McPherson Madness Reveals Struggle Between Mother and Revolutionary

Kelly Canavan, author of McPherson Madness, pulled away by U.S. Marshals
Kelly Canavan, author of McPherson Madness, pulled away by U.S. Marshals in June 2012

In McPherson Madness, playwright Kelly Canavan revisits a moment in recent history and shows how the drama of revolutionary movements can draw out the drama in one’s personal life. When she joined the Occupy movement in November 2011, she did not know it was setting the stage for a play she would later author.

In October 2011, when Occupy Wall Street was taking to the New York City streets, a small group of people started a sister encampment in Washington, DC. Within weeks, it grew to several hundred tents covering the entire park.

Like Occupy DC on which it is based, McPherson Madness is set in a public park near the White House, McPherson Square. Its main character, Dreama, is a mother on a journey in a social movement, struggling to balance the extremes of two lives. She’s a character split into two separate personas. “Info Dreama” (Jen Bevan) exists as the dominant role, pulled in by the gravitational energy of the Occupy DC movement, while Dreama (Tina Ghandchilar) internalizes the conflict with her family life outside the park.

Her obligation to participate in what she sees as a necessary revolution in society is pitted against her duty to take care of her son. As the play unfolds, she must come to terms with this conflict.

She lives almost schizophrenically, vacillating between separate worlds. There’s no peace for her as she skirts between the charged energy of the park and her son’s home life she has temporarily escaped. The audience never meets him, and only learns about him from her cellphone calls.

The ghostlike appearance of her doctor (Jean Miller) coaches her through her issues with sexuality, motherhood, and health, through dialogues with her two personas.

The play was artfully directed by Lynnie Raybuck, a perfect fit for this production, who finds “people more interesting than right or wrong.” The art backdrop, a 10′x20′ acrylic poster depicting a grand scene of McPherson Square, was painted by Ray Voide, who has previously painted dozens of protest posters.

Cast member Sha Golanski on set. Backdrop by artist Ray Voide.
Cast member Sha Golanski on set. Backdrop by artist Ray Voide.

McPherson Madness achieves authenticity since it was written by someone who actually lived and documented her journey within Occupy in a personal way. It pulls the audience into Dreama’s struggle while showing the harsh consequences of a society broken by its troubles and failings–and those who try to fix it.

It speaks to social issues of alcoholism, poverty, homelessness and the extraordinary efforts of people to “fight back” against oppressive social and economic ills. There may be stereotypes, but each is treated with a great amount of respect, each given a central role of dramatic importance. It shows that in the midst of complete chaotic breakdown people can still find humanity in how they treat others. In this production the issues of political correctness remain silent: it is about people.

McPherson Madness is a must-see  exploration of a woman evolving through a modern revolution, torn between complex worlds revealing the personal lives of its players, on display for everyone.

McPherson Madness is part of the Capital Fringe Festival, www.capitalfringe.org. It shows Sunday, July 21, 2:30 PM at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Streets NW (corner of P Street NW) Washington, DC and Saturday, July 27th, 6:30 PM.

Occupy DC eviction at McPherson: Reflections on one year ago

by John Zangas

I stood by my tent late at night gazing up at the Tent of Dreams, its blue tarp billowing in the cold wind. Another occupier approached me. He said that police planned to raid the camp later that night. Just five days before, U.S. Park Police had warned us that they would start enforcing the statute against sleeping or possession of sleeping bags and blankets. Uneasily I went from tent to tent spreading the news. What would happen to our camp if there was a raid?

The warnings proved true: police arrived in legions before dawn and began cordoning off K Street and surrounding areas in every direction. It was February 4, 2012, the day that an overwhelming police force mobilized to evict Occupy DC from McPherson Square.

We occupied McPherson Square to protest structural socio-economic inequality. We didn’t camp to create conflict with police or local businesses, although the media portrayed us that way. It was easy for them to define us by appearance and not by purpose. We had carefully articulated our concerns, both from socio-economic and ecological standpoints, in our December 1st declaration.

Rep. Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Ethics committee, had called a hearing to question the National Park Service’s handling of the McPherson Occupation. But even if Congress had been friendly to our cause, it alone couldn’t resolve our concerns on behalf of the people. The very edifice of banking, Wall Street, commerce and government was the problem, we believed.

Published reports of bank and Wall Street misconduct and legal actions against them justified our actions: up to 90% of foreclosure transactions were fraudulent, according to whistleblower accounts. Rampant mortgage fraud and misconduct during the 2008-2010 foreclosure crisis resulted in a $25 billion settlement by five major banks. They did not have to admit wrongdoing.

