Occupy DC needs to think about how it will function without a camp at McPherson Park. Of course, there hasn’t been a camp in the same way since February 4 when police conducted a “compliance inspection” and tore down two-thirds if not more of the tents–and began enforcing the no-camping policy in earnest. This was essentially an eviction, even if it didn’t follow the narrative of Occupation evictions in other cities. Freedom Plaza followed the next day with a quieter raid and tear-down.
Since then the camp and consequently Occupy DC have evolved. Tents which sheltered a bonded community of both activists and homeless then became a symbolic “vigil protest” where no one could sleep. Even as many Occupiers scrambled to find housing–and all mourned the loss of the round-the-clock community so many had invested their hearts and souls into building–inevitable questions of “What’s next for Occupy?” arose. The media concluded that it was hunkered down for the winter and would re-emerge in the spring. This wasn’t really accurate. Direct actions–usually “targeted occupations”–continued without much interruption. Internal conflicts were and are a constant drag on energy and enthusiasm–and have driven some people away–but Occupy DC was never in danger of dying. It might have gasped, but it never choked.
Several initiatives have been undertaken: Occupy Our Homes, Occupy Faith, a conference on corporate personhood and campaign finance, a week of Earth Day activity, loads of working groups tackling issues such as criminal justice and budget autonomy/statehood for the District. Occupy DC has taken part in nationwide actions like Shutdown the Corporations targeting ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. And Occupy DC isn’t the only Occupy game in town–Occupy Education is spear-headed by American University students, and groups of students at other local universities like George Mason and Georgetown have an Occupy-related focus.
Direct actions and targeted occupations in the last few months have continued at a furious pace. Bank of America is the object of the Sleepful Protest, with protestors tucked in nearly every night at one branch or another around town. Protests and marches have been non-stop (sometimes coordinated with other groups)–at Monsanto, BP, the World Bank and IMF, the Department of Justice, and Freddie Mac, just to name a (very) few.
Occupy DC bustled during the American Spring, and it culminated in May Day–locally, a joint venture with unions to celebrate a workers’ holiday and bring labor issues to the forefront. A few hundred people gathered at Malcolm X Park and marched to the White House. That’s good numbers for Occupy in the District these days. But in comparison with other major Occupy hubs like New York, Oakland and Chicago where thousands took to the streets, it was a paltry turnout.
Occupy DC took a further step in evolution when Freedom Plaza decided to dismantle and merge with McPherson. And recently there was a serious encroachment on space at the park when the Park Service decided to plant grass and put in flower beds. With its greatly reduced number of tents, McPherson has provided some shelter from the elements (but not housing) and visibility for the movement in the heart of the lobbying district. It’s been a meeting place, a place to hang out, and a hub for information. It may be less of an information provider in the future since Park Police demolished the information tent, and there’s no plan to replace it. Coincidentally, Occupy DC finally realized its plan to get office space. The Occupy Resource Center (housed at the Institute for Policy Studies on 16th and L Streets), however, has a different function than McPherson. It isn’t about community-building, visibility or hanging out. The motto is “Getting Shit Done.” The two similarities are that it will serve as a meeting place and sleeping is verboten.
There’s a possibility that the Park Service will ban tents altogether, for whatever reason–re-sodding the north side of the park, or just deciding that Occupy’s time is up. In any case, May Day was a turning point. The American Spring is nearly over, and the American Summer is about to begin. Occupy DC is going to have find ways to Occupy–to be a presence and maintain visibility–without defending a space, to be effective without dispersing its energy in a thousand different directions. Most of all, it needs to bring in more people who believe in the core issues of Occupy–economic inequality and intolerable corruption in politics–to swell its numbers. People questioned the viability of Occupy DC after the winter eviction, but now may be the crucial moment determining the future of the movement in the District.
(Photo by coolrevolution.net)