As protests go, the one last night outside the venerable Union League was a mild affair, with about three dozen people shouting "Repent!" and "Shame!" After about an hour, it closed with the group singing a verse from "This Land is Your Land."
But what made it noteworthy were the people involved - war veterans, local antiwar activists and a member of President Bush's cabinet - and the location: outside one of the city's most distinctive buildings during a black-tie affair hosted by one of Philadelphia's most exclusive organizations.
The event was the awarding of the Union League's Gold Medal to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at a black-tie ceremony closed to the public.
"I know a soldier who ran through a line of fire in the war and was denied a Bronze Medal," said Gordie Lachance, 25, who added that he served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. "But Rumsfeld is getting an award? I want to know what he did that was so special."
Rumsfeld resigned the day after the Nov. 7 general election, in which the President's party lost control of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.
Celeste Zappala wore a sign around her neck with a picture of her son, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, who was killed in Baghdad in April 2004. Zappala, one of about three-dozen protesters in front of the building, has been a vocal critic of the war. "It makes me ill that the Union League would give Donald Rumsfeld a medal for his disastrous leadership," Zappala said. "The people who deserve a medal are my son and the others who died or were wounded fighting this war."
Meanwhile, women in evening gowns and men in tuxedos navigated their way through the protesters to get inside with hardly an exchange. One man wearing rows of military ribbons on his tuxedo waved at protesters from inside the building. Rumsfeld was not visible from outside.
"This war in Iraq is an illegal war of aggression," said Chad Hetman, 34, a military officer who served on active duty from 1994 to 2002. "Rumsfeld is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis."
Hetman and Lachance both wore Army camouflage jackets and Hetman held a sign that read: "War Criminal Award."
Other protesters held candles and signs advocating peace.
Most passersby avoided making eye contact with the group but a SEPTA bus and cars honked their horns as they passed.
Arriving in tuxedos and gowns to honor departing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld last night, members of the Union League of Philadelphia were greeted by Celeste Zappala holding a sign: "Rumsfeld Betrayed My Son. Betrayed My Country. Gets A Medal... For What!"
Standing among dozens of protesters outside the Union League building on Broad and Sansom streets, the grieving West Mount Airy mom wore a poster with a large photo of her late son and the words: "We Mourn Sgt. Sherwood Baker. Killed in Baghdad. April 26, 2004."
"Rumsfeld is the symbol of the failed policy that has killed 2,888 American soldiers and wounded over 20,000," Zappala said, "and they're giving him a medal for that? This is appalling.
"If they want to give out a gold medal, give it to our soldiers who somehow made it home alive."
When the league gave Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor its Gold Medal in 2004, the event received full press coverage.
But the league kept the Rumsfeld medal cloaked in secrecy until the Daily News broke the story on Thursday, after club member James A. Ounsworth told a reporter that he was "astonished and ashamed" because "Rumsfeld is a failure. I don't think you should give an award for failure."
When asked about the secrecy surrounding the Rumsfeld medal, league spokeswoman Patricia Tobin said, "It's up to the awardee. We always try to respect the wishes of the awardee."
Asked why the league had chosen Rumsfeld to receive the medal, Tobin said, "I'm not going to be sharing that with anyone."
One of the protest's organizers, Sandra L. Cadwalader, whose great-great uncle was a Union League founder in 1862, said, "The invasion of Iraq is probably the greatest foreign-policy disaster in our history, but somehow the Union League has managed to put on a happy face, give a black-tie dinner and celebrate... what exactly?"
Elizabeth Doering, whose grandfather and father were longtime Union League members, held a sign that read, "Rumsfeld Award Demeans Union League."
"The Union League was part of my childhood," she said. "I came here for dinner with my dad a lot. After the Mummers Parade, we would duck in here to get warm.
"My family is traditional Republican, and they are sick about the Union League giving Rumsfeld a medal. It's such a crass gesture. He's been deposed because of what he's done. Why give him a citizenship award?"
Last night, the Daily News received an e-mail from Joan Myerson Shrager, who had planned to hold her 50th Philadelphia High School for Girls class reunion at the Union League, where several former classmates are members.
"We are canceling this event because of the Gold Medal award to Donald Rumsfeld," wrote Shrager.
"I have received e-mails from dozens of classmates saying they will not attend the reunion if we continue with our plans to hold it at the Union League. We will not. Rumsfeld has blood on his hands, the blood of our kids."