Banks across the U.S. and Europe were involved in the LIBOR scandal, which fraudulently valued trillions in assets by fixing bank to bank loans while cheating borrowers in 2007. With knowledge of LIBOR irregularities, the U.S. Federal Reserve still loaned banks billions in interest-free TARP money in 2008.

Another major issue we stood for was action on global warming. There is ever-increasing scientific evidence of world climate change–catastrophic storms and new temperature records across the U.S. Meanwhile, measurements in ice-flow melting rates in Iceland and the Antarctic are accelerating at rates never before seen.

We were protesting all this and more and believed the people supported us, yet mainstream media was neglecting the vital issues.

We didn’t want to confront police, but when they came to McPherson Park to take down Occupy DC–as police had earlier that year evicted every Occupation in a major city–we couldn’t stop the freight train approaching at full speed.

That morning they stationed a tactical command center truck, positioned sharp shooters with scopes on rifles on building rooftops, deployed a fully armed paramilitary squad with tasers and automatic weaponry, and sent a horse cavalry onto the green. They erected truckloads of metal barricades around the perimeter and strung yellow tape. It was as if they came to fight a battle against a domestic terror group. But we had no weapons; we were a non-violent movement and they knew it.

They immediately removed the Tent of Dreams tarp from the statue of General McPherson and arrested four protestors at its base for “failure to obey” police orders. Several scuffles broke out and there were injuries, as police in full riot gear strategically moved throughout the camp dissembling tents, overwhelming the camp and its occupiers. Workers in white hazmat suits threw away most of the tents, and vehicles tore up rain-soaked ground. The park ground was ripped to tatters, mostly by the operation itself.

I stood in front between police and protestors, perhaps foolishly, in the role of a reporter taking pictures and videos until the last of my phone memory ebbed. The police ignored me. Teams of strong men slid metal barricades into place like fake movie props. As dusk approached and a drizzle fell, occupiers stood together as one at the People’s Library, singing songs of camaraderie, such as “I shall not be moved” and “We shall overcome.” Then there was a sudden push as police forced us out of the park and onto K Street. The Occupation had ended, or so we thought.

We held a spontaneous General Assembly and testified to the day’s experiences late into the rainy night. Washington D.C. now had dozens of new homeless on its streets. Word came from Luther Place Memorial Church that they would give us a place to stay.

I returned to the park early the next morning to an unrecognizable landscape. A few police were still there standing watch. I looked to where my tent one stood and found nothing but a deep furrow of mud dug by truck wheels. Nearly every tent and sign was gone. But the beloved People’s Library still stood! The books were untouched, still organized on their shelves.

I felt resignation and wondered how the movement had come to this. We believed the people supported us, especially those hurt by the repressive system of banks, Wall Street brokers, selfish CEO’s and a government corrupted by cozy relationships with them. But yesterday, where was our cavalry, where were the people? Had we failed?

I thought about our efforts to make the change our society so desperately needed: the meetings we held, the discussions, the classes, the hundreds of free meals prepared in our kitchen, the extraordinary time we put into the declaration of societal wrongs, and wondered if anything we had done had made a difference.

We challenged institutions and authority in a pitched battle of wills for four long months. Their final response was to send in a paramilitary force to shut us down. We had no weapons with us that day or any other day other than our will and perseverance.

In the coming months we continue to occupy the park in a limited way. We weren’t allowed to camp, but our library remained open and even a few tents stayed until June.

Noam Chomsky said that the Occupy movement “lit a spark” of awareness. Although we were evicted from the park, I believe that ultimately we had made a difference. We prevailed by standing up to the authors of a broken system. We showed others that it could be done.

Tent of Dreams: A final act of defiance

by John Zangas

It was the final act of defiance by Occupy DC, a group of people who had given their last ounce of effort in protest, their last will in a park occupation–against a system we saw as repressive. In the previous three years, millions of people had lost their homes, and millions more had lost their jobs and savings. Ordinary people climbing the ladder to the American Dream slipped and lost their foothold forever.

Why did we erect the Tent of Dreams? The bankers and stock traders on Wall Street, who nearly destroyed the economy by the summer of 2008, silently slipped under the radar of legal prosecution. Yet occupiers who expressed dissatisfaction with lack of economic opportunity were being arrested by the thousands, merely for exercising their First Amendment right to dissent. What drove us was the fundamental imbalance of power, which was made even more apparent as the Occupy movement unfolded. Occupiers were arrested around the country in an arbitrary enforcement of the law, while financial managers went unpunished, still raking in millions in fraudulent profits.

