Editor’s note: The uneasy occupation

November 27, 2011

Ever since the tents showed up on McPherson Square in Washington, I’ve been trying to get a fix on just what to make of the Occupy D.C. movement.

The protesters were a curiosity at first, then part of the workaday downtown scene, plopped down as they are on a small patch of park bounded by four busy streets.

The occupiers seemed no more disruptive than a street reconstruction project, something to engage with caution or steer around.

In recent weeks, it feels like we entered a new phase. Last Tuesday, a New York contingent from Occupy Wall Street marched into town, as did a group from Virginia.

As cities elsewhere crack down, authorities worried whether more might migrate to D.C. Already there is uneasiness about health and safety inside the camps and out.

One local business leader said he began taking the group seriously after watching some of the YouTube videos from a Nov. 4 protest at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, which showed how quickly events can disintegrate.

A Post account said 500 people had gathered to protest a dinner held by Americans for Prosperity, a conservative free-market group affiliated with the tea party movement. The protesters chanted and beat drums, some heckling guests with a few guests giving back as good as they got.

Police said some of the protesters attempted to shut down the intersection at Seventh and K streets NW and block moving cars. When one driver tried to navigate a gap in the crowd, police said three people moved in front of the vehicle and were hit. Members of the Occupy D.C. media team have disputed the police account, saying tensions escalated when police let the driver of the car — who was not cited — proceed.

It’s impossible not to watch the videos and feel the passion of the moment. At the same time, you got the sense that both sides felt restrained by the ubiquity of cameras, recording every shout and shove.

There likely will be more to come. That’s the nature of life in the nation’s capital these days, and no one is quite sure where we’re headed.

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.
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