Police Captain Ray Lewis at Occupy Congress

Occupiers surrounded retired Philadelphia police Captain Ray Lewis on the West Lawn of the Capitol this afternoon at Occupy Congress. Many thanked him profusely for his support of the movement.

Captain Lewis received much attention when he was arrested on November 17, 2011 during an Occupy Wall Street protest. He criticized Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD for their handling of the protests and forceful tactics in evicting OWS from Zuccotti Park.

Dressed in his police uniform and sunglasses, Captain Lewis chatted with attendees and took pictures with them as the wind blew across the muddy West Lawn. He offered candid opinions and full-throated support of Occupy.

“I am here to further show solidarity with the Occupy movement,” emphasizing that by attending he sought publicity for Occupy and not for himself. “I am in full agreement with the declarative statements [of Occupy Wall Street] as posted online,” he said.

There had already been two confrontations with Capitol police earlier in the day. Many protestors were openly antagonistic. I asked him what he thought when he heard them yell, “Fuck the police!”

“I fully understand,” he said. “They are so sensitive to evil and corruption in government. They tried working within the system and with Obama.”

He continued by harshly assessing President Obama. Following Obama’s election, “What did we get? One of the biggest political betrayals in history. He’s nowhere near the president he said he would be.” He added, “He’s nothing more than a black George W. Bush.”

He praised all the alternative media arising from the Occupy movement and stressed the necessity of bypassing mainstream media. “What you’re doing is so important,” he said. “We didn’t have this during the Vietnam War.”

Occupy Congress rallies on West Lawn, marches to Rayburn Building

Occupy Congress, the first protest on a national level attempted by the Occupy movement, gathered on the West Lawn on the National Mall today eager to assert itself as the new Congressional session began.

A well-practiced human mic repeated the words “Welcome to DC and welcome to Occupy Congress!” at the General Assembly at noon.

Capitol Police were out in force and clearly prepared for the protest, which may not have drawn as many people as the 5,000 or so the organizers had anticipated. Occupiers danced and celebrated, but they seemed eager to confront police.

As protestors moved up toward the North side of the Capitol, officers eased them back down the hill, resulting in a long stand-off along the walkway. At least one protestor was arrested.

After Congress adjourned for the afternoon, the Occupiers organized into a march behind large waving flags and processed to the Rayburn Building where the offices of House members are located.

A large protest and rally is planned for 6pm and the Capitol.

Occupy Congress gets permit to protest January 17

On Thursday Occupy Congress obtained a permit from Capitol Police to demonstrate on Capitol grounds on January 17, giving the greenlight to the protest affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Still of some concern is the recent transfer of “Union Square,” the area around the reflecting pool on the west side of the Capitol, from the jurisdiction of the National Parks Service to the Capitol Police. First Amendment demonstration rights have been litigated with National Park Police over many decades, while Capitol Police are more “arbitrary and restrictive.”


Related Article

When Women Occupied Congress – Cool Revolution

When Women Occupied Congress

“It was a great moment. But we lost it.”

How could the largest gathering of women in America since the suffragettes be summed up with such a harsh appraisal? Yet that’s how an organizer of the Jeannette Rankin Brigade protest of 1968 recalled it.

A fusion of the anti-war and emerging feminist movements, the Jeannette Rankin Brigade was a coalition of women’s groups who came to Washington, DC to protest the Vietnam War on January 15, the first day of the Congressional session. Among the 5,000 women in attendance was 88-year-old Jeannette Rankin herself, the first US congresswoman and devotee of Gandhi’s principles of nonviolence.

If one of the protest’s leaders characterized a historic mobilization as a failure, do the events of the Jeannette Rankin Brigade offer any lessons to modern activists? This is a timely question, since another mass movement will soon converge in Washington to confront Congress on its opening day 2012. This time it’s Occupy Congress, or J17.

The January 17 event will be the first major protest on a national level attempted in the US by the Occupy movement. Focusing less on wealth inequality than Occupy Wall Street, J17 will protest corruption, bribery and deadlock in Congress.

