On Tuesday, January 17, Occupy DC marched on the capitol. The event was called, appropriately, Occupy Congress. I was there to promote campaign finance and education reform. Our efforts caused no discernible action on the part of congress, and probably nothing anywhere else. Our protest was a symbolic action. Maybe ‘action’ is a little strong…it was really just symbolic.
The Occupy Wall Street movement began in the summer of 2011. Occupy DC, which began on 10/15/11, is an echo movement, but it logically it should be Occupy’s headquarters. It is nearest to Congress and Supreme court, which hold the power to make real changes. Instead the protest on Tuesday was small and visibly aged. Even during a nationally publicized rally, occupiers could not raise more than 150 people for the evening march. It is a shame for the lost potential alone. Occupy is going out with a whimper in DC.
McPherson Square, the home base for Occupy DC, is north of the White House and a mile from the capitol. At 9am and 6pm on the 17th, Occupy marched to the US Supreme Court Building and the US Capitol. I caught them at dusk, after a sunny and crisp afternoon of meetings.
I spoke to several organizers and asked why they were protesting. “Make public transport free, and help the poor get organized.” “To live in representation of the first amendment, of freedom of speech.” “It’s good to see people united.” While disparate, their opinions were often constructive and original. On the other hand, just as I was expecting, I saw packs of tents and Guy Fawkes masks, and heard a few lines like “money is the sickness” and “of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.”
At the evening march, there was 120 people or less. There were nearly more police than protesters. DC city firefighters and police officers were stationed on every block surrounding the capitol, and others besides. Inside of the perimeter, protesters listened to the person with the microphone, which in this video is an angry poet.
All is not lost. As Prachi Patankar and Ahilan Kadirgamar said, despite decreasing numbers, “…the Occupy movement is certainly far from over; it is now characterised by a diffusion of general assemblies, vibrant local discussions and ongoing protests on a range of issues.” In the legal section of the Occupy DC’s website, the organization encourages protesters to sleep on the sidewalk rather than in the camps, since they will be treated like the city’s homeless and allowed to sleep undisturbed. One protester who wished to remain anonymous pointed out a huge problem with the movement: the most afflicted and powerless are the homeless, and they can’t afford to gather or organize. The weakest are unable to join a movement that could be successful if they had their numbers. And if the entire middle class agreed to demand change, legislators and judges couldn’t ignore us.
Perhaps if Occupy forms a corporation, they will have the voice of one powerful person, like corporations do according to Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That is if, as the organizer also suggested, “We all take a step together.” A few hundred angry outsiders can’t cause change, but if the spread of their ideas cause all of us to change our daily lives, then something will have been accomplished. That’s more than 300 million people, a force more powerful than the government. In the words of a particularly blunt comedian at the rally: “A thousand herpes sores will make them notice who they’re fucking.”
However, taking a step together means taking risk. Some Occupy protests have been dispersed by the police. Thousands of people now have criminal records. Along with SOPA and PIPA, Occupy is in part protesting the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA. NDAA passed on 12/31/11, giving the president the power to indefinitely detain any foreign national or American citizen in they are a suspected terrorist. This envokes the “invasion or rebellion” clause in Article 9 Section 1, habeus corpus as granted by the United States Constitution.
Today, SOPA and PIPA were dropped in the Senate and the House of Representatives respectively. In the same day, another Occupy DC event, Occupy the Courts, marched to the Supreme Court again to protest corporate personhood and the money laundering super pacs this allows. The young are no longer stereotyped as politically apathetic. Things are changing.
On the Science Channel program An Idiot Abroad, the producers send Karl Pilkington, a perochial Englishman, on all-expense-paid trips around the world. He complains and refuses to participate in many experiences people would give their limbs for. It’s a colossal, cynical joke. The kind of joke I adore. On a plane to an exotic location he will never appreciate, Karl invents a new superhero: Bullshit Man. Bullshit Man would be able to fly into any meeting or sales pitch, then loudly proclaim “Bullshit!” while pointing at the deceiver. Asked why he would choose this scenario out of all possibilities, Karl answers typically: “So people will stop talking shit.”
Despite his ignorance, I share Karl’s rage. l want to call bullshit on so many things. Bailing out banks? Bullshit! Protesters attacked by police? Bullshit! Lobbyists? Bullshit! SOPA? Bullshit! NDAA? Bullshit!!
But there is no Bullshit Man, nor would I want there to be one. There is no Spiderman either, but ordinary people can chase down criminals just like him. We must all act like Bullshit Man. We need to be vigilantes for the truth, and for our own interests. We need to stop listening to the bullshitters.
At the McPherson Square camp I met a 45 year old man who was protesting to stop nuclear war between Russia and the United States. If we don’t act together, we may find ourselves like him, left behind and powerless to stop the next global crisis on the horizon. But it’s scary to act together. Mayor Bloomberg, New York City mayor reminded us recently that it would be safer to stay on the couch: “I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world.” Conscience doth make cowards of us all. But as Zoe Williams tactfully put it: “…we can’t hang around and wait for the grown-ups to do it.”