WASHINGTON -- Those who live and work in the nation's capital, and even those who just visit here, showed mixed feelings yesterday about the country's being on the verge of war.
More than a thousand demonstrators -- most of them black students from Washington-area colleges and universities -- marched to the White House to protest the possibility of a war with Iraq.
Police arrested 55 protesters when they lay down on the sidewalk in front of the White House and refused to move, although all were released later without charges. Among them was Dick Gregory, the one-time comedian and now social activist, who has been arrested at least three times in the past two days outside the White House.
The demonstrators had prompted some cheers, some frowns, from bystanders as they marched to the White House through Washington's midtown streets, shouting such slogans as "Hell no!/We won't go!/We won't fight for Texaco!" and wearing signs that read "Poor Die First."
The signs reflected the marchers' anger over what black leaders have described as the disproportionate number of blacks in the U.S. armed forces, which are poised in Saudi Arabia to attack if Iraqi forces are not withdrawn from Kuwait.
And the slogans reflected the protesters' belief that President Bush was planning to go to war with Iraq primarily to protect U.S. interests in Kuwait's huge oil resources.
But as the demonstrators marched and shouted, Washingtonians outside in unusually balmy weather generally looked up, swore at the traffic jam the marchers created and went on about their business.
Just before the march to the White House, 50 people -- again, mostly students, but this time, all of them white -- gathered outside the Iraqi Embassy for a lunch-hour counterdemonstration of sorts: to exhibit their support for President Bush's Persian Gulf policies.
One of the organizers of the demonstration, Tony Zagotta, national chairman of the College Republicans organization, said the demonstrators were "concerned about the image that college students are not supporting our president or our troops."
Mr. Zagotta said he had "feedback from 1,000 campuses" indicating that anti-war demonstrations there were "isolated" and organized by "left-wing students and professors."
Among the demonstrators at the embassy were two young Kuwaiti women who would identify themselves only as Shatha, 18, and Abeer, 21, saying that some of their family remained in Kuwait, under Iraqi control. The two described conditions there as "horrible."
Earlier in the day, more than 200 people gathered in the chambers of the District of Columbia City Council for a "town meeting" on the question of U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf -- and to take note that yesterday was the birthday of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who practiced non-violence, although the federal holiday celebrating his birthday will be Monday.