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.

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


Photos of Alfalfa Club 2013 are here.

State of McPherson: Still fenced in

McPherson Square, January 2013

The grass is thick and green at McPherson Square, yet for months fences have remained in place for “restoration.” Could it be that the Park Service doesn’t want anyone “occupying” the park?

McPherson Square in January 2012. Less grass, fewer fences, more freedom.
McPherson Square in January 2012. Less grass, fewer fences, more freedom.

“Good fences make good neighbors” is a wrong-headed philosophy for a park. Public spaces are for the people to use and enjoy.

Last year when McPherson was covered with tents, plenty of people complained that Occupy prevented them from using the park for their own enjoyment. That the grass was ruined at taxpayer expense was frequently hurled at protestors. This year they can’t use it for a different reason–pre-emptive abridgement of free speech.

The grass is back. Freedom to exercise our rights without fear is not.


AWOL combat veteran turned war protestor faces uncertain fate

Sgt. Micah Turner

This post has been updated below.

Late Sunday night Sgt. Micah Turner, an active-duty soldier deployed multiple times to Afghanistan,  surrendered to authorities at Fort Hamilton after being absent from his unit for more than a month.
He had abandoned his post on September 7, and as of today, would have been officially considered a deserter.

The day before in Washington, DC, Sgt. Turner, 24, risked immediate arrest by revealing his status as a soldier absent without leave (AWOL) and publicly stating his opposition to the war in Afghanistan. Today he joined Veterans for Peace in New York and again spoke out against the war, saying that what was happening to soldiers and citizens in Afghanistan was a tragedy. Then he drove with supporters to the gates of Fort Hamilton near New York City and surrendered to military authorities.

“The Army tells us to be people of integrity, personal courage, and duty,” he said. “As a person of courage, it is my duty to dissent.”

He walked away from his post 31 days ago. Saturday at Freedom Plaza, he said, “As of today I am officially designated AWOL.” He wore his Class A uniform blouse, “Army greens” and stood in front of a line of supporters who held “No More War” posters. The announcement was livestreamed over the internet to large audiences.

He has served five years in the Army, only one year short of his six-year commitment, and has been deployed to Iraq once and Afghanistan three times. His assignment was in PSYOPs, which, according to the Army Field Manual, uses manipulative techniques “to influence foreign target emotions, motives, objective reasoning” to achieve the goals of a military mission. Sgt. Turner’s 6-year obligation to serve in the Army would have ended with an honorable discharge had he not gone AWOL.

During his most recent deployment to Afghanistan, his feelings about the 12 year-long war began to change. He recently became active in the Occupy movement. He also participated in the Occupy DC anniversary protests and the Veterans for Peace rally and vigil in front of the Veterans Administration.

Sgt. Turner will have a long legal road ahead of him before he knows his fate. He may be tried by court martial with the possibility of losing his rank and all pay and benefits. It could take years before the final disposition of his case is adjudicated by the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.

Sgt. Turner speaks to media about his reasons for going AWOL.

UPDATE 10/8/12: According to Sgt. Turner’s twitter account, authorities at Fort Hamilton released him last night after he turned himself in and requested that he come back in the morning. He returned to Fort Hamilton at 8am and once again was released, because today is a federal holiday, Columbus Day, and no military detectives are working.

He’s currently considering his options, including seeking Conscientious Objector status.

Video of Sgt. Turner speaking in New York at Veterans for Peace Vigil on October 7:


S17: Occupy protest tactics mature with experience

NYPD barricades Wall Street on S17

by John Zangas

Occupy Wall Street held a 300+ person public action meeting at One Police Park Square, the NYPD headquarters, while several dozen officers watched. The stern-faced officers were privy to the details of the plan for S17 before it even kicked off.

It was one of Occupy Wall Street’s most elaborately planned non-violent direct actions to date. The Shut Down Wall Street plan called for splitting protestors between four major zones in downtown Manhattan and effectively disrupting the financial district.

Groups of protestors met early in the morning in predetermined places to disperse into the four zones, designated Eco, Education, Debt and the 99%. Each zone represented the major objectives Occupy has organized to change: the behaviors of Banks, Lobbies, Corporations, the NY Stock Exchange and Wall Street.

There is strength and critical mass in one giant group, yet OWS tried a different strategy: four groups scattered and roving in random directions in an effort to create more confusion and chaos. Separating into four groups was a bold tactical risk because it diluted the strength of the protest. The splitting tactic demonstrated the growing confidence organizers have gained since the Occupy movement began a year ago.

Authorities attempted to keep the NY Stock Exchange, Wall Street, and banks open, but the roving protest groups challenged their resources. Hundreds of NYPD officers were pulled between sites and constantly needed to be on the move to keep up. Unpredictable roving protests challenged logistics and communications, both for protestors and police. Authorities were deployed in advance to block access to key sites, because it was not certain when a group would show up. Barricades, foot patrol, mounted police, motorcycle police and vehicles clogged major arteries and snarled traffic. When blocked from proceeding, protestors countered by circling intersections.

Photographs and video footage show Wall Street, the NY Stock Exchange, Pine and Exchange Streets and other streets closed off, as well as barricaded and restricted access to corporations and banks (except for ID carrying employees). It shows that business was anything but business as usual on S17. Protestors may have been blocked from the targets they most wanted to reach, such as the Stock Exchange. But police themselves essentially completed the task protestors had set out to do–impede the normal flow to the point of shutdown.

In addition, there were the props of street theater and good visuals for press. Chalk slogans and messages were drawn at critical junctures. A five-foot “Debt Boulder” rolled over and through the crowd. A slick body guard cleared a path for a Transformers-like character called the “Bain Capital Job Eliminator.” Lady Liberty marched along with colorful dancers, and the baseball team of the One Percent–the Tax Dodgers–paraded with their cheerleaders the Corporate Loopholes. And of course there was no shortage of signs expressing the feelings of the 99%.

