“I saw someone peeing in Jermym Street the other day. I thought, is this the end of civilization as we know it? Or is it simply someone peeing in Jermyn Street?” — Alan Bennett
It is a perfectly rotten rainy Wednesday afternoon, and 38 Occupiers are lying in the middle of K Street.
Why are you lying in the middle of K Street?
Because it’s K Street, suggests a bearded man who doesn’t give his name. “This [expletive] is going the wrong way.”
It’s “a theater presentation of civil disobedience,” suggests Olivia, a visiting Occupant from Kansas City. They are here because they have “nowhere else to [expletiving] go.”
Someone else is giving a detailed interview to a reporter on my left about how this all comes back to the passage of the Defense Authorization Act, which is going to create concentration camps for American citizens. (We will have to discuss that one later.)
What is the reason that you are lying in the middle of K Street?
As James Dean says, “What have you got?”
It is wet. There are people intermittently shouting, “You’re sexy! You’re cute! Take off your riot suit!” at the cops. The cops seem unfazed. At one point, someone tweets, some officers put a space blanket from an arrested protester on another protester still lying in the street.
This does not stop some of the protesters from likening them to robots. “We’re talking to robots!” one yells. “They have numbers! Come back to us, 4306! You are not machines! Machine hearts! Machine minds!”
Someone gets so hoarse from yelling that another occupant stops him and urges him to coat his throat with DayQuil.
Meanwhile, in the middle of K Street, the police are slowly peeling the protesters up off the street and loading them into police vans. Everyone cheers. “We love you!” they yell.
It is wet. Everyone seems oddly elated by the fact that they are being arrested. It’s as though there are a series of arrest merit badges to be earned — one for being taken down from the roof of the makeshift shed briefly erected at the McPherson Square encampment, one for being plucked off the asphalt of K Street, one for the Supreme Court, probably, which is next on the docket.
But where’s the point?
On the OccupyDC.org Web site, this event was billed as a “block party on K Street, home of many lobbying firms in DC. The merriment will be similar to that of the parties at which lobbyists and politicians wine and dine each other.”
If this is how the lobbyists and politicians wine and dine each other, maybe we are not giving them enough credit. They like rain and discomfort a lot more than I thought.
Everyone seems to be talking a great deal. But what are they saying? Next to me, someone has been speaking to a reporter nonstop for the past 20 minutes. I overhear “Nazi [expletiving] Germany” once and “McCarthy” another time. I’m sure this will show up in intense detail on multiple news outlets.
“The world is watching,” they chant.
Olivia’s right; it is quite a theatrical scene. But what happened to the plot?
It’s difficult. The very defining verb of the movement has been a problem. Stay put too long, and you cease to be a movement and become a neighborhood. But this sort of movement does little to earn anyone’s sympathy. Protecting rights? Protesting inequality?
Gazing at the people in the street, you couldn’t help feeling it was a movement with too many adjectives and not enough nouns. Unjust! Wrong! Totalitarian! What?
If you want 99 percent of the people to support you, you can’t say anything very definite.
“We are here!” Occupy says. “We are the people in this space at a given time.” But it could be something more. Yesterday, President Obama took a page from the Occupy script, speaking about income inequality and the dwindling middle class. This is a movement with an ideology, with a definite set of complaints, and with better things to do than lie down in the middle of K Street. They’d begun the morning by visiting specific lobbyists. But then it devolved into a simple “K Street Is Wrong And Must Be Stopped,” a free-for-all, Bring Your Own Grievance and Lie In the Street fiesta that did no one any favors and riled commuters.
There comes that moment when there are people lying in the middle of K Street, and you ask yourself, “Is this a massive popular movement that is surging up to change the way we do things in our society, or is it simply a bunch of people lying in the middle of K street?”
Right now, it’s the latter. And it’s all wet.