Features

Street theater

Politics | A colorful march, a motivational homeless movie, and dubious news find audiences in the nation's capital

Issue: "Barrier riffs," Feb. 10, 2007

Clad in shades of their signature color-fuchsia foam tiaras, rosy wigs, magenta feather boas-the women of CODEPINK gathered on the stone steps of the Navy Memorial to stage an Iraq war protest that assembled celebrities, lawmakers, and activists at the U.S. Capitol.

Convened on a brisk but sunny Saturday morning, the crowd of several hundred chanted anti-war slogans: "They say Code War/ we say Code Pink," a jab at the color-coded terror alert system. Tie-dyed pink banners and glittery posters proclaimed: "Give Bush the Pink Slip," "Resistance is Fertile," and "Augmentation is for Boobs."

In festively pink galoshes, rhinestone glasses, and a feathered hat, CODEPINK organizer Jodie Evans grabbed the microphone to declare, "This is what peace looks like."

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Congresswomen Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) also addressed the crowd, with Waters vowing to end this "ungodly, unconscionable, evil war." Together with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the self-dubbed "Triad" have introduced House Resolution 508 to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq within six months.

Hollywood political activists Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Susan Sarandon spoke later in the morning when the CODEPINK protesters converged on the National Mall with tens of thousands from the United for Peace and Justice coalition. Protest sponsors had predicted six-figure attendance, but without giving an official estimate, police said the crowd was smaller than 100,000.

The headline act still belonged to Jane Fonda, speaking at her first war protest in 34 years. "Silence is no longer an option," said Fonda, 69, whose Vietnam-era activism earned her the nickname "Hanoi Jane."

More poignant were the words of Oriana Futrell, a blonde 21-year-old with a sign that read, "Bring My Husband Home Now." Married in April, Futrell said her husband is an Army lieutenant who deployed in June and is now patrolling the streets of Baghdad. "I'm sick of the death. I've watched my friends lose their husbands," she said. "I don't know what else to say, other than-bring them home. It's time."

But Futrell wasn't the only one with a personal stake in the war. Midway through the CODEPINK rally, Army Cpl. Joshua Sparling, 25, left a small counter-protest across the street and edged his way to the front of the crowd-balancing on crutches, because he lost his right leg in Ramadi last year.

"I really don't think they understand what's going on," Sparling said of the protesters. "They don't understand that Iraqis can't have a rally like this."

A Michigan native who left college to join the Army, Sparling still sported his regulation crew cut and an 82nd Airborne sweatshirt-"Hooah." He has undergone 33 surgeries since arriving home from Iraq.

His unexpected appearance sent photographers into a frenzy, and CODEPINK organizers-to their credit-allowed Sparling to speak. "I respect everyone for being here. I fight for your right to do this," he said. "Keep in mind that [the Iraqis] would like to be free as well."

Framed against a backdrop of pink banners, Sparling shifted on his crutches before thanking the crowd and walking away-the dangling right leg of his sweatpants a visceral reminder not of what peace looks like, but of what peace requires.

Motivational model

After vowing real progress on the issue of homelessness, newly elected D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty hit upon an inspirational object lesson for homeless residents of the District-The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Oscar-nominated Will Smith as a homeless salesman turned millionaire stockbroker.

At the suggestion of homeless activist Arafa Speaks, who presented the idea during a recent townhall meeting, the mayor's office invited 120 homeless people to screen the film.

"It was God's idea. But since you can't touch Him, I'll just say it was my idea," Speaks, 52, told The Washington Post.

The Pursuit of Happyness documents the real-life story of Chris Gardner, a single father who cares for his young son, endures homelessness and jail time, and finally lands his dream job as a stockbroker.

To residents of La Casa Shelter, one of four city-run homeless shelters whose residents were invited to the screening, the message resonated.

"He never let his pride get in the way-I've been there," said Eddie, one participant in the six-month La Casa Transitional Rehabilitation Program (TRP), designed to help homeless men conquer addictions, find work, and establish housing. "You don't want to be standing in that line."

Social worker Glen Rother enjoyed The Pursuit of Happyness too-but acknowledged that the reasons for homelessness depicted in the movie did not reflect the mental illness and substance abuse that burden his clientele at La Casa, a facility that includes the 40 beds in the TRP shelter and another 90 beds in emergency trailers outside.

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