WASHINGTON -- Hundreds of supporters from across the country flocked to Wednesday night’s kickoff event for the October2011.org/Stop the Machine demonstration scheduled to take place today on Freedom Plaza.
"We've know for years what's wrong with our country. When we heard about this event we had to go. We said 'we're going, we're going to participate, and we’re going to stay until it's over,'" said Rich Hoeppner, who flew in with his wife from their home in Kauai, Hawaii. Other attendees included a group from Alaska, a couple from Hawaii and one woman who walked 200 miles from West Virginia.
Held at Busboys and Poets on 14th Street NW, the event featured speakers including Mahlon Mitchell, president of Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, Eric Sheptock, a homeless advocate in D.C. and Jos Williams, president of the AFL-CIO's Metropolitan Council of Washington.
"When did teachers and policeman become the problem?" Mitchell asked the crowd, recalling the protests he fought alongside earlier this year in Madison, Wis.,.
Sheptock discussed the record number of homeless in D.C. -- 7,000 homeless in a population of 600,000 -- an larger number of homeless than Chicago, a city three times Washington.
“We’re not going to stop this fight until housing is a human right,” Sheptock chanted with the audience. “So much money for war and so little money for human need.”
Williams expressed support for the movement on behalf of the AFL-CIO.
"The spirit you have is contagious," Williams said to an eruption of cheers from the crowd. "If anyone asks you how long this is going to be, your answer will be 'one day longer!' "
The evening continued with musical guests Emma’s Revolation and David Rovicks, signage, chant contests and event planning.
"We may very well get kicked out of Freedom Plaza after four days when our permit runs out," Benjamin told HuffPost. "With so many people, I think it's good to have two spaces."
The crowd drew up a wide spectrum of characters -- the young and old; black, white and middle eastern people; the homeless and business professionals -- and reflected the range of issues taken up by the movement, such as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, corporatism and worker rights.
"I’m hoping [on Thursday] we dig in our heels and force the powers that be in Washington to pay attention," Benjamin said.