The protesters convened for a final planning meeting, already triumphant, convinced that nine months of preparation was about to pay off. Antiwar organizers who had come to Washington from 27 states exchanged hugs inside a Columbia Heights convention hall and modeled their protest costumes: orange jumpsuits, “death masks,” shackles and T-shirts depicting bloody Afghan children. Then Pete Perry, the event organizer, stood up to deliver a welcome speech.
“This is a great moment for our movement,” he said. “We are continuing an incredible tradition.”
“Like Gandhi,” said the next speaker.
“Like Martin Luther King,” said another.
A Sunday meeting and a Monday protest — that was the agenda planned in advance of Wednesday’s eighth anniversary of the start of the Afghan war. There had been other protests in Washington over the course of the conflict, dozens of them, but this time organizers believed they could revive the beleaguered antiwar movement, once such a force in U.S. policy. The next 48 hours would put their optimism on trial.
With public opinion polls showing a majority of Americans opposing the war, organizers wanted at least 1,000 people to march through downtown, risk arrest by creating a ruckus at the White House and draw President Obama across the manicured North Lawn to meet with them.
“The goal of this action is to hand-deliver a letter to Obama,” Perry reminded the group. “We want a meeting to demand an end to this senseless violence.”
It would also set the stage for 42 rallies and protests scheduled to take place Wednesday around the country. After decades of decline in the antiwar movement — from throngs of half a million to fringe rallies to almost nothing at all — the job of organizers in Washington was to generate momentum for a historic week.