ragtag band of about 20 people, dressed in old bright-green band uniforms, led a parade of about 150 marchers down 12th Street NW to the IRS headquarters at 1111 Constitution AvenueNW. Members of the antiwar group Code Pink, dressed in their signature hot pink, held high a banner that said: “Not one more death. Not one more dollar. No Funds for War Crimes.” Federal officers in black shades stood guard on the steps of the building.
Organizers handed out fliers that labeled the IRS building as “part of a crime against humanity” for funneling money to the Pentagon to finance the war. Donna Gould, a retired psychotherapist from New York, was wearing a white poncho that said in black letters: “Shut Down the IRS.”
“I object to the fact that our tax money is used for war, killing, atrocities, and torture when it should be used for things that are life-affirming like health care, schools, housing, arts, bicycles, and converting to renewable energy,” Gould said.
Officers began making arrests when the demonstrators, one by one, stepped over the metal barriers and police lines at the IRS entrance, making for the front steps. They did not fight their arrests and sat down quietly on the sidewalk, their hands handcuffed behind them. They were later loaded into a van.
But police did not seem eager to arrest anyone.
At 11:30 a.m., about 30 demonstrators were sitting in a circle, blocking one lane of L Street NW at 13th St. A ring of D.C. police officers on bicycles surrounded them. This had been going on for an hour, but a police captain on the scene said he did not plan to arrest anyone.
At about the same time, a group of about 100 veterans called Veterans for Peace was walking up Constitution Avenue, after a rally at the National Museum of the American Indian. Some of the older members were longtime protesters, their clothing covered with badges from the peace marches they’ve attended. But others were new to this. At the front of the line were about a dozen young veterans from the Iraq conflict, Dan Murphy, 23, among them.
“After the first time I got back, all I heard were lies–how we were going to spread democracy, the weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein and Sept. 11,” said Murphy, now a college student, who served in the Army for 4 1/2 years. “All of those were lies, and we all knew it.”