WASHINGTON -- Driven by anger, frustration and small reserves of hope, thousands of Clinton supporters arrived on the doorstep of Congress yesterday to make a last-ditch appeal against impeachment.
It was an all-but-impossible task, and most said they recognized that.
But the busloads arrived anyway, one by one, on the west side of the Capitol. The crowds trickled down from the trains at Union Station until more than 3,000 people stood under gray skies waving placards and chanting, "Give us back our vote."
The Rev. Ted Reed, pastor of a small church in Philadelphia, rested against a low wall and said he harbored no illusions that the Republicans would change course.
"I'm here to simply say, 'I see what you're doing, and I don't like it.' "
The rally was billed as a prayer vigil organized by the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Early on, the speakers appealed for healing and forgiveness. Clinton, they said, had done nothing worse than any previous president. Public sentiment on the issue had been clearly established. Censure, reprimand, but do not impeach.
"Listen to your boss -- the majority of American people," one sign read.
Jackson, anticipating a Senate trial that would follow impeachment by the House, promised that public objection would grow louder.
"When the trial begins, we'll have a major nation-shaking march," Jackson told the crowd. "We'll come back to Washington. We're going to fight to make America for all the people."
The vigil soon gave way to political counterattacks by other speakers -- union leaders, lawmakers, political activists -- who railed against "right-wing idiots" and "partisan lynch mobs" and the "insane morality play."
The multiracial crowd, some of whom had traveled from Missouri, Tennessee, New York and Georgia, gathered for four hours. Frequently they broke into chants of "Hear our voices" and "Don't let it happen."
Some said they came because they had reached a sort of breaking point.
Pauline Collins, 55, of Boston is not politically active and wouldn't have trekked to Washington for the rally had it not been for her bout with the flu two weeks ago. While home sick, she caught the impeachment hearings on C-SPAN and heard Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia contend that "real America" understands what perjury is and the need for impeachment.
"In the real world out there, people understand the Constitution," Barr said that day.
"I got angry," said Collins, a social worker at Boston College. "His view was that people who didn't agree with him are not real Americans."
Upon learning Monday about the rally, she grabbed a white bedsheet with eyelet trim from her linen closet, some red and blue paint and made a sign: "We the people will remember."
She rolled it up, caught the overnight train on Wednesday, arrived in Washington at 6: 30 a.m. yesterday and asked someone to point her to the rally.
"I expect this to send a message to the Republicans," she said. "If I'm this ticked off, they're in big trouble. And don't tell us we won't remember. We will remember."
Magda Eger was angry, too.
"I haven't been this mad since the '60s," said the 81-year-old Baltimore resident. "We want to be counted. We need to be counted. They are inflaming the base emotions of people, and they are attempting to overthrow the government."
A former civil rights activist, Eger arrived with a delegation headed by Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. Hers was among 15 busloads that carried more than 600 Baltimore residents to the rally.
Bundled in a black wool coat and brimmed wool hat, she carried one of the dozens of yellow signs that read, "Baltimore Supports President Clinton."
"It's perilous times, and I don't think I'm over-exaggerating," she said. One group of women from Philadelphia carried signs reading "Republicans against impeachment."
Marciarose Shestach, part of that group, said she and others were motivated by conscience, even though they doubted it would make a difference.
"The point is, they are not listening," she said. "I think coming here makes us feel better about ourselves. This is not going to happen with our complicity."
Pub Date: 12/18/98