Washington Takes the Day Off From Business as Usual


The nation's capital stepped aside Monday as the "Million Man March" came through.

The Senate and the House closed. Many government workers took the day off, leaving agencies shorthanded. And the U.S. Postal Service and private delivery companies changed their schedules because of the impact of the marchers.

At college and high school campuses, many students were absent from classes--as were some teachers, both African Americans and other races as well.

Only four of 500 male students at one predominantly black high school in Washington showed up for classes Monday. And Philadelphia school district spokesman Paul Hanson said that of the city's 12,000 teachers, 6% of whom are African American males, almost 13% were absent.

"Half of our public affairs staff is absent today," said Maureen Peratino, a spokeswoman for the Federal Communications Commission. "It's pretty quiet around here. Normally our phones are ringing all day long. Today they are ringing just intermittently. It's kind of like the day after Thanksgiving."

Such scenes, played out in offices and schools all over Washington, appeared to indicate that one goal of the march--to stop business as usual in the capital--was achieved.

Peg Moody, a United Parcel Service spokeswoman, acknowledged that the march "affected our traffic patterns."

Moody said interest in the march was largely confined to the Washington and Baltimore areas. But, she added: "Within those areas, a large number--in the hundreds--of our employees did participate."

Like UPS, Federal Express scrambled to implement contingency plans, spokeswoman Sonja Whitemon said. The company arranged delivery of some packages on Saturday or very early Monday morning to avoid delays during the height of the march.

And the U.S. Postal Service added extra late pickups on most routes in Washington.

But a feared massive traffic gridlock was averted as advance planning, liberal government and school leave policies and apprehension about the orderliness of marchers kept many commuters off area streets.

"I made it to work today in record time," said Jim McConnell, executive director of the Securities and Exchange Commission. "Traffic was very light."

Although billed as the "Million Man March," Monday's event sparked a surprisingly high number of absences among black females and whites of both sexes.

At the FCC, officials were told Friday that there would be only limited service from the reference service division used by paralegals, lawyers and others seeking research material because so many black male and female support staffers were taking the day off Monday.

At the University of Maryland, director of university relations Rowland King observed that "the flow of people around campus is . . . considerably lighter" partly because of "African American women [who] have taken off in solidarity" with the march.

Some whites also stayed away from work or school.


One top federal official, who did not wish to be identified, said several of his white employees indicated they stayed home out of fear that the marchers might become unruly.

"It's amazing. This city doesn't go crazy when 200,000 right-to-life marchers come to Washington, but when it's a group of black men, everyone panics," the official said.

For the most part, an almost festive atmosphere pervaded many offices as work slowed while workers gathered around television sets and radios or, like McConnell, ventured out to the march site to briefly watch and listen to speakers at the rally.

"It's amazing how many people are out there," McConnell said.

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