1,000 Protest Role Of U.S. in El Salvador; 215 Arrested in Blockade at Pentagon

From the Washington Post, October 18, 1988

At least 1,000 rowdy but mostly peaceful protesters of U.S. involvement in El Salvador blockaded the south entrances to the Pentagon early yesterday, sitting in front of moving cars and buses and creating a sea of bodies at the building’s doorsteps.

At least 215 demonstrators were arrested, most of them charged with obstructing a passageway, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and one year in jail. Only minor injuries were reported.

Pentagon employees arriving for work found themselves engulfed in swaying human waves. Some workers broke through with help of helmeted police, while others retreated to the unblocked entrances.

By sunrise, the protesters had managed to close the 3,700-space south parking lot, causing major commuting delays on all roads around the complex and halting bus service to the Pentagon, a major bus-subway transfer point, between 6:30 and 9 a.m.

A Pentagon spokesman said it was business as usual inside.

The mood and tactics of the protest were reminiscent of the 1960s, although many of those arrested yesterday were not yet born in 1967, when 35,000 demonstrators converged on the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War.

Yesterday’s demonstration united the two generations-veteran dissidents Daniel Ellsberg and David Dellinger representing the older side, and 18-year-old Len Riccio of Connecticut the new generation.

“I object to everything the United States is doing in El Salvador,” said Riccio, who was in handcuffs even before the sun came up. “If it’s got to be done, it’s got to be done,” he said of his arrest.

Peace activist Ellsberg, who in 1967 was a Pentagon employee working on what became known as the Pentagon Papers, said there was a major difference between the anti-Vietnam message and the one protesters were trying to make yesterday about El Salvador.

“We are telling the administration and the people in this building that they can’t do what they’re doing to America without arresting America,” Ellsberg said. “This is different than Vietnam. We’re acting before American combat troops are sent . . . . For every person willing to get arrested now, a hundred or thousand are willing to get arrested if they escalate this war.”

The coalition behind yesterday’s demonstration, part of a campaign called “El Salvador: Steps to Freedom,” is seeking an end to U.S. military aid, including advisers, to the government of El Salvador, which has been waging a war with leftist guerrillas for eight years. More than 65,000 people have been killed in the war and related political violence, according to media accounts.

The coalition, which includes CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador), the Winning Democracy Campaign and the Pledge of Resistance, has charged that U.S. involvement in the Central American country has prolonged and aggravated the war.

The Salvadoran government of President Jose Napoleon Duarte receives nearly $100 million a year in U.S. military aid.

State Department spokeswoman Nancy Beck said yesterday that the U.S. assistance “has helped {El Salvador} push back the threat of communist revolution and move . . . toward a stable democracy.”

Yesterday’s demonstration at times resembled a nine-ring circus, with large knots of protesters moving from barricade to barricade to fill in cracks in the human fortress.

Although the demonstration was largely peaceful, some protesters threw red paint at passing buses, set trash cans afire, burned an effigy and tussled with police officers wielding riot clubs. Protest organizers blamed those incidents on the militant May Day Anarchist Network, whose members said they were not opposed to using violence.

At least four police officers received minor injuries, some from thrown objects and others the result of carrying protesters who went limp during their arrests.

On her way to the Pentagon Metro stop, commuter Mary Beth Greenleaf was punched in the mouth by a protester, she said as she stood by an ambulance, her mouth bleeding. Four protesters were sprayed with Mace by a Defense Protective Service officer. The officer, whose badge identified him as H.G. Meyer Jr., would not explain his actions when asked by a reporter, saying only: “I had a good reason.”

Most police maintained a low-key attitude and went out of their way to avoid arrests, a tactic that frustrated many of the protesters and resulted in a cat-and-mouse game in which the demonstrators barricaded the entrances and the police carried some of them a few feet away to clear passageways and then allowed them to move back in.

Try as he did, Bill Hawkins had a hard time getting arrested. A mathematician from the 25-member “Orioles Against Death Squads” unit from Baltimore, Hawkins helped block the Pentagon’s southeast entrance. Police picked him up by the arms and legs and gently threw his ample frame into the bushes at least three times. Each time he got up and headed back for more.

Finally, police subdued him with plastic handcuffs. “I had to very insistently position myself in front of the stairway, to make sure I was obstructing something,” he said after his arrest.

There were moments of drama and of humor.

Before dawn, angry confrontations sprouted between Pentagon employees determined to park in the south lot and protesters determined not to let them.

“I’m not going to back up, I’ll go through them,” shouted a Navy officer as a dozen people dropped to their knees in front of his van.

“If you move forward, they’re going to get hurt and it may be terrible,” pleaded Guy Burton, a CISPES “peace keeper.”

“I don’t care, I want to park my car,” the officer shouted back.

“Don’t hurt people . . . . We all have different opinions about it,” said Burton, his face inches away from the officer’s. “People are going to get hurt.”

“This is causing stupidity for you all,” the officer shot back.

A police officer stepped in, urging restraint. The Navy officer put his van in reverse.

“Thank you, sir,” said Burton. “We hope you resign.”

Reaction to the protest varied among Pentagon employees. “Obviously they’re making their point,” said Army Col. Herb Williams as he walked past demonstrators. “I’m just glad we’re living in a country where they can do what they’re doing.”

Yvette Boyd of the Army Corps of Engineers was more critical. “I don’t think it’s fair for people to have to rassle and scuffle to get to work.”

About 7:30 a.m., two teen-age girls from the District pounded a wooden cross into a mock graveyard of at least 100 crosses, each bearing the name of a victim of the Salvadoran strife. Nearby, police officers knocked over crosses.

Officer V.E. Starks approached the girls, pleading in a quiet voice: “Please, I don’t want to arrest you.”

“Are you volunteering to be arrested?” Starks asked.

After the other crosses had been knocked down, the sisters slowly walked off, with Clarity Haynes, 17, clasping a cross to her chest an looking straight ahead.

An hour later, the sisters returned, erecting that cross and many others. This time, they stayed up.

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