ON ELECTION NIGHT, many of Washington, D.C.'s disaffected peace activists and self-styled illuminatis gathered to watch the Democratic takeover of the House in their place of refuge, "Busboys and Poets," a restaurant and bookstore for lefties and greens. According to a window sign, it offers "food, books, film, coffee, stage, internet, bar," and, as I discovered, plenty of Cindy Sheehan sightings. Initially, I thought she was an apparition: As she passed, patrons went about eating, drinking, chatting, or jamming to their iPods as they typed on laptops, unaware of her presence.
But the lady in black was indeed Sheehan, the queen bee of the peace movement herself. She was sitting at the big table in front of an enormous television screen that brought CNN and CBS, Blitzer and Couric, to the crowd in the "Langston Hughes" room, its walls adorned with quotations from Margaret Meade and Gandhi. Like heavenly hosts, the fawning activists circled the dear leader, who was mobbed with hugs every time a Democratic gain was announced. For a liberal, this was a prime spot to watch what many patrons--some hipply-attired, others sporting tie-dye and "Impeach Bush" t-shirts--were calling their equivalent of the Super Bowl--as good a sign as any that these folks are not-your-average Americans.
For me, this was purgatory. There were unsubstantiated rumors going around that some conservatives were going to crash the place, but they kept away, allowing the regulars their moment, and depriving me of close-air support until a few (center-left-leaning) friends arrived as back-up. Meanwhile, I stopped by the bookstore portion, sort of a Christian Science reading room for peaceniks, where I browsed through such tomes as Mindful Politics: A Buddhist Guide to Making the World a Better Place; Chomsky on Miseducation; the Sheehan classic, Dear President Bush; and, naturally, Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush.
Over the past couple years, the anti-Bush crowd has gathered at Busboys and Poets to gripe about the president, "his illegal war," and the Republicans who back his designs--so election night was a rich moment for them. And though many expressed to me their displeasure with the Democrats, the lines of battle were drawn and one was either with the Republicans or against them. The Busboys and Poets patrons were decidedly against them, and sided with the blue-staters--Joe Lieberman being a notable exception. The news of his victory was met with the loudest boos of the night.
Then, as the results rolled in, a man with a microphone gave the news. "In Indiana's Second District, Democrat Tom Donnelly, 54; Republican Chris "Choke-a-la," [aka Chocola] 46." The masses cheered, but they grew nervous when an update came in from Virginia. The announcement of "George Allen, 50; Jim Webb, 49," premature data of course, was met with muffled hisses and a collective groan--not of anger, but frustration and worry. Some folks by the bar huddled, their arms around each other, like teammates clasping their hands on the bench during a critical free throw. But there was still plenty of time left in the game, and soon the crowd began to relax as the Democrats inched closer toward victory.
"I have some important news," said the announcer early in the night. All grew quiet and anxiously nodded their heads, the bottled-up excitement waiting to burst out. "It looks like . . . Adrian Fenty will eke out a victory in Washington!" he shouted, referring to D.C.'s new Democratic mayor, who of course had not an iota of competition from the GOP.
After some more Democratic pickups, a young woman came up to me overjoyed. "Do you want to sign this petition to support peace?"
"How could anyone not support peace? I mean who doesn't want peace?" I asked her.
"Yeah, can you believe that? Look, Cindy Sheehan is here!"
"Oh, wow. This is the place to be."
"So, I was voting in Virginia today, and I have to say, I was disgusted by the anti-gay marriage initiative. I mean, what is wrong with a man marrying a man or a woman marrying a woman?"
Looking at my empty glass, I said, "I really should get a re-fill. Great talking to you!"
When the golden moment of takeover arrived, a wave of shouts began. A lady wearing a reflector jersey adorned with peace slogans approached me and asked, "What happened? Did we win?"
Forgetting where I was for a moment, I said, "no," then quickly recovered, saying, with exaggerated glee, "Yeah, the Dems just took the House!" She hugged me as I cringed, wishing to die. As soon as I could, I made for the bar. As I moved away, I heard a growing chorus of "na na na na, hey, hey, goodbye." It started with several folks and soon spread through the restaurant.
Soon thereafter, Sheehan peaced out, but not before I could catch up with her. Amazingly, she recognized me from a sidewalk discussion we had some months ago when she came to the District to begin her "Code Pink: Women's Pre-emptive Strike for Peace" initiative. Seemingly in a haze of glee, she recalled our "little debate" about the logic of her accusations that "President Bush lied us into war," and cordially expressed her great pleasure at the Democratic win.
But the place was closing, so there was no more time for debate or revelry. The Senate results were still unclear. But Sheehan and the poet-activists and activist-poets didn't seem to care much (the busboys, kitchen staff, and my friendly waitress seemed neutral)--no, Pelosi & co. had kicked the GOP out of the House of Representatives, and that was cause enough to celebrate. Just a fly on the wall, not wanting to spoil their moment of euphoria, I quietly ducked out, much relieved to depart in search of my own place of refuge after my team's clear defeat.
Joseph Lindsley is an editorial assistant at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.