Demonstrators descended on mostly deserted D.C. streets this weekend to protest U.S. military retaliation to terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.
In marches that caught little national media attention and brief local coverage, police escorted protesters from the Capitol building to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to Adams Morgan for mostly peaceful anti-war demonstrations that resulted in about a dozen arrests.
Metropolitan Police estimated the crowds at about 7,000 Saturday and 3,000 Sunday, according to the Washington Post.
Police arrested 11 demonstrators Saturday – three for disturbing the peace by crossing a police line and eight at D.C. General Hospital, MPD spokesman Kenneth Bryson said. Protesters were apparently trying to take control of the hospital to protest privatization of the closed facility.
All the arrests were on misdemeanor charges, according to police.
The weekend, two days once slated for IMF and World Bank meetings, brought activist groups such as Anti-Capitalist Convergence and the International Action Center to the District.
Park police on horseback and Metropolitan Police officers in riot gear surrounded about 500 protesters at a rally Saturday morning near Union Station. Anti-Capitalist Convergence hosted several speakers at 10 a.m. in Upper Senate Park next to the Capitol building.
About 60 people volunteering for Bread and Puppets, a labor activist group, carried large paper puppets representing naked and starving Afghan citizens. The organization, based in Vermont, brought volunteers from all over the country to the march.
Protesters then marched to the World Bank building at 18th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. MPD contained the rally and did not allow demonstrators to enter or leave the area for about 45 minutes.
Crowds shouted “Where’s Darth Vader?” and hummed the “Imperial March,” Darth Vader’s theme song in Star Wars, to officers in black uniforms, body armor and riot helmets with full facemasks.
Police then opened barricades and allowed protesters to converge with marchers from International A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) in Freedom Plaza at 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue at about 1:30 p.m.
About 2,000 people rallied with the group carrying signs reading “No to Blind Retaliation” and “Bomb them with Butter.”
MPD public information officials said officers used pepper spray on protesters who sat on top of a police cruiser on H Street between 11th and 12th streets. No injuries were reported.
New York resident Ben Zolno said he was there to make sure the rights of all Americans were upheld.
“I felt I was obligated to come to Washington to uphold my first amendment rights,” he said. “I am against any war going on now, and any war that is going to continue the cycle of death.”
A fleet of police cruisers led waves of protesters through Adams Morgan Sunday. Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey led the procession, which began and ended at Meridian Hill Park at 16th and Euclid streets.
Local residents and shop owners lined the streets to watch the parade of protesters who flashed peace signs to observers, handed out bread and chanted “Food! Medicine! For the people of Afghanistan!”
Nine GW Action Coalition members joined the march, organized mostly by the Washington Peace Center, a D.C.-based activist group advocating non-violent social change.
“We are calling for peace and the end of racism,” junior GWAC member Eleiza Braun said.
Several University of Maryland marched with the UMD Peace Forum, a group formed out of the Maryland Action Collective to demonstrate for peace.
Group president and Maryland freshman Justin Fertig said about 20 Peace Forum members marched Sunday.
“I really don’t think that war will solve anything,” Fertig said. “We were inflamed that someone would hurt our innocent people and that’s exactly what we’re going to do in response.”
Demonstrators then marched from Meridian Hill Park to Sheridan Circle, Dupont Circle, up 18th Street through Adams Morgan and back to 16th and Euclid streets, where MPD officers and police cars corralled the march back into Meridian Hill Park at about 4 p.m.
Demonstrators said police officers did not hinder their ability to protest Sunday.
“It always feels a little bit oppressive if (police are) there, but I haven’t felt physically threatened,” junior GWAC member Monica Bunton said. “All you do is kind of ignore it and dance.”
Police said demonstrators were able to speak out in a lawful manner.
“We had one little skirmish Saturday, but I think overall, it went pretty well all things considered,” Bryson said. “People come in to exercise their First Amendment, we hope that they come in and obey the law as well.”
-Mira Katz contributed to this report.