It wasn’t the intent of OWS to close the stock market, prevent banks from transferring funds or stop corporations and lobbies from business operations. The NY Stock Exchange opened on time and closed promptly at 4pm, despite barricades, police and protests. There was no interruption in the electronic ticker tapes, which closed down 40 points at the bell.

But there was no doubt everyone knew OWS was back, on the street and in Zuccotti Park again, even if it wasn’t a permanent Occupation. OWS demonstrated flexibility in tactics of protest, showed that can mobilize thousands of people from all around the country and has no problem announcing its action plan beforehand.

The massive presence of Occupy Wall Street shows it is still an organization with much energy, active and relevant at its one-year mark. The true test for OWS will be how much it is able translate direct actions into influence for the betterment of citizens affected by social and economic woes. Its tactics must remain interesting, informative, non-violent and provocative in order for its strategy to work in the long run.

Reverend Nuge dares you to “Occupy This!”

Reverend Nuge performs “Occupy This! Tales of an Accidental Activist”

I love first-person Occupier stories. Everyone who gravitates to Occupy and eventually–almost inevitably–gets sucked in by definition has a unique story. Tommy Nugent, aka the Reverend Nuge, tells us his Occupy story–and he’s a very good storyteller.

Part of the Capital Fringe Festival, Occupy This! Tales of an Accidental Activist is a one-man show. Just a guy and a stool. Dressed in ripped jeans and a faded Buddha t-shirt, Reverend Nuge for a full hour simply tells a story, mostly his own story with Occupy Detroit. It’s one hour of well-paced, high energy storytelling–funny, personal, and honest.

Showing up in New York the day after the mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge in October, he gravitated to Zuccotti Park. As “an old Burning Man guy,” he found drum circles appealing. So he headed home to Detroit to check out Occupy at Grand Circus Park and make some signs, with the goal of getting the word “asshole” on TV.

If you guessed that a conversion story is coming, you might be right. Yet however much the Reverend Nuge is the accidental activist, he reveals an affection for his Occupy comrades and a command of the issues driving the cause. He weaves his personal experience of clusterfuckery by Bank of America with insight into the dynamics of Occupy camp life. It’s a narrative that entertains and informs at the same time.

Occupy This! tells us a little about a neglected subject–the difficulties of integrating large numbers of homeless people into Occupy camps. He also reminds us that Occupy didn’t end with eviction. Police evicted Occupy in Detroit the same day in November as Occupy camps in twelve other cities–after the mayors of those cities colluded to get rid of them.

In post-camp Occupy, the shift from “fighting against to fighting for” is an important one. Nuge goes on to relate his participation in Occupy Our Homes, an off-shoot that takes up the cause of families “where the banks are just wrong.” When it comes to the greedy and illicit foreclosure practices of the Big Banks, this is one issue “we can all agree on.”

With his first-person account, Nuge reminds us that there’s more than one way to Occupy. As he says, each of us has to divine our own gifts and use them to the best of our abilities. His gift is storytelling with a commitment to being totally present with his audience. If you weren’t an Occupier going in to this performance, you might find yourself one going out.

Occupy This! Tales of an Accidental Activist is playing at the Capital Fringe Festival. Remaining performances are July 27 at 6:15pm and July 28 at 1:00pm.

Occupy the Roads

One of the most amazing things about the Occupy movement is all the people it has inspired to go out on the road–walking hundreds of miles, hitching or driving from Occupation to another.

Then there are those who for whom the road is the Occupation, like Tino Fuentes and Janet Wilson. They–with their RV–are Occupy the Roads.

After what Tino calls the “Brooklyn Bridge debacle” on October 1, Janet was compelled to return to Washington state, get her RV and drive down the West Coast. Tino later joined her on an East Coast leg. They’ve driven 16,000 miles through 30 states and visited 109 Occupations.

“Everywhere we’ve gone we’ve met great hospitality,” Tino says.

And everywhere along the way, they stop and talk to people about the Occupy movement. In general, Tino says, they receive a good response.

But not everyone has even heard of Occupy. News of Occupy, for example, hadn’t reached a little Texas town called Goldthwaite, pop. 900. There, Tino says, they talked for two hours with a couple of guys, one of whom began to question his signing up for the Air Force.

Occupy the Roads on Facebook


Occupy the Roads website

Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia

Occupy activists from around the country braved scorching heat and humidity in Philadelphia from June 30 to July 4 for the Occupy National Gathering. It was an event which had been in the works for several months,, organized by Occupy Phildelphia, InterOccupy and those participating in several conference calls.

According to the description released by the National Gathering, this was the intent:

The Occupy Movement is based in the idea that if communities come together across traditionally dividing lines then we can work together in a safe space to envision a more just and equitable society. Therefore, to that end we plan to spend four days in community and movement building exercises including workshops, skillshares, presentations, and games. Primarily, we plan on providing a space where concerned citizens from all over the country, and the world, can meet together, eat together, and bond. Our gathering will climax on July 4th when we will take part in a visioning process designed to allow every voice to be heard while allowing repeat visions to organically rise to the top.

Several hundred activists from around the country showed up for just one day or stayed up to the full five days to participate in teach-ins, networking, and direct actions. Many stayed in a camp located in the parking lot of the Quaker Meeting House on Arch St.

Independence Mall was the intended central location for many of the planned events, but organizers and participants encountered heightened security by Park Police. For the last few days, the center of activity was shifted to nearby Franklin Park.

Some of the protests were met with excessive police presence. On the second evening’s march, some protestors were kettled and many arrested. The final July 4 march was halted when it happened to coincide with two murders occurring in Love Park, the intended destination.