Representation through occupation
I haven’t lived full-time in this city for several years but know it more intimately than nearly any other East Coast city. When I first became a tax-paying DC resident the fired-up Taxation Without Representation license plates on vehicles became, well, personal. Taxes are high and largely feed the needs of commuters flooding in and out of the ‘Beltway’ city rather than serving the majority of District denizens who are largely and unsurprisingly non-white and poor. The number of homeless people is staggering. Broken roads and pot holes are the stuff of legend. The public school system is at best controversial and at worse derided. Gang-related violence has rivaled Los Angeles statistics, ‘crime-deterrence’ programs once included checkpoints in immigrant communities, and for the entirety of the ’90s the city was referred to as the ‘murder capital’ of the U.S.
Since Occupy DC began the alter-tagline has become Representation Through Occupation. It was nearly surreal to pull up to the site/sight of a tent city in a District which is the near-perfect symbol of political resignation, aberrations of power, and local alienation.
But potential political empowerment can’t afford romanticism either. Like the city itself, this is an Occupy with its fair share of internal strife, alternately described as ‘creative’ or ‘dysfunctional’ depending on whom you ask and when you ask it. One observer told me drug abuse and prostitution are major issues. So is violence, and because of the large presence of the homeless community there are concerns that untreated mental instability will give way to serious and life-endangering acts. Class rifts run deep. Some African-American members don’t feel like they are being listened to or given an equal footing.
Organizers told me the park is considered a national park, and the mobilization has been thus far left standing rather than raided or razed like many other cities (not that people unduly trust the police or mayoral politics, but the relative détente does put the focus on every day problems that need fixing rather than a heightened existential crisis like at many other encampments).
McPherson Square: ‘Owing to its proximity to the White House, it is also the site of political rallies and falls on the path of various protest marches.’ No kidding.
An equestrian statue of James Birdseye McPherson in the middle of the square.
Out of these.
Occupy DC is the fourth fifth Occupy city I’ve visited since OWS began, and the most visibly busy. People never stopped working, even with fewer daytime attendance on the day before a national holiday.