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Occupy DC vs. Stop The Machine: Protests Not Yet Officially Merging

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WASHINGTON - It's been confusing at times to have the Stop the Machine protests going on in Freedom Plaza, while Occupy DC has been camped out in McPherson Square six blocks away.

But until now, the two protests have emphasized that they are separate but friendly movements. Now there's evidence that "separate" might not mean the same thing to both groups.

On Monday night, when Stop the Machine through its General Assembly was considering the U.S. Park Police offer of a four-month extension on its protest permit, members took care to consider the effect their decision might have on the demonstration in McPherson Square. (The offer was accepted. Stop the Machine now has until February to use Freedom Plaza for its activities.)

Then on Thursday, Stop the Machine sent around a media release about seven of its protesters arrested at a House Armed Services Committee hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building. The release announced "Washington, DC Occupiers to Disrupt Hearing Before House Armed Services Committee" and "The Occupy Movement in Washington, DC today will disrupt a hearing reviewing ten years of war and looking toward future military conflicts."

Another release sent out by Stop the Machine, also about the arrests, similarly suggested that the Freedom Plaza protest is now part of the Occupy movement: "Dozens of people who are part of Occupy DC, camping out in Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square, packed the line to get into the House Armed Services Committee where Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was testifying."

If it's Occupy DC camping in Freedom Plaza, have the two groups merged?

The Huffington Post spoke with Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of anti-war group Code Pink (part of the Stop the Machine coalition), who is listed as a contact on the media release. Benjamin said that the groups had merged. "We heard that their General Assembly agreed last night that we are all Occupy DC," she said. "We think it'll be easier."

Benjamin said that the groups will keep their respective camps -- "Two houses are better than one" -- but would share food and coordinate their actions. They would all call themselves "Occupy" from now on.

"No, that is absolutely not true," responded Jeffrey Light, a lawyer advising Occupy DC. "We certainly did not merge the groups or anything like that."

Light told The Huffington Post that at Wednesday night's Occupy DC General Assembly -- that's the one in McPherson Square -- the group decided that representatives from the two groups would meet to coordinate some efforts. Light said there was nothing on the agenda relating to the merging of Occupy DC and Stop the Machine, only whether to have a liaison working with the Freedom Plaza protesters.

But this mix-up isn't going to affect the two groups' good relations, as far as Light is concerned. "I'm sure it was just an honest mistake," he said.

Of course, just to confuse things a little more, the Occupy movement itself is leaderless, and it's not like any group needs to pay licensing fees to use the name. So even if the McPherson Square protesters don't consider the two groups merged, and even if people talking about the Washington protests find themselves more confused by the change in name, there's nothing to stop the Freedom Plaza protesters from calling themselves Occupy DC. Except Stop the Machine's General Assembly deciding otherwise.

Flickr photo by Karol A Olson


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