Washington D.C. January 17, 2012
“Occupy Congress was the public forum spectacle that Zuccotti was–which I, and many others, were nostalgic for.”
On the green of Capitol Hill, hundreds of protesters gathered to total roughly two thousand keen on Occupying Congress. I took the 30 minute walk through the mall to congregate with them at 10 am. There, friends and families were greeting each other in a way that was reminiscent of Kevin Sorbo and Michael Hurst shaking hands in Hercules— everyone was passionate and determined. It’s a pretty long walk uphill, so I had a lot of time to revel amongst the camaraderie and love being exhibited around me. I witnessed the embracing of old friends, interviews about people’s protest signs, their adventures, and sharing stories and information. Mostly, people were getting pumped for the day of action, J17.Continuing my eavesdropping, I walked uphill the muddy grass awed at the mud collecting underneath my boots.. I was thinking of when I first arrived at Occupy DC. Samuel, from Media, met up with me at the train station at four in the morning to walk me to the camp. The walk felt brief and was filled with talk about impressions, expectations, the functions of our occupations, and comparisons. Memories of the all-nighters I’d pull at the OWS Comfort Station flooded my mind. Soon enough, we neared McPherson Park. It was quiet and only the sound of rain on tarp was to be heard. I ended up crashing in a friend of a friend’s tent for a couple of hours. I woke up early, cold without a sleeping bag, to a mic check. Turns out I was sleeping next to the Kitchen tent. I sat up and noticed dress shirts were hanging from the ceiling and a makeshift bed-stand had a single overused candle. I guesstimated about five hours of use left. I had never officially lived in Zuccotti, but I got a taste of it that night in DC.
Once I reached the top of the hill, I awoke from my daze thanks to someone jumping on my shoulders. It was a friend I worked with in Comfort. I walked five more paces to a confrontational position up against a line of police officers. They made an L-shape in front and to the left, along the sidewalk downhill. At this point they were pushing people off of the sidewalk and had made two arrests: one that was half-assed and unsuccessful (of Officer Ray) and one actual arrest. I looked up to the Capitol building, past the police officers, tracing the weaving staircases, and my eyes rested on two men, tiny in size, high and far because of the distance, just starting back at all of us.
Between this time and 6 pm, when the sun set, there was the occasional arrest, attempted unrest, and some flat-out napping. This sort of downtime was balanced between a national general assembly, marches, and some discussion groups. The facilitators at the start of the GA wanted to encourage discussions where everyone would speak. Its rare occupiers would have the opportunity to have a sense of a nationwide–and in real-time–conversation amongst occupiers. Some visited the offices of their representatives and senators. In the lobby, I heard different people looking at the office directory asking aloud “Alright, where’s that son of a bitch at?”
On the lawn, there were tables of working groups and special interest groups unaffiliated with Occupy. A stage was set for musicians and speakers. When I noticed the stage, at the other side of the lawn I noticed a woman with an amp and microphone. She was talking about the dangers of corporate personhood and current progress of LA’s denouncing of Citizens United. I was leaning on a ledge where a family was playing with their dogs, awaiting the march at 6pm. To my right a Think Tank was discussing What does Democracy look like? There were other think tanks scattered around. Occupy Congress was the public forum spectacle that Zuccotti was–which I, and many others, were nostalgic for. The sun set and all the group activities were broken up with the arrival of those that were on the afternoon march.
Everyone on the lawn ran to those on the march to welcome them back. A congestion of hyper bodies gathered in the entrance to Capitol Hill. The crowed pushed back and forth chanting and cheering. Photographers were taking pictures of protesters, who were listening earnestly to individuals standing on park fixtures, rallying the crowd. There were flashes of cameras against the sky that was half of a warm red sun and half starry blue. The buzzing murmur preluded the much-anticipated 6pm march to the white house.
But first, dinnertime!
