Evicted from a public space, will Occupy DC kick itself out of a private one?


If things keep going the way they are, Occupy DC is going to lose a good thing.

In May there was a little dust-up because Service Employee International Union (SEIU) generously leased office space for the campless movement in the Institute for Policy Studies building. There were accusations of Occupy DC and the union being a little too cozy. On the contrary, Occupy DC isn’t complying with the only deal it struck with SEIU for the office space: a self-enforced basic code of conduct.

The group is having a hard time holding up its end of the bargain. After months of working out the details, the top priority for the Resource Center, as it’s called, is using the office suite for “getting shit done.” But there are some who use the place to camp out just like they did at McPherson Square.

A lot of shit is getting done there, it’s true. It’s a secure and climate-controlled space for committee meetings and provides desks, computers and wi-fi for anybody wanting to accomplish something for the movement.

While spontaneous, stimulating conversations occur there all the time, it’s not supposed to be a hang-out–or an Occupation like McPherson Park was. The code of conduct forbids sleeping, squatting or storing personal belongings. Unfortunately, after weeks of habitual rule-breaking and desperate solutions like changing the locks, Occupy DC can’t seem to rein in several individuals. Even worse, their behavior reinforces some of the worst stereotypes of Occupiers–the place smells bad, it’s sometimes dirty and full of backpacks, people go shirtless and bathe in the restrooms.

In an office building, that’s not going to fly. Occupy DC seems in danger of losing its Resource Center after October if SEIU decides not to renew the lease–and keep forking over $3,500 a month. Or even sooner.

Occupy DC is responsible for who it lets into its office–or can’t keep out. But there is a wider issue. Most of the squatting is by young people who are homeless. There’s some tolerance at play here simply knowing that someone is pretty desperate for a place to sleep and get out of 100-degree heat. Housing problems don’t have easy solutions.

And the District isn’t doing its part to address housing and homelessness, increasingly instituting more austerity measures and closing shelters. Coincidentally, Occupiers who were arrested in November 2011 protesting the closure of a homeless shelter at the Franklin School in 2008 will go on trial July 9.

As a statement from Free Franklin DC reads,

Three years later the city continues to break its promises to house and shelter DC residents, under-funding housing and shelter programs, including cutting $3 million from services for DC’s 6,500 homeless individuals and $20 million for affordable housing last year alone. The DC government refuses to ensure the most basic human right to housing for everyone in our community.

Pretty ironic that Occupy DC put itself on the line to address homelessness, yet may itself be undone by it.

UPDATE 7/16/12: The executive director of Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), which houses the Occupy DC Resource Center, dropped by the office to hand-deliver a letter detailing complaints. Efforts to get things in hand since have had mixed results. There’s no doubt that the majority is disgusted by the habits, hygiene and behavior of a minority. Yet that minority stubbornly clings to a belief in its right to do whatever it pleases in the office space, consequences be damned.

The office was cleared of personal belongings abandoned there, aired out with fans, and generally cleaned up. Messes large and small still occur and have to be cleaned up, there’s sleeping overnight, loitering, playing video games and surfing the internet. Situation improved but not solved.

There was a follow-up meeting with IPS this week, basically admitting we know we have a problem, we’re trying to fix it. Will that be enough to preserve a valuable resource?

Occupation at McPherson Park ends, but Occupy movement in DC continues

The National Park Service moved in Tuesday morning to remove the last vestiges of the Occupy DC protest at McPherson Park. Park Service employees loaded debris into two trucks as several Park Police officers–including the familiar Sgt. Reid–stood watch at the foot of the statue of General McPherson. The last two nights the protest structures, including tents, signs and art, were demolished.

McPherson Park hadn’t served as a full-fledged Occupation since February 4, when Park Police raided it and removed the majority of tents. Subsequently, officers patrolled to enforce a no-sleeping policy.

The last month has seen the further detachment of Occupy DC from the park, as ithe number of tents shrank and the group acquired office space nearby, sponsored by union SEIU.

Some Occupiers no longer took pride in what remained of the often messy camp and wanted to clear it themselves. One of the witnesses to the Park Services’s clean-up operation, a homeless man named RB, said Occupy DC lacked control over who was hanging out in their protest space.

“When you start a revolution of sorts you don’t put out an application,” he said. “There could be hangers on the fringe who are not part of the movement.” He complained of heavy drug use.

