Forbes Hill, an animator from Los Angeles, was walking past Dupont Circle on Monday morning looking for an art gallery to visit when he noticed the Raging Grannies -- peace activists who set antiwar lyrics to familiar songs -- warbling away at a microphone on a makeshift stage.
Then he spied a 25-foot-tall inflatable President Bush figure in a “Mission Accomplished” flight suit. People were chucking shoes at it.
Hill had stumbled across one of the few angry gatherings in a town bathed in good vibes in anticipation of today’s inauguration of Barack Obama. (Well, angry-ish. Everyone who threw shoes smiled and giggled in spite of themselves.)
The shoe hurling, sponsored by several anti-Bush, pro-peace groups, was inspired by Iraqi journalist Muntather Zaidi, who threw his shoes at Bush last month during a Baghdad news conference.
Hill’s sister, Ashley Hill of Durango, Colo., picked up a pair of strappy brown leather sandals from one of the piles of donated shoes strewn around Dupont Circle. Hill pointed his camera phone.
“This is totally cathartic,” Hill said as he snapped a shot of Ashley launching the sandals. “How can you resist?”
The shoes bounced off the midsection of the giant Bush, forcing a local television cameraman to duck as they sailed past his head.
On the stage nearby -- behind a neat line of boots, loafers and sneakers -- Gael Murphy, co-founder of the antiwar group Code Pink, called Zaidi courageous and thanked “everyone who has stood up and spoken truth to power in their own way.”
“Hold onto your shoes,” Murphy said to the crowd of about 100 protesters. “The struggle is not over.”
Barbara Cummings, a retired government worker from San Diego, solicited signatures for a petition urging Atty. Gen.-designate Eric H. Holder Jr. to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for war crimes. She also sold posters featuring Bush and Cheney’s faces behind bars, with the slogan “I have a dream.”
“Just because we’ve elected a new president doesn’t negate that crimes were committed,” Cummings said. “Obama has said that no one is above the law. Bush and Cheney have admitted proudly they condoned torture. We will never regain our moral standing in the world if we just allow these criminals to say, ‘Bye bye.’ ”
The shoe hurlers planned to march later to the White House, where a few were going to toss their ammunition over the fence.
This year’s protests are expected to be notably mild compared, for example, with 1973’s raucous anti-Vietnam War demonstrations aimed at President Nixon or the angry shouts of “Hail to the thief!” in 2001 after George W. Bush’s disputed victory over Al Gore. A handful of anti-Obama protests -- most centered around the abortion issue -- were planned for Inauguration Day.
The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said his group would carry anti-abortion banners near the swearing-in. “We want to send a clear signal to President Obama from Day One, from the very moment you are sworn in, the pro-life community will be there.”
Obama, who favors abortion rights, has muted some of the criticism by choosing evangelical Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at today’s ceremony.
Members of the Save Darfur Coalition plan to circulate petitions urging Obama to act on the crisis in war-torn Sudan.
Meanwhile, at the base of the Dupont Circle fountain, the political theater intensified as a gray-haired man in a bright orange prisoner’s jumpsuit prepared to be “waterboarded.” He was thrown to the ground (gently), his face covered by a towel (on top of a clear plastic face mask) and his “torturer” doused his head with a gallon of water.
The “victim,” Steve Lane, a chemist who lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes grants for the National Institutes of Health, looked shaken when it was all over.
“It’s so horrible, this feeling of helplessness,” Lane said. “Even though it’s make-believe, it still panicked me when the water accidentally got in my mouth.”
This was the fifth or sixth time Lane had volunteered for “waterboarding” at an anti-Bush demonstration, he said.
“We were doing a leash thing like they did at Abu Ghraib,” he said, referring to the infamous photographs of Iraqi prisoners being mistreated by American soldiers. “Then this guy I work with on this said, ‘Let’s step it up a notch.’ So that’s what we did.”
Times staff writer Richard Simon and Jill Zuckman of our Washington bureau contributed to this report.