Occupy DC Protest: No Arrests In McPherson Square Yet
WASHINGTON -- A group of eight OccupyDC marchers -- some wearing ties, others wearing bright yellow National Lawyers Guild legal observer hats -- were standing under a tree in McPherson Square on Monday morning, getting ready to parade over to the Bank of America branch at 17th and I streets NW.
Since Occupy DC's demonstration began in McPherson Square on Saturday morning, protesters have marched to the White House two blocks away and held signs on the square's K Street sidewalk. Some especially determined and rain-resistant members of the group slept outside under donated blankets.
And there were more of them over the weekend -- as many as 135 at the protest's height, according to Farimah (who declined to give her last name), one of this morning's crew and the last woman. But many of those weekend warriors had to go to work today -- some right near McPherson Square -- prompting jokes that the remaining protesters would have to protest their fellow Occupy DC protesters.
What the Occupy DC members haven't done yet is get arrested.
Some 700 Occupy Wall Street protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge were arrested Saturday, recalling the 2002 World Bank/International Monetary Fund protests in Washington's Pershing Park that led to hundreds of arrests, then a federal lawsuit and a class-action settlement of $8.25 million. (The Pershing Park case isn't finished yet, as issues relating to missing evidence continue to be investigated.)
Early Monday morning, members of the Occupy DC group said, they were camping adjacent to a Potbelly Sandwich Shop near McPherson Square when a security officer asked them to move. So they did.
That's been the extent of the group's negative interactions with the law so far.
"At this point we feel we have a very good relationship with the [Metropolitan Police Department] and the Park Police. And we hope to continue to nurture that relationship," said protester Micah Bales, who explained that the group had decided they would not engage in behavior that might lead to arrest. "We don't anticipate problems with the police. It seems like a different situation in New York. The police seem more antagonistic there."
Chris Carraway, a National Lawyers Guild legal observer, said that the long-running Pershing Park case has influenced the behavior of D.C. police toward protesters: "As a result of the litigation, the police in in D.C. aren't allowed to do some of the things that they are doing in New York, such as set up pens like you saw in New York where officers pepper-spray everyone. The policy was changed, so you can't pen people in."
A protester named Luke -- his last name is "kept secure," he said -- agreed. "They know if they did something like what happened in New York here, the estimated cost to them in court would be $10 million," he said. Luke said he'd been arrested in the 2000 World Bank/IMF protests -- which led to a $13.7 million settlement against the District -- but "escaped in 2002."
Kevin Zeese, an organizer of the separate but sympathetic Stop the Machine protest that starts in Washington's Freedom Plaza on Oct. 6, said he's expecting thousands of protesters to come for that rally. But Zeese added that he expects no New York-style (or Pershing Park-style, for that matter) trouble with the police either.
Because the Stop the Machine rally has been in the works since May, the organizers have had time -- more time than the Wall Street protesters, whose demonstration was announced in July -- to prepare to deal with the police. The Stop the Machine group has trained in nonviolence and peacekeeping techniques and has brought in many legal observers, all of which should keep tensions at bay, Zeese hopes.
Zeese is also trying to recruit police officers into his movement, which he said he hopes will help the protesters develop better relations with law enforcement. "I have a blog on the website where I talk about how the police would be better off in the world we're trying to create," he said. "They'll have more secure retirement, more secure health care, more secure income. More power in the workplace. And a better society to police."
When Occupy DC marched to the Bank of America branch Monday morning, the D.C. police were there. Jeffrey Light, a lawyer and protester, said the police officers were "really friendly," with some telling the protesters they support the group's cause.
"I was delighted," Light said.
WATCH: Occupy DC Protest In McPherson Square
Flickr photo by jcm_DC.