Inspired by the “Occupy Wall Street” protests in New York City, protesters gathered at Freedom Plaza in Washington to “Occupy DC” on Thursday October 6. View our slideshow from that protest by clicking on the photo icons below. (All photos by Jeff Malet).
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Lots of people saw the beginnings of a revolution last week at Freedom Plaza Oct. 6 where well over 2,000 protesters gathered to oppose corporate greed, banks, Wall Street, untaxed millionaires and the American wars in the Middle East, especially Afghanistan, which marked its tenth year last week.
On Thursday, rock bands and rappers sang, and hundreds upon hundreds of signs sprang up, including the demonstration’s theme of “Human Need, Not Corporate Greed.” Many of the signs were freshly painted on site.
The protesters came from all over the country—red-skinned, square jawed Teamsters from Philadelphia, out-of-work-teachers and public employees from Wisconsin, a beaming veteran of the 1960s demonstrations, small business owners “just barely getting by,” artists and writers, veterans of our wars in Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan. They were young, they were in their 70s, they were intellectuals, academics, hard hats and hard workers out of work. The sunny day helped the spirit of the occasion which was, while fueled by anger and angry slogans, friendly and welcoming. It was the kind of atmosphere that belied the simmering economic desperation of the times and the causes.
I saw one man throughout the day, holding up a baldly-stated sign reading “I just lost my job.” He was thin, he had a thin beard and his arms would carry the sign straight up, two pieces of wood with a white banner.
Alan Risinger, a small business owner with five employees, came from West Virginia with his four-year old blonde son Baraka. “I wanted him to see this,” he said. “It’s important. We’re barely getting by. We have a house cleaning business, and I pay my people just above minimum wage. That’s all we can do, and we can barely do that. It’s scary. When you see millionaires barely paying taxes, it just gets to you. We gotta do something.”
His son was holding up a sign: “I know How to Share.”
“He likes that one,” Risinger said.
Some signs were more prevalent than others. The aforementioned “Human Needs, Not Corporate Greed” and a huge sign modeled after the Declaration of Independence seemed to be the protest’s signifier, “We the Corporations.”
Dick Gregory, the legendary Civil Rights activist and one-time stand-up comedian was there, looking as he has of late like a biblical prophet.
If the “Occupy Wall Street” rallies, which are still going on, seem directly focused on the economy, the “Occupy DC” rally is more of a hodge-podge, somewhere between pungent economic protest and an anti-war rally, along with other concerns. It was altogether human without some of the dramatics—zombies on Wall Street!—and street theater of the other rallies. And it was one of many—“Let’s Have an American Spring,” one sign read, and indeed rallies had spread all over the country, referencing of course the demonstrations and revolutions which were threatening to topple numerous Middle Eastern regimes.
Republican congressman Eric Cantor called the demonstrators “mobs” but other politicians had praise for the spirit of the rallies, or stayed criticism. As many pundits pointed out, these rallies might have staying power, and besides, didn’t the Tea Party start this way?
The signs told a rich, diverse story, which may be the biggest virtue and problem with the movement(s), which so far have failed to coalesce around any leaders or single umbrella. “I will believe that corporations are people when Texas (or Georgia) executes one,” one sign read. Others ran a chaotic gamut: “Welfare not Warfare,” “Support our Troops, Bring Them Home,” “We see Something So We are Saying Something,” “We are the Rebel Alliance,” “We Need Jobs,” “Confess Your Sins,” “We are the 99%.”
During a sit-in, a blonde woman smiled beatifically and made the peace sign. “Berkeley, ‘68” she said. “I remember the tear gas.”
The marchers got organized mid-afternoon and went down 14th Street to the White House, stopped and loitered, more or less, briefly flashing signs and saying hello to Concepcion Picciotto, who has been holding her lone demonstration against war and war-makers since 1981. Today, she had a stack of free copies of an anti-George Bush tome to hand out.
One woman flashed a bitter sign: “Another single mother facing foreclosure.” A man from Wisconsin, here to help his son in Virginia with his business, said he had retired from a government job in Wisconsin. “You can’t believe what it was like there, cops, teachers public employees getting fired,” he said. “I’m trying to substitute teach, but there’s so many out-of-work teachers that it’s hard.”
The demonstrators massed and moved to the Chamber of Commerce building where a huge JOBS sign was in evidence, which must have seemed brashly ironic to the protesters. They brought their own jobs signs. They blocked the entrance to the building doors, made speeches and marched on down back to McPherson Square where the “Occupy DC” group was camped.
On Saturday, they were still there with tents, sleeping bags, some of them marching off to special focus demonstrations elsewhere. One group was gifted with a slew of Parliament cigarettes.
“God Bless you,” one marcher said. “Them’s classy cigs. Parliament, don’t you know.”
There was a man who had also come from West Virginia. He ran a green “Panhandle Horticulture” business in Martinsburg and had brought the sweet-tempered pit pull Hazel with him. “Exactly so,” he said. “It’s about time. Let’s hope we can get it together.”
On Sunday, protesters went to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and caused it to close after trying to get in with signs and banners opposing the use of drone missiles. Museum guards sprayed them with pepper spray.
For the most part, though, the peace signs prevailed. Even now, you can still hear the drums, the bells, the chants and the hum of people marching.