WASHINGTON – The downpour of rain didn’t bother protesters preparing to march on Washington – they planned to get soaked anyway.
As they filled their water guns from an 800-pound water tank in the back of an SUV, the rain ceded and the U.S. and “Don’t tread on me” flags were taken out.
On Wednesday morning, 14 protesters walked from Arlington National Cemetery to the Washington Monument in support of the Second Amendment and Toys for Tots. They raised more than $1,200 for the charity and donated several toys.
“We’re out here exercising our First Amendment rights in support of the Second Amendment,” march organizer Austin Peterson, 32, a video and photo production company owner from Alexandria, Va., said.
The water-gun march was just one of a number of events planned for the Nation’s Capital as part of the Independence Day week. And, like the U.S. Park Police who accompanied the water-gun group, other city agencies say they are ready for crowds that will likely reach 500,000 on Thursday for the Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife Festival, parades, concerts and a dazzling fireworks show.
The Metropolitan Police said its years of experience planning for large events have prepared the force.
“We are one of the unique agencies that have that luxury that have done it over and over,” Officer Araz Alali, police spokesman, said. “We prepare for all large-scale events. We are one of the few agencies that are always there.”
Water-gun marchers carried flags and various types of water guns as they crossed the Arlington Memorial Bridge. The protest had all of the proper permits, Peterson said.
Some of the marchers hadn’t planned to attend but found themselves swept up in the group.
Howard Lichtman, 43, and his two sons Rand, 11, and Jaxon, 9, of Ashburn, Va., were at Arlington National Cemetery and decided to join when they saw the group wielding toy guns.
“We came for another protest so I could teach my kids about war, and that one didn’t happen,” said Lichtman, the founder of a media and communications firm. “Everybody loves a parade.”
“Especially when there are water guns,” Jaxon added.
The event Wednesday was originally put together in response to an armed, open-carry march scheduled to take the same route on July Fourth. Organizers cancelled the Thursday event, but speculation remains about whether people will show up with loaded guns.
“We thought that was a really bad idea,” Peterson said. “Not only are we raising awareness about the Second Amendment, we’re also trying to call attention to a growing anti-gun mentality.”
With dozens of events through the holiday week, the city’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency is “ready to assist in response efforts if necessary,” Robyn Johnson, public information officer for the agency, said.
“We are going to activate our emergency response center and help monitor the event. We’re on hand and ready in case anything happens. That’s our job,” Johnson said.
And with a hot, sunny day predicted, the main thing for people to be worried about as they celebrate is to remember to stay hydrated, Officer Shennell Antrobus of the U.S. Capitol Police said.