Polls show the American public's support of the U.S.-led war in Iraq is slipping. According to the latest CNN-USA-Gallup poll, fifty-nine percent say it was a mistake to send U.S. troops to Iraq. And 67 percent disapprove of the way President Bush is handling the situation there. Tens of thousands of Americans who share these views are gathering in Washington, D.C. to join an anti-war demonstration this weekend. In the days leading up to the protests, some of the organizers and their supporters have been strategizing and sipping coffee at Busboys and Poets.
Busboys and Poets is a restaurant, café, bookstore, and theater, all wrapped into one happening place in a Washington, D.C. neighborhood that's a dozen long blocks -- and a world -- away from the White House. But the people gathered there have the White House clearly in mind as they discuss U.S. involvement in Iraq and how to pressure the Bush administration to end it.
Sarah Browning is the coordinator for D.C. Poets Against the War. As this weekend's scheduled events draw near, she sits at a table in front of her laptop computer, occasionally picks at her salad off to the side, and organizes for the weekend. She went to Busboys and Poets not just for lunch, she says, but because "our website is down, so I'm trying to fix that problem, which of course these things always happen right at the last minute. There's free wireless here at Busboys and Poets."
Andy Shallal, the establishment's owner, says "it is at the crossroads of the peace movement. It was at the crossroads of the civil rights movement in a lot of ways. When Martin Luther King was assassinated, the first brick that was thrown was at the corner here, and the riots started. And so I think it really does have a lot of historic significance. The place was positioned with that in mind."
A long-time peace activist himself - and an Iraqi American - Mr. Shallal says he wanted to give social and political activists a place to network. He says, "People that are in the peace movement are used to working out of church basements, you know, the environment isn't always the most beautiful, not always the most conducive to creativity and openness and thought provocation." He believes Busboys and Poets creates a pleasant environment for people who otherwise couldn't connect to come together.
Most of the activity at Busboys and Poets this week has involved gearing up for the weekend anti-war demonstrations in Washington. Sarah Browning will be leading a group of poets against the war, and she's using Busboys and Poets as a base to get the word out. "Someone is coming by, for example, to pick up flyers from here. So it's kind of a meeting place."
Owner Andy Shallal promises that once the weekend demonstrations are over, Busboys and Poets will continue to be a haven for writers, thinkers and performers from America's progressive social and political movements.