I left with an Occupy Wall Street crowd as it dissipated back into the main lawn to the food line. Around the stage a group gathered for musical performances. I watched it as I ate my vegetarian macaroni and salad. Someone came up to me asking me to write in his journal Why I Occupy. It was full of dozens of entries from J17. After inscribing a piece of my mind, I wandered over to the stage to see what all the commotion was about. There had to have been 500 people in that one cluster, and there were many clusters scattered about. They weren’t playing early Bob Dylan this time around; the guy that had the stage was reciting some of his writings. I was standing there nodding and smiling at those I caught eyes with until someone came up to me to engage in small talk. He was asking me first why I was there and secondly if I was going to vote for Ron Paul. I chuckled at his blunt outreach tactics and we talked for a hot minute until a great MIC CHECK interrupted.
At most, it took three seconds for everyone to turn towards the entrance/exit of the lawn and begin the much-anticipated trail to The White House. I glanced over at my new friend, Eric, and it was understood we were marching buddies. We walked, with big steps, over the concrete barricades, around light poles and random sidewalk obstructions, in between bodies, onto the middle of the street. We didn’t know where we were going, nor did it cross our minds at all; Eric and I were still in the process of challenging each other’s ideals.
We lost each other at one of the sharp turns. At some point I looked forward and saw from fifty yards back that people were climbing up a huge set of stairs; like an upwards avalanche of bodies. I bolted towards it, snaking through and ran up, two steps at a time, to what were the steps of The Supreme Court!
Reaching the top, I looked up to about ten people hanging off a fence-like structure fisting the air and dancing. All around me people were dancing to the noise we were creating. In the middle was the Statue of Liberty puppet. I started moving towards her, trying to take a photo. Her dancing hands looked like they were cradling The Capitol Building.
I don’t remember what people were saying or chanting, I only remember asking myself: How could this NOT work? How could our leaders turn their heads to this?!
As we descended, we yelled, “We’ll be back! We’ll be back!” It was picturesque, and it would’ve made a magnificent family portrait of +2,000 that ought to be captioned – J17: Class of 2012.
There were posters, four giant puppets (yes, courtesy of the infamous OWS Puppet Guild!), bicyclists, wheelchairs being pushed, people with cameras, laptops, in fantastical costumes (i.e. Captain America in a worn or rusty full body suit. a guy with a tent hanging on his body, and a Guy Fawkes weaving through proclaiming “AARG!”) Individuals, with their chin up, walked in solemn solidarity immersed in the electricity of the crowd. I saw a gang of four snapping their fingers in a forward moving circle, looking into each others wild eyes, chanting:
And everyone was singing…
MONEY FOR JOBS AND ED-U-CA-TION
NOT FOR WAR AND CORP-OR-A-TIONS
NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION
WHO’S STREET? OUR STREET!
HEY! THIS IS NO TIME TO HANG AT THE BAR!
(at spectators on the sidewalk entrance of bars we passed by)
There was so much singing and chanting and rushing past each other; and then halting, saying “Wait up!”, and recommencing of the march. It was like a leaderless school of fish down the stream of Constitution Ave. We stopped to read aloud altogether this, on a large plaque on the side of a building along our path:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, peacefully to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
And then cheers! I keep on saying we “walked”, but our high spirits were in fact skipping. We passed by Freedom Plaza demanding people to get out of their tents. There, I waited for the back of the line to pass. I saw only four police cars behind our trail. The march remained peaceful as we reach our destination in front of The White House. One guy climbed the fence to get center stage yelling, “We are Occupy DC! We are Occupy Wall Street! We are Occupy New York!” etcetera. We rallied there for about twenty minutes until individuals started to make speeches at The White House, at the media present, and at the symbols of our government. One such:
We will not make that mistake again!
If Obama won’t do it, we’ll do it ourselves!
And then cheers! I moved away from the rallying group, and sat next to my friend Jason. The day of action was complete and I was tired. Jason was amusing us, talking about the pizza that he thought was supposed to be served at the end of the march. It reminded me of Occupy Wall Street the first weeks at Liberty Plaza, when every night after each day of protesting, we’d have a pizza dinner waiting. It was a gift for the revolutionaries, ordered from supporters all around the world feeding the engine, patiently and lovingly, which would someday change the world.
Words by Christine Rucker
Images by Christine Rucker