Several of those affiliated with Occupy DC have contended that the McPherson camp was a tactic and that its termination doesn’t represent the health of the movement itself.

Gotcha! Right-wing catches Obama, Labor and Occupy DC in the act of…something

Code of Conduct for the Occupy DC Resource Center

The right-wing media/blogosphere reveled in a gotcha moment this week. Ever since the Tea Party was discredited by the Koch Brothers’ billions and tamed by the Republican party, right-wingers have been hungry for evidence to disqualify Occupy as a legitimate grassroots upswell. They just found some to suit their purposes in Occupy DC’s move to new office space near McPherson Square.

The Washington Examiner reports:

A labor union with strong ties to President Obama is helping make the Occupy Wall Street movement a more permanent fixture in the nation’s capital, moving Occupy DC into office space the group can use to organize and grow through the presidential election.

The Service Employees International Union, one of Obama’s most vocal supporters among labor groups, is paying $4,000 a month for three offices the Occupy protesters will use for at least the next six months to plan future demonstrations, organize and host workshops.

The offices are at the Institute for Policy Studies, a nonprofit progressive group headquartered at 16th and L streets NW, amid the major law firms, trade groups and lobbying shops that Occupiers have spent the past seven months denouncing.

So a prime RWNJ (Right-Wing Nut Job) conspiracy theory is confirmed right there: Big Labor and liberal Think Tanks are underwriting Occupy DC  (and therefore, as we’ll see, Occupy in general). And on top of that, the whole thrust of the story is an insinuation: that Obama is demonstrably linked with Occupy. Plus we’ve got a couple cherries on top: Occupy DC now supports Obama, through its master Big Labor, and it’s guilty of hypocrisy. So much accomplished in a few paragraphs!

The right-wing blogosphere immediately jumped all over this. Headlines appeared like “Labor and Occupy: Comrades in Arms,”  and “Look who’s paying for Occupy’s DC Digs.” Newsbusters, which purports to expose liberal media bias, sighs, “Don’t hold your breath for the media to report on this development or examine the nexus between the left-wing Occupy movement and Big Labor.”

The conservative Examiner also took the opportunity to gleefully write a scathing editorial, trotting out every grievance it’s had with Occupy DC up to this point:

Any pretense that Occupy DC protesters are just a bunch of ordinary fed-up Americans should be put to rest this week.

This collaboration puts a new light on the protestors… It makes Occupy’s leaders’ previous attempts to distance themselves from the SEIU come off as somewhat disingenuous. On the other side, the fiction that Occupy DC and its counterparts in other cities are completely independent entities has allowed their union backers to distance themselves from protestors’ illegal and embarrassing activities even as they subsidize them.

After contributing millions of dollars and thousands of volunteers to get Barack Obama elected in 2008, then-SEIU President Andy Stern became one of the most frequent visitors to the White House. Occupy DC leaders claim their free rent comes with no strings attached, but interestingly, their lease runs right up until Election Day.

I have to call out Examiner reporter Aubrey Whelan, who usually does such a great job on the Occupy DC beat, on the original news article. The framing of this story is sensationalism–a grabbing headline with no logical basis. SEIU supports Obama, and SEIU supports Occupy DC–therefore, Occupy DC supports Obama.

But buried a few paragraphs in is a sentence that undermines that idea:

Occupiers distanced themselves from the SEIU in the past, saying they were uncomfortable with the union’s vocal support for Obama.

So either Occupy DC has decided to support re-electing Obama–and please show me some evidence of that–or, its position remains unchanged by the association with SEIU.

Note also that the lede not so subtly juxtaposes Obama with “helping …the Occupy Wall Street movement.” Right away we get it that Obama supports Occupy.

The connection of Obama to Occupy by implication is necessarily nefarious. The assumption is that the president is tainted by association, even though mainstream Republicans whole-heartedly embraced their radical movement, the Tea Party. But the fact is, Obama doesn’t really belong in this story at all.

If we were living within the confines of reality, that is. The insinuated association of Obama with Occupy is part and parcel of the right-wing portrait of the president as an unhinged and dangerous radical. If only they could get that damning snapshot of Obama wearing a Guy Fawkes mask leading a phalanx of Occupiers in a tear gas-filled street clash with police….Well, we all know that photo exists somewhere. It’s with the birth certificate.