Still here, still defiant: Occupy DC celebrates anniversary with morning rush hour march

What better way for Occupy DC to celebrate its birthday than by taking to the streets? The first tents were pitched at McPherson Square on October 1, 2011. A year later, Occupy DC is still putting emphasis on the destructive influence that corporations have on our economy and society.

About 150 Occupy DC activists marched through downtown during morning rush hour, stopping at several “targets” along the way, including Cargill, Monsanto, British Petroleum (BP), J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, JBG (the largest developer in the District), and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

At one point, the march spontaneously joined a carpenter’s union picketing Anning-Johnson and sang “Solidarity Forever.”

Onlookers had various reactions to Occupy DC and its protest march. One man from suburban Maryland, who preferred not to give his name, supported Occupy’s goals, saying, “People need jobs,” but didn’t think anything came out of the Occupy camps, nor did he think the street protest was effective. While he felt that there were significant problems, he said they were “everybody’s problem,” yet admitted he didn’t have good solutions.

A woman visiting from Jamaica didn’t quite seem to know what to make of the activists, who at that point were mingling with the union workers. “What is it?” she asked. She said they didn’t have these kind of protests in Jamaica.

On the other hand, just-arrived tourist Luiz Lozer said that there were much larger protests in his home country of Brazil. “For what you’re up against, you’re too few,” he said. “There should be hundreds of thousands on the streets.” He had heard of Occupy Wall Street and its anti-corporate, anti-financial crisis mission. Lozer also described American society as being under “a right-wing anesthesia.” “You’ve got a presidential candidate who thinks he doesn’t need the poorest vote. It’s impressive,” he said.

More protests continued this afternoon at Pepco and the Chamber of Commerce, and an evening march is planned.

Occupy DC: Beyond tents

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.

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Monsanto protest in DC part of “Shutdown the Corporations”

Occupy DC took to the streets early this morning, participating in a coordinated protest against a right-wing corporate coalition with undue influence on legislation. Occupy Portland initiated the action, called Shut Down the Corporations, and claimed that as many as 90 protests took place today around the world.

The target was the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC drafts “model legislation” to benefit its members–multinational corporations such as ExxonMobil, Bank of America, BP, Monsanto, Pfizer, and Wal-Mart–hands it to legislators, who then write it into bills as is. It’s known for a right-wing agenda, for example, writing the strictest anti-immigration legislation in the country (SB 1070 in Arizona) and proposals in 38 states to undermine the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).

Fabian, a Freedom Plaza Occupier, stated his objection to ALEC: “They are a group who ghostwrites legislation, that favors corporations and subjugates humanity, where their interests are directly working against the interests of the people. They have no place in America.”

DC Occupiers headed down Vermont Avenue, stopping by ALEC’s headquarters to deliver a mic check, then proceeded to the offices of Monsanto on I Street, where they rushed the doors. Police and protestors got into a shoving match as they tried to push large wooden signs into the lobby. Police arrested 12 people after demonstrators lined up in front of the building in the pouring rain and barred entry for more than an hour.

Many protestors cited their objection to Monsanto’s involvement in Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and patenting of seeds. Earlier this month, Monsanto won a dismissal of a lawsuit brought by organic growers who are afraid of GMOs contaminating their crops.

Monsanto Director of Corporate Affairs Tom Helscher issued a statement concerning the protest group: “We believe farmers should have the opportunity to select the production method of their choice and all of the production systems contribute to meeting the needs of consumers.”

After police broke up the protest in front of Monsanto’s offices, demonstrators moved on to Pfizer and plan to go to a Wal-Mart construction site and the Capital Grille, which is part of the Darden Restaurants.

View more photos here.

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