Four days before we raised the Tent of Dreams, the U.S. Park Police had left official letters on our tents, warning us that we were no longer welcome. We knowingly were breaking a federal statute which forbade sleeping in tents in public parks.

So we created a symbol of a dream–a huge blue tarp painted with falling stars, symbols, and statements of hope. Just before noon on January 30, we used long poles and strung it up over the statue of McPherson, a brass symbol of state power. We encircled it and chanted, “We are the 99 percent!” and defiantly willed the state to come and take it down!

We hunkered down and stayed together under the blue tarp, taking turns on the nightwatch for an imminent police raid. It did not come the first exuberant night, nor did it come on the second or third nights. Guitars played, drums beat, coffee was served. Camaraderie kept us assured that we were doing the right thing. Defiantly we stood together, sleepless sentinels against the inevitable.

Some of us managed to stay up the first night until dawn without sleep under that blue tarp in a “sleep strike.” We persevered for four days and nights before the last of us caved in to exhaustion. By the fifth day, our fear turned into boredom.

Little did we know that the raid police planned for February 4th would change us forever.

Cool Day in History: The Tent of Dreams

A rare video of McPherson Occupiers raising the Tent of Dreams and placing it over the park’s central statue

On Monday, January 30, 2012, Occupy DC erected a giant blue tent in the middle of McPherson Square and draped it over the statue of General McPherson. It was a final act of defiance against the National Park Service and Rep. Darrell Issa, who was using his position as Chairman of the House Oversight Committee to crush Occupy in the nation’s capital.

Visually captivating and rich in symbolism, the “Tent of Dreams” made national news that day:

As if determined to vindicate the occupation movement’s every argument about the power of the 1 percent, Rep. Darrell Issa, the richest man in Congress, had taken the greatest offense at their use of public space in the heart of the city to broadcast their egalitarian message. Last week, the California Republican called a hearing to browbeat the flak-catchers of the federal bureaucracy to enforce a ban on camping in public places. And on Friday he got his way. The Park Police posted a yellow notice that come Monday at noon the demonstrators would all be subject to arrest for sleeping in the park.

In response, an ad hoc committee of about 15 occupiers got together last Friday night to talk about what they wanted to do. ”We wanted a confrontation on our terms,” said Ricky Lehner, a 23-year-old man from Florida who has made the camp his home since October.

“We know the Park Police are very protective of the statue,” said Travis McArthur, a researcher at a well-known liberal nonprofit, referring to the mounted figure of Maj. Gen. James McPherson, a Union hero in the Civil War, that stands in the center of the square. ”Since I came here, I’ve come to think of him as our patron saint, our protector.”

If the authorities were going to take away their tents, they decided, they would have to do so on a grand scale. So when the Park Police deadline arrived at noon on Monday, they struck. As the square was thronged with cameramen and spectators looking for confrontation, a couple of young men mounted the statue and the rest hauled out a huge blue nylon dropcloth, which they hoisted up and over McPherson’s shoulders. They secured the flaps to the little iron fence around the statue so everyone could see the yellow and white stars (and a Star of David). They dubbed it, “The Tent of Dreams.”

“The idea was let us sleep so we can dream of  better world,” said McArthur, and all around the tent sprouted witty indignant signs: “I dream of First Amendment Rights” and  ”I dream of taxation on the 1%” and “No sleep, no justice,” and “We the non-corporate people.”

The 99 Percent Dance Party that trumped “Gala of the One Percent”

The annual Alfalfa Club dinner is an intimate schmooze-fest of politicians and mega-wealthy businessmen. Even the president, with few exceptions, is usually in attendance, unable to resist the temptation of so much money in one room. It’s the ultimate Gala of the One Percent.

Tomorrow evening, January 26, the Alfalfa Club will hold its 100th annual dinner. So today it’s worth remembering Alfalfa Club 2012, because then the One Percent had an unexpected gauntlet to cross–Occupy DC. Undoubtedly its most infamous protest, Occupy DC put on a raucous, no-holds-barred dance-party in the streets for the 99 percent. Nobody will ever forget it.

Photographer Matt Dunn captured the wild evening here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Senator Joe Lieberman is none too happy to get glitter-bombed.

Update:

Photos of Alfalfa Club 2013 are here.

State of Freedom

Freedom Plaza, January 2013
Freedom Plaza, January 2013

Freedom Plaza was the site of the Occupy Washington DC encampment.  Since it’s on the Inaugural parade route approaching the White House on Pennsylvania Ave., you’ll find an occupation of bleachers there today instead of tents.

Freedom Plaza, December 2011
Freedom Plaza, December 2011