Occupy D.C. threw itself a one-year birthday party Monday, and to celebrate, protesters vowed to “storm” K Street — the symbolic heart of the nation’s lobbying industry.
But the day of marches and teach-ins around downtown unfolded with relative calm. About 50 protesters took to the streets waving signs, chanting and singing. They were trailed by a large cadre of D.C. police, in vans, on foot and on Segways, who obligingly shut down streets for them.
As they marched, protesters carried signs in primary colors that said “Shut Down K Street.” They sang “Happy Birthday” to their movement. They unfurled a huge, hand-painted “Occupy D.C.” banner in front of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The temporary street closures caused minor disruptions for drivers.
At the lobbying firm of Cassidy & Associates, workers waved at the marchers from offices two floors up. The protesters shouted: “Jump, jump, jump!”
In the evening, about 30 people congregated in Freedom Plaza with plans of marching to commemorate the anniversary. But a lack of organization, sore feet and a pulse from a DJ turntable delayed the planned march for more than a half-hour. Instead, the group swirled in hula hoops and chatted while the DJ played Prince’s “1999.”
Lacy MacAuley, 33, who lives in Adams Morgan, said she was at Freedom Plaza last October when the movement started. She returned because she’s “still fed up with inequality.”
The small group didn’t dissuade her.
“This is a movement that has a long story with different flashpoints,” she said. “It’s not an entreprenuerial business model.
“Our movement isn’t grow or die.”
Monday’s marches — among a week of events planned by the activist group — had a feeling of a reunion of sorts for the local Occupiers, who first pitched tents in McPherson Square last year on Oct. 1 as part of the Occupy Wall Street fervor then sweeping the country. Another set of protesters, similarly concerned about income inequality, took up residence at Freedom Plaza a week later.
“It’s good to be part of the larger group, see faces you haven’t seen in a long time,” said Todd Waters, 29, a student from College Park.
The camps prompted more than 100 arrests, health concerns and a constitutional debate over the right to free speech on federal land before they were raided by U.S. Park Police on Feb. 4. The Occupiers were ultimately allowed to maintain symbolic “vigil” tents but abandoned both places a few months later.
The national movement’s place in the spotlight has faded, along with public support. A recent Washington Post poll showed that fewer Americans are concerned about issues of economic inequality and the gap between rich and poor, even as it continues to widen.
That’s one reason the local Occupiers say it’s important to continue their activism.
“A march is a show of strength,” said Robby Diesu, 24, of the District, who works at a nonprofit organization. “[Occupy] is not dead, it’s just evolving.”
Locally, the group has continued to work, on a smaller scale, through Occupy Our Homes, which has launched eviction defenses for beleaguered homeowners. Saturday, members of the group papered Bank of America branches with “Foreclosed” signs and police tape to protest what they said are the bank’s unfair lending practices.
For the most part, Monday’s protests were peaceful, and there were no arrests, although a few demonstrators appeared to be trying to agitate police through profanity-laced tirades. Indeed, foul language seemed to be the order of the day — far more than at previous protests.
A Fairfax County woman who brought her three young children to the march shrugged it off.
“It’s pretty standard for a protest,” said Christina McKenna, 27, adding, “It’s nice to be back. It feels like a family reunion.”
She then showed off the newest member of her family, Johnny, 11 weeks old and wearing a T-shirt that said “Occupy Mommy’s Uterus.”
The little guy was conceived in a tent in McPherson Square this time last year, she said.
Maggie Fazeli Fard and Peter Hermann contributed to this report.