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Washington, D.C.'s answer to the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests kicked into high gear Thursday with a large rally and "occupation" just blocks from the White House, culminating in a demonstration with a "We want jobs!" chant in front of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Several hundred people gathered first in Freedom Plaza for a combination protest-concert, railing against corporate greed and the increasing gap separating the "top 1 percent" from the "99 percent."
It was actually part of a four-day "October 2011" movement timed to commemorate the 10-year mark since U.S. actions in Afghanistan began. With the "Occupy" protests picking up steam around the country, organizers were happy to embrace that fervor, including with their "Human Needs Not Corporate Greed" mantra.
Of course, as has been the case since the Days of Rage movement began in September, not everyone was quite on the same page with the protest's exact goals. Even the October 2011 group itself wasn't too clear on what their demands were, right up to the day of the protest. From their website:
October2011.org is working through its steering committee, endorsing organizations and the thousands of members of our online community to develop the demands we stand for. We have made a lot of progress but continue to work on these issues and will continue to do so during the occupation of Freedom Plaza beginning on October 6.
The group did list seven general issues on its site where "super majorities of the American public agree with our political goals but the U.S. government is going in the opposite direction":
- Tax the rich and corporations
- End the wars, bring the troops home, cut military spending
- Protect the social safety net, strengthen Social Security and improved Medicare for all
- End corporate welfare for oil companies and other big business interests
- Transition to a clean energy economy, reverse environmental degradation
- Protect worker rights including collective bargaining, create jobs and raise wages
Brad Blanton of Luray, Va. had one of the more extreme messages of the protest, saying it was time to literally start eating the wealthy in order to fix economic inequality.
"They're devouring us and now it's time we start devouring them back," Blanton said. "I'm advocating cannibalism."
But actual cannibalism? Apparently so.
"We ought to cut 'em up and have a little ritual where we call it communion," Blanton said. "We're all cannibals, all human beings are cannibals. What we need to do is start eating from the top instead of the bottom."
And again, just so there was no mistake:
"First we ought to kill them and eat them. I think cannibalism is the answer. Second to that, just regulate the hell out of them, that'd be okay," Blanton said.
Carrie Stone of Clarksburg, W.V. carried a sign that said she walked 200 miles to be in D.C. for the rally, which she said took her nine days.
"I decided I was through talking the talk and I was ready to walk the walk," said Stone, who identified herself as an uninsured cancer survivor, grandmother of two, lesbian and environmentalist who's building a house out of recycled materials. "I figured I'm the poster child for progressive issues."
Stone said she was there to let "the wealthiest 1 percent" know that the government should represent the people, not just the corporations.
"I'm really happy to know that the whole world knows about it and we are now part of a global movement of occupying public squares," Stone said. "We are upset about inequity, economic inequality where [only] so many people are doing so well, corporations, CEOs are making money while the rest of us are making less money."
Before the group set off for the Chamber of Commerce, a number of activists took to the stage to pump up the crowd, singing songs and delivering spoken word performances. One such act called themselves "The Raging Grannies":
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Performance artist and activist Ron Kipling Williams delivered a spoken word performance of his poem, "America Kills."
"America drinks oil and excretes fascism!" Williams said. "America washes itself with bullets and dries itself with genocide."
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After several hours, the group set off for the Chamber of Commerce in a march on "corporate America." They chanted “We want jobs!" and unfurled a large sign in front of the entrance that said “Chamber of Corporate Horrors." When they finished, some had left a symbolic stack of job applications and resumes in their wake, the Washington Post reported.
Heather Lewis-Lechner said she came across the country from Tacoma, Wash. to attend the rally, and said afterward she hopes it's the start of a push for people to inform themselves about "how things work" with regard to economic inequality.
Lewis-Lechner, who works as an attorney in the Washington State Senate, said it's time for a progressive tax structure where the wealthy and corporations pay "their fair share just like everybody else."
"It's not socialism, it's not liberalism and it shouldn't be a dirty word," she said. "It should just be generosity and compassion for our fellow human beings."