By Megan Rosenfeld
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 6, 1991 ; Page C01

Sorry, Mr. President: They're still at it.

At his press conference yesterday, President Bush said the peace drummers on Lafayette Square across the street from the White House -- "incessant drummers," he called them -- had been "moved out of there" after patrons of the high-priced Hay-Adams Hotel had complained about the noise. "The drums have ceased, oddly enough," he said.

Just as Bush was speaking, alert reporters could hear a muffled thumping from not too far away. The drummers were drumming again.

"Karma," said one of them, Sandra Kroger, to explain the serendipitous (to them) timing.

Summoning memories of other presidents who have looked unhappily at anti-war demonstrators in the park, Bush has mentioned the drummers several times since a changing cast of characters started the vigil Dec. 13. At one point he even said "those damned drums" were keeping him from sleep, a claim he denied yesterday. "There was a slight hyperbole there because the drums could only be heard from one side of the White House," he said. " ... I am sleeping quite well, as a matter of fact."

Nothing could make the protesters happier than knowing they have entered Bush's consciousness. Nothing except an end to the Persian Gulf War. That is why they are there, they say, and that is where they'll stay, despite 74 arrests so far for disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct. One man, William Thomas, was arrested twice in one night, his wife, Ellen, said yesterday. A park regular since 1984, Ellen Thomas said signs that had been deemed acceptable by the U.S. Park Police since then had recently been confiscated, leaving one 4-by-4-foot painting on plywood that shows a white dove against a purple background and the words "God Is Love" and "Love Heals."

As she talked, Thomas beat a drumstick wrapped with silver tape against a shallow white drum, one that had been left behind by Native Americans from the Ojibwa tribe who started the protest with a tribal ceremony that concluded with drumming. When they left, others took up the drumming, on pots, old hubcaps, plastic buckets and real drums, picking up a slow, steady rhythm and trying to keep the sound below the regulation 60 decibels. The Park Police come by regularly to measure the sound, but several demonstrators said that in the past few days people have been arrested even when the sound was low.

"That's not true," said Capt. Hugh Irwin, who is in charge of the Lafayette Square patrol. "No one would have been arrested if it was below 60 decibels." Irwin said he had complaints from the hotel and offices around the park, which prompted the crackdown. Signs like Thomas's were removed because they had grown since they were originally approved, Irwin said, as had the scope of the demonstration.

Bush had evidently been briefed on the regulations because he mentioned the 60-decibel limit. "And lo, people went forth with decibel count auditors. And they found the man got up to -- this drummer, incessant drummers, got over 60, and they were moved out of there, and I hope they stay out of there because I don't want the people in the hotel to not have a good night's sleep," he said.

"This was a spontaneous outpouring," said Thomas as she thumped away. Next to her sat 23-year-old David Mericle, from Harrisonburg, Va., who was hitting a battered hubcap with "Thou Shalt Not Kill" lettered on it. "This is our voice, the people's voice, the mother's heartbeat," Thomas continued.

Nearby was June Yasuda, 42, a Buddhist with a shaved head and round wire glasses who sat on a bright blue square of blanket. In front of her was a small purple cloth underneath a tiny statue of Buddha. On the blanket a wristwatch was laid out neatly. Yasuda struck an Oriental drum that looked a bit like a hard round fan, chanting as she hit the circle with a stick. She is there every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., she said. "It is the tradition," she said. Where is she from?

"Everywhere," she said.

A jovial man named Tony, wearing a blue shirt and white shorts and barefoot in the springlike weather, shouted somewhat incomprehensibly through a cardboard megaphone. He paused later to offer a reporter a foreign cigarette. Meanwhile, a man who identified himself as E.L. of Washington pounded a bass drum that belonged to Kodiak Easterwood of Louisa, Va., who was taking a break.

There was a stroller with a baby sleeping in it, under a sign that said "We Want Peace." Another sign rested on an IGA EcoSac grocery bag. There was a man in a multicolored knit cap hitting a copper-bottomed saucepan. Other demonstrators said there have been as many as 100 drummers banging at one time, a great sound, they said.

"One reason {to do it} is that it bugs the president," said 18-year-old Jonathan Stang, who had taken the day off from Woodrow Wilson High School to protest -- with his government teacher's permission, he said. "I have to write a paper about what I learn," he said. "The drumming is also unifying; instead of listening to rhetoric, it's a rhythm, a harmony of life, sort of going with the trees and with what's really there."

"It's like the heartbeat of every troop in Saudi Arabia," said E.L. "When I first came down here I did it {drumming} for five days straight with no sleep. I had a lot of anger to get off my chest. Now it's a more peaceful sound."

Staff writer Ann Devroy contributed to this report.