A Report from Occupy Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C.

War tax resister Steve L. sends me this report from the Occupy Freedom Plaza protest in Washington, D.C., :

It was an experience I will not soon forget, bordering on spiritual. Although I have not heard an official number, I’m guessing there were close to two thousand people there. I arrived at around noon, just before Kevin Zeese, one of the organizers, got up and spoke to the crowd. His talk was informative and depressing; but empowering as well. He spoke about how our democracy has been hijacked by one percent of the population who because of their obscene wealth, have a disproportionately powerful influence in the forming of public policy. Our leaders marginalize the 99% and instead do the bidding of the 1%. He reported that the wealthiest 400 Americans have the wealth of 154 million people and that their tax rate is half that of the middle class.

Soon after Kevin spoke, we all organized and marched toward the White House, then to the Chamber of Commerce where a huge banner hung from the building that said “JOBS” in individual letters.* We held a rally there and many spoke including Medea Benjamin from Code Pink. She gathered résumés from many in the crowd as we chanted “We want jobs!” Since the doors to the Chamber remained closed and our calls for jobs unanswered, Medea slid the résumés under the front door.

Upon leaving the Chamber of Commerce, we proceeded to march down K Street which is headquarters for many lobbying firms. What was remarkable and encouraging was the feeling of solidarity among all of us. And also heartening to me was the support we received from passersby as we marched. Whether it was friendly honks from car horns, thumbs up, or peace signs, all who took notice of us seemed to share a sense of camaraderie. And why wouldn’t they? They too are part of the 99%. The major media, due to their lack of integrity and talent for honest journalism, have downplayed and/or misrepresented this movement which is spreading across the nation. They say there is no unifying message and that we are a leaderless movement. Well, to answer the latter sentiment, we may be leaderless and in my opinion, that is the beauty and one of the greatest strengths of the movement. We are a grassroots movement of many voices. The media, like the State in their weakness only understands the paradigm of authority and hierarchy. As to our message, it is simply this: We want an end to wars and we want the government to provide for human needs not corporate greed.

I have every intention of going back to Freedom Plaza and also to go and stand with my brothers and sisters on Wall Street as well. I encourage every person who loves freedom and justice to support this Occupy Movement. There are currently around 900 cities being occupied across the nation. More than likely there is a city or town near you that has an Occupy Movement. If not, perhaps you may consider starting one in your community.

Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to share with your readers on The Picket Line.

* This banner was put up by the Chamber; the complete message is “JOBS: Brought to you by American free enterprise.” The Chamber likes to rhetorically champion free enterprise, but it is mostly a lobby group trying to win political favors and money for businesses, and it supported such examples of “American free enterprise” as the bailout of Detroit automakers and the Troubled Asset Relief Program. —♇

In D.C., the spontaneous spread of the Occupy movement coincided with and overshadowed the earlier-planned “Freedom Plaza” occupation there. Ruth Benn of NWTRCC was there for parts of that action, and sent a report to the wtr-s email list.

Myself, I haven’t had much to say about the Occupy Wall Street movement and its spin-offs. I biked by the Berkeley incarnation of it on the way back from the university library where I had been hunting through the microfilm, but didn’t see anything there worth reporting: a handful of people huddled under a tarp in front of a Bank of America branch (what passes for the “financial district” in Berkeley), some protest signs. So most of what I know about how the movement is progressing I’m getting from blogs and the news media, and I haven’t felt like this has given me much original to contribute on the subject.

Most of the coverage I have read has been very disappointing. The Occupiers seem to be such a loose coalition of interests and grievances that most commentators take advantage of this to make their commentaries all about themselves — most of what I have read is variations on “what the Occupy movement really stands for is [insert my pet concern here] and the way they will succeed is by following my unsolicited advice, as herein composed from back in my office.” Witness, for instance, the abominable bloviator Tom Friedman’s revealing reaction: “When you see spontaneous social protests erupting from Tunisia to Tel Aviv to Wall Street, it’s clear that something is happening globally that needs defining” [emphasis mine —♇].

(But here’s a good exception to the rule; and this is one of the better non-exceptions.)

Sadly, the vulgar libertarians have been at their vulgarest when covering the protest — reacting to a bunch of left-leaning protesters running loose on Wall Street as though Obama had seized Galt’s Gulch under eminent domain in order to have a nice place to hold a Phish concert. So my usually more-or-less reliable sources of insightful though often snarky comment that cuts through partisan posturing on important issues of the day have been less helpful than usual (I’m looking at you, Reason… though keep trying).

The one “official” statement from Occupy Wall Street that I’ve seen violates my cardinal rule for such statements — it talks almost entirely about “they” and “them” without committing “us” to any particular course of action (the closest it gets is to “urge you” to “exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone”). This is understandable, as it must have been difficult enough to get a group of people with such varying concerns, ideas, and commitments to agree on what they’re outraged about, without then trying to get them to agree on a specific and suitably-strong response to commit to.

And maybe at this point, the occupations, and their momentum, is the action, and not merely the seed from which the action is supposed to grow. It is bringing together people who were feeling angry and voiceless and

  • letting them hear a whole bunch of other people talk about their perspectives their ideas for change — likely a more raw, more radical, and more diverse set than they encounter on the boob tube or their favorite web sites
  • experimenting with a new set of modes of organizing and political decision-making
  • demonstrating the potential power of coordinated mass non-violent action, and learning the dynamics (and perhaps creative techniques) of that power, for instance in how the occupiers of Zucotti Park in New York City forced the mayor to back down from his plans to remove them

That’s not so bad just by itself, and already makes it more than just the left-wing equivalent of the TEA parties.