WASHINGTON – Late Thursday night, a middle-aged couple in rumpled shorts and T-shirts peered at the electric signs at the Fort Totten Metro station.
“Excuse me,” the man asked. “Is Prince George this way?”
Any other week, he would have passed for just another lost tourist.
But this weekend, with thousands of anti-war protesters expected to pour into Washington for a weekend of anti-war rallies, Ron Teska and his wife Julia, of Windridge, Pa., were clearly identifiable by the “Peace” buttons pinned to their shirts and flyers clutched in their hands.
Many of the expected 100,000 protesters are staying at hotels, churches, with friends or even with strangers in Maryland. Churches and peace groups are busing people in from far-flung counties, opening their homes and making hand-held signs for a Peace and Justice march today that will start on the Mall, skirt the White House and circle back to Pennsylvania Avenue. President Bush, however, will be out of town.
A Quaker organization, the American Friends Services Committee, has arranged for four buses to bring people from Baltimore to Washington.
“The phone has been ringing off the hook,” said Dominque Stevenson, area director for Baltimore. People from counties all over Maryland have called to ask how they can participate, she said.
“Just the volume of calls indicates there will be a pretty good turnout,” Stevenson said.
While some organizations are focusing on getting people to Washington, some Marylanders are organizing their housing.
Sixty students from Haverford College in Haverford, Pa., were to spend Friday night at the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church and attend the march this morning, said Diane Curran, who belongs to a peace group at the church.
An environmental lawyer, Curran, 51, of Takoma Park, had a protest sign for the march made for her during a church potluck last week.
It asks, “Who Would Jesus Bomb?”
“It’s pretty big,” Curran said. “I gotta get a stick.”
After the Haverford students clear out, the Takoma Park church will house another 75 protesters from Asheville, N.C., tonight and feed them Sunday breakfast, Curran said.
It’s heady to know that protesters are gathering in such force, participants said.
“We’re in the majority now,” said Vince George, 49, of Shepherdstown, W.Va., a public policy analyst who represents Military Families Speak Out and Veterans for Peace, two groups who co-sponsored a bus tour that landed in Washington this week.
“The polling is indicating that the majority of Americans now do not agree with the war,” George said. “Not only do they not agree, but they agree with our position . . . they want to bring the troops home now.”
Greenbelt resident Bertram Donn, 86, wants to march with people like George.
A retired NASA astronomer, Donn is a member of the Peace and Justice Coalition of Prince George’s County and worked in the peace movement during the Vietnam War.
A war researcher during World War II, Donn sees a clear distinction between the attacks of Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11, 2001. The Iraq war was started under false pretences, Donn said.
“Nine-11 was not an attack on the U.S. by an enemy state,” Donn said in a softly rasping voice. “Fighting against terrorism is rather an amorphous activity.”
Even Maryland politics have been infected by anti-war emotions.
Two candidates running for retiring U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes’ seat have planned appearances with Cindy Sheehan, dubbed the “Rosa Parks” of the anti-war movement for her defiant challenge to Bush outside his vacation ranch in August.
Sheehan, who has made clear she will not endorse anyone for the race, spoke Friday alongside Democrat Kweisi Mfume at a Congressional Black Caucus conference panel on Iraq. She speaks Tuesday with Independent candidate Kevin Zeese at a forum organized by The Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland, College Park.
With several anti-war military families in the audience, Mfume took a strong stand against the war and swiped at rival candidate Rep. Ben Cardin’s, D-Baltimore, record on funding the war after voting against it.
“The act to commit our nation to war should always be a last resort,” Mfume said. “We have an obligation to exercise diplomacy. There’s a reason why it exists.”
Other events include a Peace and Justice festival through the weekend, an interfaith service by the Washington monument tomorrow evening and grassroots lobbying on Monday, when advocates will try to meet with their congressional leaders on Capitol Hill.
The Teskas, who did not remain lost for long at the Metro, planned to attend as many events as possible. They were staying at a friend’s house near the Prince George’s Plaza Metro Station in Hyattsville.
Ron Teska, a stone carver, spent a week in Crawford, Texas, during the media frenzy surrounding Sheehan and her makeshift Camp Casey, he said.
“Camp Casey overwhelmed me,” Teska said. “I stayed there and carved.”
He chiseled a 900 lb. stone memorial to Camp Casey’s protesters and wept at the white crosses set up as a tribute to fallen soldiers, he said.
There will be more white crosses and a Camp Casey reunion on the Mall this weekend.