Occupy D.C. has a plan: To stay in the public’s face

Courtland Milloy
Columnist January 17, 2012

Located on what is internationally known as the boulevard of the Washington lobbyist, the Occupy D.C. campsite on K Street sticks out like a sore thumb. And, as the protesters would like to think, a dirt-stained middle finger to those who’d dare try to make them leave.

“We’re the tent people’s lobby,” a young protester at the McPherson Square site said recently. “We represent people who live in tents that you don’t see.”

He was seated at a table inside the information tent, which provides maps of the city and fliers about upcoming events — such as the Occupy Congress protest that was held Tuesday.

Asked what a tent lobby does, he replied: “We keep the tents in your face.”

When D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) recently asked the National Park Service to remove the protesters, citing health hazards caused by a rat infestation, the group released a statement warning that taking action would be “more dangerous than the problems it would purportedly solve.”


A battered U.S. Park Service sign sits among Occupy DC protestors tents in McPherson Square Park in Washington, Friday, Jan. 13, 2012. Washington Mayor Vincent Gray has called on the National Park Service to remove Occupy D.C. protesters from McPherson Square, citing rat infestation and other health issues. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) (Cliff Owen/AP)

In your face.

The young protesters had vowed not to go quietly from the park — just as they would not be going without fuss into the nightmarish future that was being forced upon them.

Global warming deniers, people callous to the consequences of poverty. Wars waged based on lies, millions of innocents killed. Deficits as far as the eye can see, due in large part to tax schemes favoring the rich.

Long after those responsible were dead and gone, chickens would be coming home to roost.

And to think that most of them had been born into a nation of prosperity, with low unemployment and a budget surplus, a nation relatively at peace. Now, barely into their 20s, the world had been turned upside down.

Because of greed.

“We are trying to create a community where love is valued more than money,” one of the demonstrators said. “We’re not sure how, but we’re trying.”

Mostly through serendipity and bursts of spontaneity, a community of sorts had emerged. Over the weekend, 70 or so protesters looked after the camp, which included a Comfort Station tent that distributed winter clothes, an Occu-Tea tent that dispensed water and teas, and a Radical Space tent for teach-ins about economics, politics and training in conflict resolution.

One evening not long ago, after a teach-in on homelessness, someone got an idea to erect a two story barnlike structure in the park. They built it within hours. It was an impressive piece of work, too, sturdy enough to pass a safety inspection in some places. Although the Park Service took it down, the point had been made.

“If we can build a house that fast, why are homeless people living in tents in the woods?” the Occupier at the information tent asked.

As has been pointed out often, the movement has no leaders or spokesmen. Everyone is free to do his or her own thing, although that thing turns out to be pretty much the same.

“We’re heading to the Federal Reserve,” a protester announced. He explained that the Fed had assured the nation that there was no housing bubble and many who knew better were too timid to sound the alarm.

“When the bubble burst, the rich got richer, and the poor got poorer,” the protester said.

Somebody had to get in the Fed’s face about that.

“Some of us are heading up to Martha’s Table and volunteer to serve the homeless,” another protester said. “If any food is left over, we’ll bring it back to the park.”

What about the rat infestation?

“Georgetown has bigger rats, and nobody is trying to move residents out of there,” she said.

A few weeks ago, protesters began discussing news reports about “bundles” of Wall Street money being spent by K Street lobbyists to influence the outcome of the presidential race.

Incensed, protesters tried to form a human chain across K street, blocking traffic and triggering one of several scuffles with police.

“K Street might be able to buy a president, but we can shut K Street down,” a protester said.

Meanwhile, the campsite stays. In your face.

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