Occupy squalor: The ultimate test for helicopter parents


Weeks after he ended his hunger strike at his parents’ urging, Sam Jewler plays Red Rover with fellow Occupy D.C. campers. (Bill O'Leary/WASHINGTON POST)
Petula Dvorak
Columnist January 12, 2012

Occuparenting isn’t easy.

Your precious children? The ones who had violin lessons, SAT tutors, and years of orthodontia and organic lunches?

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

They are now sleeping under tarps, in the mud, rain and frigid weather, in an encampment that is home to a growing urban rat infestation. And their new neighbors are a sizable portion of the nation’s hard-core homeless population.

Things have gotten so grody down there that D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, who was arrested last spring during a demonstration, has called on the National Park Service to remove the protesters from McPherson Square. Next week, hordes of them plan to Occupy Congress, which could spark confrontations with the U.S. Capitol Police and lead to arrests.

They eat donated or trash-can-scavenged food — peanut butter, bread and doughnuts (sorry, Hostess, no Twinkies) were lunch the other day — or they may even go on a hunger strike.

Take that, helicopter parents.

These are the mothers and fathers who demanded laws for bike helmets and car seats and warning labels on every plastic bag and bucket in the universe. They had the home number of every teacher from preschool to college. And they’ve even been known to call up their grown kids’ new bosses after Junior didn’t get a promotion.

But what happens when these highly groomed offspring go off and join the hundreds living in the Occupy movements camps? To whom do you file a complaint? Who gets the irate phone call?

“She still keeps asking me to come home. I get the calls. And the texts. Every day,” answered one 18-year-old Occupier in McPherson Square.

The camps are full of a wide range of ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, sure. But the movement’s biggest population and primary strategists are the 20something millennials forever burdened with their parents’ insistence on participation trophies for every team member.

So now the Occuparents find themselves struggling with whether to support their child’s participation in a sweeping, political protest movement and the fact that their cul-de-sac kids are living in total squalor.

Sam Jewler, one of the four protesters who staged a dramatic hunger strike in the name of D.C. voting rights , fasted for 11 days — until his parents nagged him into eating.

His dad, Chevy Chase resident Leonard Jewler, was featured in a Marc Fisher blog post years ago when he tried to answer parental school angst with a data analysis on whether kids from D.C. public schools ascend to the same caliber of colleges as kids who went to private schools.

After enough carping from the ’rents, young Jewler broke his fast last month with a glass of coconut juice and a bowl of miso broth.

“My parents were becoming increasingly distressed,” Jewler told The Washington Post’s Tim Craig. “I didn’t feel like it was fair anymore to put that burden on them.”

Eat. EAT !

On Wednesday, the protesters had a chance to do some of that nurturing themselves when they found a baby wearing just a onesie and mittens in one of the tents and called authorities. The father was arrested, and the baby was handed over to the city’s Child Protective Services. Not exactly a helicopter dad, right?

Sure, there are some protesters whose parents are closing the door on them over their participation in the movement: One said his folks made it clear that he doesn’t have a home to come back to. Or there are guys like Chris, 18, who left his home in Maine “pretty much because of my dad.”

But for the most part, Occuparents aren’t philosophically opposed to protesting. It’s not the pearl-clutching that the hippies’ parents did in the 1960s.

But it’s just so . . . ick out there.

“My mom thinks I’m insane. She keeps hoping I’ll wake up someday. She’s the one who needs to wake up!” said Rooj Alwazir, 23, who grew up in the Tysons Corner area and has to explain the Occupy movement almost daily to her 63-year-old mother.

The other day, she posted online that she was about to go “Dumpster Diving for Occupy D.C.!”

Her sister shot back, asking her why she had to go Dumpster diving when she has a home and food and family so close by.

“They just don’t get it,” said Alwazir, who was laid off from a marketing job and hasn’t been able to find work.

Alwazir’s 71-year-old father, a historian and poet, is down with the cause, she said. But he largely stays away from the tent city his daughter now calls home.

Annie Storr, however, has taken a full-immersion approach.

I met her the night police encircled the McPherson Square camp last month and tore down a barn protesters had built. She was running along the line of the police barricade, trying to keep tabs on her son, Eli, and the other protesters being cuffed.

“Eli has been arrested!” announced Storr, who stood out in the crowd like an L.L. Bean model at an Amsterdam body-piercing convention.

At that point, her 20-year-old son had been at McPherson Square for just over two months. And she had visited him at least 45 days during that time. She’d volunteered in the camp kitchen. And she’d spent one night in the camps. “Just one,” she explained, grabbing her back.

Logistically, the visits were easy, since she works just a few blocks away at the Corcoran College of Art + Design. Extreme helicopter parenting? Maybe.

But Storr is also a Quaker, so peaceful protest jibes with her beliefs. And she immersed herself in the protests after getting to know the folks there and deciding that most of them are righteous.

Yes, she is proud of her son, she told me. But, no, it’s not easy to see your kid live in a tent and even harder to see him hauled off to jail.

She walked over to the police officers to tell them that her son had been arrested and “Hi, I’m Annie” and just thank them — ahead of time — for treating the arrestees well.

All she got was a stone face from the cops. Deadpan.

That’s okay. Any parent is used to that face, right?

More from PostLocal:

Mayor Gray wants to move Occupy demonstrators to clean up McPherson Square

A disaster to remember: 30 years after the Air Florida Flight 90 crash

Man accused of leaving baby in tent is released

Two men arrested in Greenbelt rape

Fairfax schools look for 9% budget hike

What to do: Best events this weekend

For Petula Dvorak’s previous columns, go to postlocal.com.

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