Most people following the Occupy movement understand that there were two Washington, D.C. Occupy protests. One was located in McPherson Square and the other in Freedom Plaza. Both camps shared some of the same visual tactics in signage and tents. These two “occupy” protests differed in origin, relationship with permits, tactics, and other fundamental ways. D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray asked the National Parks Service to force their combination in mid-January, but both camps opposed this move. They both were evicted from camping in their locations over the February 4, 2012 weekend.
The Freedom Plaza protest originated as the October 2011/Stop the Machine Movement which had the slogan, “End the Wars, Bring the Troops Home.” Originating in national peace and social justice organizations, they asked people to join them in Freedom Plaza beginning October 6th. The event had been planned months ahead of the Occupy Wall Street protests and was intended to be a long-term protest that corresponded with the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. However, October 6 came after OWS began, and signage and rhetoric began to overlap with calls to challenge corporate influence and class inequality. This protest obtained a long-term permit from the National Parks Service. Some people I spoke with while in D.C. in late January have suggested this camp is “more peaceful” and less radical. When police came to enforce “no camping” restrictions and largely set out to end the occupation, protestors were relatively peaceful.
The McPherson Square protest originated largely with D.C. residents (or others currently living there) who wanted to join in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests. Tents went up over the first day of October 2011. This protest focused squarely on economic inequality and political disenfranchisement and lacked the overt anti-war focus (though, like in New York the wars were seen as part of the economic problem). This protest eschewed permits in order to intentionally use occupy as a civil disobedience tactic, but their location was within National Parks jurisdiction as well. McPherson Square is a park with grass while Freedom Plaza largely has concrete. A few people I spoke with in early January referred to this as the “locals” occupy camp and said the other camp was full of “outsiders.” Police enforcement at the end of this camp involved twelve arrests and a brick thrown at the police.
In some ways the distinctions are about goals and tactics. However, the most forceful difference I heard was from those at McPherson Square who claimed to be the REAL Occupy DC. They claimed to be coming out of the same spirit of the New York protests and claimed to represent the people of D.C., rather than broader America. Have others heard about similar divisions in New York or other Occupy Protests? What do these divisions tell us about Occupy or the left at this moment?