Confusion, rather than fear, stalked the streets of Washington at the weekend as the protest originally scheduled as the grand follow-up to the showdowns of Seattle and Genoa gently puttered into obscurity.
Since the meetings of the IMF and World Bank - the intended focus of the demonstrations - had been canceled due to the crisis, organizers turned the occasion into a peace rally instead. Globalization was largely off the agenda, except for the possibility of global war.
A line of Metropolitan Police, bottom, line up along Constitution Ave. as thousand of protesters march to Capitol Hill to hold a rally, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2001, in Washington. The crowd represented a mix of protest groups with different causes, including one with an anti-war agenda. (AP Photo/Kenneth Lambert)
Even so, the upshot was a mixed and messy message, and the down-the-line anti-war protesters had to share the space with anti-Zionists, Marxist-Leninists, animal libbers, feminists, gays, vegans, the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, the Coalition to Stop Police Brutality and - no doubt - a contingent of undercover CIA operatives.
There were at least 11 arrests and a few minor injuries, mainly at an earlier splinter-group march not authorized by the police, to the World Bank headquarters. Smaller demonstrations took place on Saturday in other cities and again in Washington yesterday morning.
As the main body of protesters, about 8,000 of them, marched down Pennsylvania Avenue towards Capitol Hill on Saturday afternoon, they passed a hundred or so counter-demonstrators carrying US flags and banners like "Welcome traitors", "Seek therapy" and "Is it Halloween already?"
The protesters were chanting "War is not the answer! War is not the answer!"
"So tell me what is?" shouted one of their opponents through the line of stout policemen. No answer came.
The march was put together by the New York-based group, Answer (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), which in a former incarnation was involved in the previous plans for the weekend. Before everything changed, Washington police were preparing for 100,000 possible demonstrators whose rallying cry was to be "Surround the White House".
That was not on Saturday's agenda and the permitted route did not allow anyone even a glimpse of the White House.
Some marchers admitted that the scaled-down occasion had been a disappointment. "Within the anti-globalization movement right now there is some uncertainty whether to go passionately with the antiwar protests or to hold back and wait until things die down," said Arianna Martinez, a New York-based activist.
On university campuses, where demonstrations flared into life a week ago, the bandwagon has gone into reverse, partly because the much cooler rhetoric coming from the administration in the past week has eased speculation that President Bush was leading the country into an unfocused global conflict.
Potential demonstrators may also have been put off by the current travel difficulties and - as Larry Holmes, one of Answer's leaders, said - by a mood that equates dissent with disloyalty.
"I think people were scared," said Peter Prows, a politics student from Oberlin College, Ohio.
With the president at Camp David, other politicians out of town for the weekend, most Washingtonians at home and the tourists all missing, there were few people around to respond one way or another.
"Guess what," one passerby shouted. "There's someone coming by with nerve gas right now. Go on, love them."
"We will," said a voice. The taunter walked off with a disgusted shrug.
Whatever happens in this crisis, there will still be a hard core of indomitable peaceniks in the most improbable places. Eighty people from Minneapolis, out in the heartland, hired two coaches for the 25-hour journey to Washington, and were planning to stay for just eight hours before facing the drive home.
"It's worth it," said Ian Thomas, a student at the University of Minnesota. "It's good to be here."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001