Looking back at 1968, you can see that some things haven’t changed. The unresponsiveness of Congress and the media circus have only been super-sized over four decades. Shulamith Firestone describes the pragmatic viewpoint of the organizers of the Rankin Brigade:

From the beginning we felt that this kind of action, though well-meant was ultimately futile. It is naïve to believe that women who are not politically seen, heard, or represented in this country could change the course of a war by simply appealing to the better natures of congressmen. …So that we came as a group not of appeal to Congress, but to appeal to women not to appeal to congress. Rather we believed that such a massive gathering should be used to devise ways to build up real political strength.

Occupy Congress knows better than to appeal to “the better natures of congressmen.” Sheer numbers might have to impress on the political establishment the strength of the movement by building up currency in public opinion.

Unfortunately, coverage by a capricious, biased media can dominate perception. What’s more, disagreement over media tactics and a certain amount of disorganization thwarted the Rankin Brigade. When they conducted a mock funeral of the “Traditional Woman” at Arlington Cemetery–complete with faux corpse adorned with blonde wig and curlers, S & H Green Stamps, and garters, accompanied by a drum corps with kazoo–it was too much for the moderate elements. Five hundred women split off from the convention.

The more radical reformers didn’t shy away from media manipulation and agitprop, yet a minority felt that catering to mass media was only reinforcing their hegemony. They resisted having a spokeswoman and established rules about talking to reporters, all to prevent a “cult of personality.” The superficial media in turn took its usual route of seeking out human interest stories and latching on to the most sensationalized bits. Even the “Left” media undermined them with overt sexism. The cover of short-lived but popular Ramparts magazine featured a headless woman’s torso with “Jeannette Rankin for President” pinned to its breast. (Patricia Bradley, Mass Media and the Strategy of American Feminism, 1963-1975; 57)

Firestone describes the women as “fully aware of their impotence.” Her conclusion is unexpected:

We learned the value of spontaneity, of quick and appropriate political action, the value of learning to size up a situation and act on it at once, the importance of unrehearsed speaking ability. For I think one good guiding speech at the crisis point which illustrated the real causes underlying the massive discontent and impotence felt in that room then, would have been worth ten dummies and three months of careful and elaborate planning.

If she’s making the case for unifying and charismatic leaders, it’s something that Occupy has scrupulously avoided. The women’s movement is an imperfect analogy for Occupy, but many of the challenges it faced still apply. Occupy has factions favoring radical political solutions and anarchism, moderates who prefer less aggressive approaches, and everything in between. The allergy to spokespersons for Occupy is infamous–nobody “speaks” for Occupy, it wants no charismatic leader as its face. “Branding” and “messaging” are questionable strategies for a movement that doesn’t want to reinforce hegemonic, corporate media, yet lack of them can make it incomprehensible to mainstream media and vulnerable to the same pitfalls as before–superficial human interest stories and sensationalism. Not manipulating the MSM is often to be manipulated by them. Occupy’s solution has often been to bypass it altogether.

On January 17, Occupy Congress will bring thousands of activists to the National Mall to confront a Congress who may or may not care if it’s Occupied. It’s likely to succeed in strength of numbers and media attention. One of its main challenges however will be to unify its diverse elements for a few days both in common cause and strategy, and hopefully in doing so, it won’t “lose its moment.”

Bringing so many Occupiers together could at least take the temperature of the movement:

We found out where women, even the so-called “women radicals” were really at. We confirmed our worst suspicions, that the job ahead, of developing even a minimal consciousness among women will be staggering, but we also confirmed our belief that a real women’s movement in this country will come, if only out of the sheer urgent and immediate necessity for one.

For Occupy, developing even a minimal consciousness in the American public is indeed staggering. There could be no more urgent and immediate necessity.

Cool Day in History: The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963

Sounds like something we need today, huh?

The March on Washington is better known as the historic day that Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

There’s another Occupation of the National Mall planned for January 17, 2012: Occupy Congress