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DC Vote Public Affairs Director Eugene Kinlow, whose group was scheduled for a midafternoon speaking slot, said the platform’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind location was disappointing.

“We want our message to get out as broadly as possible,” said Mr. Kinlow, whose group advocates for Washington, D.C., statehood. “But while this does curtail our effort, we still want to take advantage of the opportunity — “

Mr. Kinlow paused to yelp and slap his leg. He was standing on an anthill.

Cursing briefly, he said, “I was wondering why my leg was burning.”

At an adjacent intersection, an anti-war march was halted by a large group of police, who ringed protesters chanting, “We demand to use our First Amendment!”

The irony of the scene wasn’t lost on Democratic delegate David Ratcliff.

“I think the police presence is warranted because they have to keep things safe,” said Mr. Ratcliff, 43, a resident of Owasso, Okla. “But I don’t believe you should have a designated free-speech zone. The entire country should be a free-speech zone.”

As Mr. Widdows delivered his speech — winding, impassioned, directed at the trash bins — a local volunteer sat behind a nearby card table.

He was asked if he expected anyone else to show up.

“We have speakers lined up all day long,” the volunteer said. “Are you talking about people coming to watch the speakers?”

Yes.

The volunteer looked up from the table, topped by an unused bullhorn.

“Who knows?” he said.