WASHINGTON — Hockey people talk about the resiliency of the Golden Knights and Washington Capitals, finalists in a fierce battle for the Stanley Cup.
They have nothing on Philipos Melaku-Bello, and it’s not even close.
Melaku-Bello is the White House Protest Guy. You’ll find him just beyond the front gate at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, where he spends part of every day hunkered down under a small green tarpaulin hut surrounded by posters and placards such as “Free Tibet,” “Wanted: Wisdom & Honesty” and “War Is Not The Answer.”
He has been hunkered there 125 hours a week for 37 years.
Since Ronald Reagan was president.
In hockey terms, he was part of a forward line of peaceful protesters that included his godfather, William Thomas, and Concepcion Picciotto. Thomas died in 2009; Picciotto in 2016. Melaku-Bello is the only remaining member of the original White House Peace Vigil, the First Amendment’s answer to the Detroit Red Wings’ Production Line of the 1950s.
“The three things on the mission statement are world peace, anti-nuclear and atomic industry and power facilities, and human rights violations,” Melaku-Bello says just before midnight amid rain puddles after a heavy District of Columbia thunderstorm.
“You feel like you’re making progress?” asks a hockey reporter.
“Yeah — 11,225 nuclear warheads disarmed, four nuclear power plants closed.”
Melaku-Bello wears Rasta-style dreadlocks tucked into a tuque. He has a friendly face and demeanor. He doesn’t get asked about hockey a lot, perhaps because the Capitals, who play down the street, have appeared in the Stanley Cup Final only once since he has been maintaining peaceful vigil outside the White House.
He says he really hasn’t followed hockey since Wayne Gretzky skated for his hometown Los Angeles Kings. But he seems to be more socially aware of the Capitals than he lets on.
“I’m gonna say this: Ovechkin, the one thing he’s missing to be considered the greatest Russian player who played in the NHL, is the Stanley Cup. There will be a lot of drunks who will come here,” Melaku-Bello says about anarchy in the streets should Washington beat Vegas.
“People who never talk to me about hockey, now they’ve got Caps’ caps, jerseys, sweatbands, backpacks. Every single thing, Caps. Where I go shopping at Trader Joe’s, you probably only see about five people in the whole store who are not wearing Caps’ stuff.”
He apologizes again for knowing little about hockey. Fists are bumped. Power to the people. Right on. A couple of dollars are put into a kitty to free somebody, or something, being hassled by The Man.
“If we go to basketball, I’ll give you the statistics on the top stars per season,” Melaku-Bello says, trying to be helpful.
“You mean Michael Adams and Tom Gugliota?” he is asked of the old Washington Bullets’ stars.
“No — all the way probably to (George) Mikan.”
Few passers-by remain on a humid Thursday night. All Philipos Melaku-Bello seems to be asking is to give peace a chance, and for somebody to get a hand in the face of No. 99 on the old Minneapolis Lakers.
If there was oppression to be found in the nation’s capital on this particular evening, most of it was being administered outside the entrance to a certain Georgetown hotel where a certain team of Stanley Cup finalists from Las Vegas was trying to get a little shut-eye.
A throng of loyalists wearing Golden Knights jerseys had gathered hoping to collect autographs. Well, more like four or five, to be truthful about it. It wasn’t exactly like when the Beatles played the Washington Coliseum in February 1964, and thousands of screaming teenage girls gathered outside the Omni Shoreham Hotel hoping to catch a glimpse of the mop tops from Liverpool.
“Move along now,” admonished a security guard,” adding that John, Paul, George, Ringo and Marc-Andre had left the building, or were in a team meeting.
There’s an exhibit honoring astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, at the National Air and Space Museum that shows her wooden tennis racket and the Stanford University seal and says she “briefly considered a career in professional tennis.”
I briefly considered a career as shortstop for the Chicago Cubs, so Sally Ride and I had a lot in common — unless you count the part about her having a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford, and that she flew twice on the Orbiter Challenger while I once got on the wrong airplane in Albuquerque.