The Props and the People

Three anarchists are putting the finishing touches on two effigies stuffed with newspapers and wearing suits and ties when a cheer goes up from the motley crowd gathered on the south side of the Washington Monument. The Sept. 28 anti-globalization march on Washington has begun, but the flammable CEOs aren't ready yet. The trio's compatriots, wearing black kerchiefs over their mouths and waving black and red anarchy flags, start off at a gentle saunter.

"Should we just ditch this one?" one anarchist asks nervously. It isn't hanging together.

"No, bring it along," replies a fellow creator, an older, calmer hippie type. "We just need some more duct tape."

The tourists in line for the Washington Monument are facing carefully away from the ragtag group chanting and drumming behind them, as though a mere glance in their direction might invite arrest. Two heavily made-up blond women stand between the line and the protesters, surveying the scene doubtfully. "Should we just wait?" one asks. "They'll probably be gone in a bit." She doesn't sound convinced.

"Everyone in our group gather in the next five minutes by the giant Coke bottle or you won't get home!" a marcher shouts through a loudspeaker. "I repeat, gather by the giant Coke bottle or you . . . Won't. Get. Home."

The marchers take a sharp left at the southeast end of the mall, except for the anarchists who, somewhat predictably, veer off on their own route toward 14th Street. A woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty carries a plaque that reads "Not In Our Name." She lags behind the main group, mincing by delicately on five-foot stilts.

At the corner of 14th and Constitution a few dozen right-wingers are protesting the protest. At least three of them are waving signs that read "No Tear Gas Needed -- We're Conservatives." Police stand shoulder to shoulder around them, their faces impassive. The roar of a grate nearby drowns out some of the group's attempts to chant, but they still try halfheartedly, trailing off each time after a half dozen repetitions. They try something complicated and unintelligible for a bit, but finally resort to the old faithful "USA! USA!" Then someone has a brainstorm, and starts in with "Thank you police! Thank you police!" No response at all from their protectors.

The marchers continue up 14th Street. The Statue of Liberty has caught up with them. A woman in dreadlocks calls out to some march-gawkers, "Come into the street! Come on, into the street!" Her companion yells the same in Spanish, but the tourists stick stubbornly to the sidewalks. There is some sense in this, as marchers and bystanders are soon separated like the Red Sea by a line of Baltimore police officers standing, feet placed wide apart, holding clubs. Each has a pair of plastic handcuffs clipped to his belt, and an olive-green pouch marked "chem/bio hazard." Gas masks.

An elderly couple opts for the street with the marchers. The old man, a stooped gentleman wearing a striped shirt and a baseball cap, says, "Well, I don't care. I'm not ashamed of what these kids are yelling about."

I pause, as the march nears the U.S. Department of the Treasury, straddling my bike, when someone jostles me. I turn -- it's George Dubya in drag. He has fake money pinned to his dress and a sign that reads "If you're rich, I'll be your bitch." The eyeholes in his mask are extraordinarily tiny, which explains why he's bumping into things. "Hold on, I wanna get your picture," someone calls out to him. Dubya stops and poses seductively for the camera, then turns and walks into me again.

The march pauses by the Treasury Department; metal barriers have been set up, so there's no getting out of the street now. The drumming is louder, the chanting is louder. "Yo!" a guy yells into his cell phone. "You gotta come up here to F!" A group of young folks with a "www.povertyfighters.com" sign has lined up facing the building and is shouting "Paul O'Neill, drop the debt! Paul O'Neill, drop the debt!" Dubya has groped his way over to the Hotel Washington and seems to be craning his neck looking for something, or maybe just trying to get a sense of where he is.

The police outside the Treasury are from Fairfax, Va., and they seem bigger, probably because these guys are wearing real riot gear. "Sheriff" is emblazoned across their chests; they carry five or six plastic cuffs each. Mounted police gaze down on the protesters from behind them.

Further on, about 20 people have stretched billows of pastel gauzy material between them, and are holding fish-shaped signs that read "Water for People and Planet." The fish people seem subdued. Indeed, the tone of the whole march feels a bit muted here, the way sounds are blocked out when you snorkel. But it doesn't last long. No justice without peace, U.S. out of Middle East! The earth is not for sale! Take your war and go to hell, Exxon, Mobil, BP Shell! And the usual question about when we want justice (now).

At McPherson Square the police line has downgraded again to bulletproof vests and helmets. Motorcycle police hover behind them. And at the next intersection, there's no police line at all. Just one policeman in a regular uniform and a cap, standing next to a few smokers in three-piece suits and a blond woman on a cell phone. Things seem to be winding down. But when the protesters reach Farragut Square, where the march ends, the riot gear is back.

Marchers start settling in as soon as they arrive. One girl plops down and starts spreading Jif Crunchy Peanut Butter on a slice of bread, using her leafy "Clean Up!" sign as a plate. She's wearing a sticker that reads "Warning: Genetically KRAFTed cheese."

Another cheer goes up; the anarchists have hung both of their effigies from cannons on the monument in the center of the park. They fuss over them a bit, getting the button-down shirts straight and the paper poking out just so, and then set them on fire. The crowd cheers. The bottom half of one of the scarecrow execs (no doubt the one that was inadequately duct-taped) falls off, sending clumps of burning paper raining onto the marchers. Someone climbs onto the monument and throws an American flag onto one of the little heaps of burning effigy leg, and a few others follow suit. Soon the fires burn out, though, and all that's left hanging on the cannons are the paper execs' flimsy skeletons, a pair of smoldering crosses.

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