Occupation Protest in Washington DC Continues, Demonstrators Pepper Sprayed inside Air and Space Museum

Demonstrations inspired by the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protest took place in cities across the country on Saturday.  In Washington DC, the Air and Space Museum was shut down after demonstrators were maced when trying to enter the building to protest an exhibition devoted to military drones.  The mainstream media are reporting that one person was pepper sprayed by museum security.  However, video of the incident shows that many people appear to have been hit with the spray.

More video can be found here.  I was not present for any of this march.  At an evening general assembly, which I observed, protesters reported that they were prevented from fully entering the museum and trapped within the outer and inner doors of the building, where a security guard maced the group.  The museum was shut down early because of the incident, presumably because all of the pepper spray in the doorway and entrance area. 

Thousands of protesters have converged in Washington DC over the last five days.  An umbrella group called Stop the Machine October 2011 organized the series of rallies and marches centered around Washington's Freedom Plaza in protest of the nation's ongoing wars and the corporate corruption of our nation's government by corporate interests.  However, it has now been subsumed by the Occupy Together movement that has sprung up in response to the protests in downtown Manhattan.  Protesters plan to remain in Washington after the organization's permits run out to maintain an ongoing demonstration similar to that in New York City. On Thursday protesters marched to the Chamber of Commerce.  Friday a protest was held outside the International Monetary Fund.  More events are planned for the coming days.

There are actually two encampments in Washington DC.  There is the group centered around Freedom Plaza and organized by Stop the Machine, but there is also Occupy DC, a spontaneous protest that sprung up in response to Occupy Wall Street and began about a week ago.  Dozens have been sleeping in the area around this group's main site at McPherson Square.  Their numbers swell into the hundreds over the course of the day when they gather for meetings and actions.  The two groups are separate, but have begun to coordinate their efforts. 

The apparently spontaneous movement that is now growing across the country invites comparison with the Tea Party movement, with many arguing that the Occupation protests will be subsumed by the Democratic party.  Democrats as well as labor and community organizations traditionally allied with the Democratic party have come out in vocal support of the protests.  Yet the protesters appear appear determined at this point to maintain their political independence.  A statement from From Stop the Machine:
We are receiving calls from people concerned that organizations are going to jump on the bandwagon of the "Occupy" Movement and offer resources or somehow co-opt the message and movement. We are aware of this possibility. We have been from the start.

We want our participants to know that we are dedicated to remaining an independent movement of the people. No organization will be in control of this movement. No funder will be in control of this movement.

When it comes to movements, common pitfalls come in the following three categories:

1. Co-option - an organization, political party or funder becomes very 'friendly' offering funds, resources and positions within their institution. In return for this, the message is taken over by that institution or the institution starts dictating what can and cannot be said. The October2011 Movement will not be co-opted.

2. Don't Back Down - as the movement gains strength, compromises or conciliations are made. Those in the movement start to feel that they have won and so start to back off or think that all is well now.  Victories will inspire us to push further until our full agenda is achieved. The October2011 Movement will not back down. Once we achieve the transformation we seek, we will have to protect it.

3. Elections - movements are lured into supporting or running candidates. When the candidate loses, the movement loses its momentum. If the candidate wins, he/she is brought into a dysfunctional system and finds out how little he/she is able to effect change. The October2011 Movement believes that the time to focus on elections will come when the political system has been transformed into a system that allows candidates to represent the views of the people rather than the needs of concentrated corporate power. That means we are independent of any candidate or political party.
In a message to media and people interested in the organization, Occupy DC underscores its political independence and emphasizes that it is separate from Stop the Machine:
We are not a party, and we will never be. Some news organizations have been trying to portray this movement as the “Democratic Tea Party equivalent;” this too is a misstatement. We are not a party, nor do we affiliate with any; this is a people’s movement. . . .  Our focus is on the economy, corporate corruption of our political system, and the negative effects of corporate personhood as it exists after decisions such as Citizens United and the repeal of Glass-Steagall.
There are numerous third party and independent activists at the sites in Washington DC and New York City.  The Green party's candidate for sheriff of Philadelphia, Cheri Honkala, addressed a rally at Freedom Plaza on Friday and called for the election of independent "people's sheriff's" across the country.  Her campaign site has full video of her address.  An excerpt:
What I’m doing is not symbolic. It’s concrete and Bill and Aida and Glenn who’s here with me today, like millions of people across this country are gonna lose their homes…unless you take this seriously and not just march about it, pray about it, and sing about it but help me fill every damn poll in Philadelphia where there’s a birthplace of revolution and change…we can do this again in this country and take our country back!
There are numerous individuals, working groups and committees within Occupy Wall Street and Occupy DC brainstorming electoral reforms and developing policy recommendations to open up our political process to ensure adequate representation, at all levels of government, for the 99% of Americans who go unrepresented by the Democratic and Republican parties.  More to come in that regard in coming days.  


Anonymous said...

Many thanks for the information and analysis. Good stuff. Not sure I agree with all the elections thoughts. But, interesting to see the theory about why they are so against it laid out. - Kimberly

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

That pepper spraying on the street in NYC was obviously wrong, but there is no right to protest in a museum.

d.eris said...

I think they should have been better organized (ex. not walking in waving placards and holding flags), and there are also reports floating around that a conservative media activist had inserted himself at the front of the group and egged people on, but obviously that doesn't excuse anything. On the other hand, I think the security overreacted by pepper spraying the entire group. I saw a small march in DC on Sunday where there were only about 30 or so people, walking on the sidewalk of the mall. Well over 2 dozen police cars lined the street next to them. Massive waste of resources.

TiradeFaction said...

>there are also reports floating around that a conservative media activist had inserted himself at the front of the group and egged people on<

Apparently there's truth in that (at least in that it is the narrative being reported on by some outlets). http://my.firedoglake.com/cgrapski/2011/10/09/american-standard-editor-admits-to-being-agent-provacateur-at-d-c-museum/ Apparently the provocateur/troll in question bragged about it in "The American Spectator", but said admission seems to have been taken down. Hopefully someone saved it so it can be objectively verified.

ajlounyinjurylaw said...

The concept is to peacefully protest. There has to be a regard to the establishments and a regard for peaceful protest, a workable balance.

Tyler said...

Every one should have a right to say whats right but don't let it get out of hand.

InjuredCallToday said...

We all have to agree to disagree, but be agreeable while doing it. Our democracy was built on this concept. Peaceful protest is the only way.