The papers were saying that the Park Police, after crying wolf for months, were finally going to evict Occupy DC. Then I saw the headline that 11 people were arrested while resisting. I’d been meaning to pay McPherson Square another visit, but suddenly I felt a new sense of urgency. I didn’t want to wait until it was too late.
Operation Eviction was indeed in effect. Most of the tents had been vacated and/or confiscated, the Park Police were collecting trash and power-washing the concrete walkways, and only a dozen or so protestors were around, holding down the first-aid tent and the library.
Although battle-weary, they were friendly, gracious and eager to share their experiences. I didn’t mention my writing; I wanted to listen to them as a peer. I’m sympathetic to what they’re doing (and have worried my friends and family by threatening to shirk all responsibilities and join them), so I didn’t want a sense of them-and-us separation.
In fact, I’m scared that my sympathy is hurting my ability to write about them objectively. But I’m trying. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I helped them erect “symbolic one-man tents,” which are tarp scraps held upright by poles and stakes, decorated with phrases like “We’re not moving!” and helped myself to peanut butter sandwiches and coffee supplied by a local café. The Occupiers were quick to point out that although the media reported 11 arrests, the actual number was 14, including a 14-year-old girl who got her head split open by a riot shield. They also mentioned exaggerations of protestor violence. They are frustrated with those who have brought violence to the movement, in DC and elsewhere, dismissing them as ignorant pseudo-anarchists who give everyone else a bad name.
Despite the discrepancies, the protesters were happy to talk to several reporters who stopped by, including one from the Washington Examiner, a free conservative daily that, as far as I know, has done nothing but shit on the Occupy movement.
Resentment towards police was stronger. Apparently they’re taking liberties with property laws, throwing out anything left unattended for any amount of time even though the law states that something must be unattended for 24 hours before it’s considered abandoned. Some Occupiers were carrying all of their things with them at all times to avoid confiscation.
What a sharp deterioration. One key reason this camp lasted longer than the rest was police sympathy; here in DC, cops are working-class. One Occupier addressed a cop as “comrade”, reminding him that “we do this for you, too!” The cop kept walking without a word.
My friendly neighborhood Occupiers have no plans to stop. They emphatically told anyone who would listen that they’ll hold their ground until the 99 and the 1 cease to be distinct. Resilience? Naivety? The fine line between the two? Whatever you or I wanna call it, writing or reading about it from behind the safety of a computer screen isn’t putting anyone’s finger on the pulse of it. They’re on unknown ground. Can we just leave it at that?
Photo Credit: © GeneTaylor 2011-All rights reserved.