It’s lunchtime in McPherson Square in downtown Washington, and a young couple who met at the ongoing Occupy D.C. protests are cuddling on an air mattress and talking about corporate greed.
Kathy Elliso, 22, and Steve Hartwell, 23, have started dating, so to speak, in the 10 days since the Occupy D.C. demonstrators set up their tents and their “Tax the rich” placards in this park along the lawyer-and-lobbyist-dense K Street corridor. They are joining protests that have spread to cities around the country since the Occupy Wall Street movement began last month in New York.
(Marvin Joseph/WASHINGTON POST) - WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 10 Andrew Stone rests in a make shift squatter camp in the McPherson Square Park in Washington, D.C. on October 10, 2011. The Occupy Wall Street protests have spread from here to hundreds of cities and towns, including Washington, D.C. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
The protests against Wall Street aren't going away soon. New York's mayor says the demonstrators can stay where they are, and protesters in Washington said their permit had been granted a four-month extension to camp out near the White House. (Oct. 11)
She liked how the underemployed construction worker who builds pools described America as “broken.” He respected how the petite protester with braided sandy hair still spends time here even though she has to commute to Whole Foods in Reston, where she works in the prepared-foods section.
The park they occupy has a corner piled with blankets labeled “comfort station.” The grassy space is scattered with guitars sporting “All my heroes have FBI files” stickers; skateboards, footballs and towels are imprinted with the American flag. Along the periphery of the square are posters that say, “The Revolution will not be Privatized,” “Give me Liberty or at least a Job. (I’d prefer both.)” and “Arab Spring? How about an American Autumn?” Some young people have symbolically hung their résumés along the park’s black metal fence.
“Mostly I just like how we have created a community here for all of the isolated, unemployed youth in America,” says Hartwell, who resembles an unwashed James Dean with eyebrow piercings.
Hartwell, who is from Richmond, says word is getting out online, and he predicts that more unemployed young people will join the occupation, which is still tiny compared with Manhattan’s.
Behind the young couple is a row of food stations with giant jars of peanut butter and jelly. There’s a jumbo family pack of Sun Chips from Costco and dozens of cardboard coffee boxes from Corner Bakery and Starbucks, along with a supersize bag of Cheerios and trays of sandwiches from Cosi donated by an anonymous benefactor.
The scene feels a little bit like a Grateful Dead concert — if the show were sponsored by Frito-Lay. There’s also a composting station and a blackboard with a schedule of the day’s events: “March/Dance Party to US Trade Reps and The Mall, 4 p.m.” The homeless who usually occupy the park sit on benches nearby. They say not much has changed, but now they get slightly better food.
While the Rev. Al Sharpton and rapper Kanye West have visited the protesters on Wall Street, Washington’s occupiers are rallied Wednesday afternoon by a guest appearance from consumer activist Ralph Nader. Wearing a rumpled suit, he shakes hands and talks economic injustice with the protesters.
“It’s amazing how inspirational the Arab Spring has been for our country,” he says as young people emerge from their rain-soaked tents on an otherwise low-energy afternoon. “We need an American Autumn. There are 25 million Americans who are unemployed. The U.S. government is spending money on wars while we don’t have money to pay our mortgages and student loans. The Occupy movement is the beginning of something that can turn this around.”