This week, I ventured out to get the on-the-ground scoop on the Occupy DC movement, what they want and, more importantly, when they plan to leave. (The National Park Service says they can stay for the next four months -- how lovely for the rest of us.)
Currently there are two encampments occupying DC parks at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza, both just steps away from the White House. On this particular day, I made my way to Freedom Plaza, now a liberal tent city of sorts sitting between the White House and the U.S. Capitol building:
The squatters at Freedom Plaza have been "protesting" round-the-clock since October 6. On this day, I unfortunately just missed a visit from Cornel West and Jesse Jackson. Imagine my disappointment. But the SEIU was out and making a ruckus at a DC city government building just across the street:
At this particular protest -- planned by a group called October2011.org -- CodePink was out in force, blending the "eat the rich" meme with the liberal anti-war movement:
Anarchists were on-hand with this message: Don't be afraid to break the law!
Police can't be trusted. They may be "ordinary workers," but their job is to protect the interests of the ruling class. ... Anyone who insists that the police exist to protect and serve the common people has probably lived a privileged life, and an obedient one.
Laws serve to protect the privileges of the wealthy and powerful; obeying them is not necessarily morally right -- it may even be immoral. Slavery was legal. The Nazis had laws too. We have to develop the strength of conscience to do what we know is best, regardless of the laws.
Clearly Uncle Sam is armed and dangerous, as this sign demonstrates:
The "kitchen" was stocked with cases of tomato sauce and bottled water but absolutely reeked of rotten vegetables and garbage. Here's a question: How is it these makeshift kitchens are passing the scrutiny of the city's health department, yet kids' lemonade stands don't stand a chance nowadays?
As I said, this particular protester campsite is situated on a prime piece of real estate in the heart of Washington, DC. A parking spot in this area of town will set you back a couple hundred dollars per month. Unfortunately for people who work in the surrounding buildings and tourists passing through the area on their way down to the National Mall, the sights, sounds and smells of Occupy DC cast a cloud over an otherwise beautiful day.
Here in this space between 13th and 14th Streets, irony is lost on anti-war protesters who pitch their tents in the shadow of Casimir Pulaski, a Polish soldier recruited by Benjamin Franklin to fight on behalf of freedom in the American Revolution. "I came here, where freedom is being defended, to serve it and to live or die for it," Pulaski once told Gen. George Washington. During the Battle of Brandywine, Pulaski saved Washington's life and the future president promoted him and history remembers him as the "Father of the American Cavalry."
The left views these demonstrations as a clear expression of American freedom, but somehow I don't think this is exactly what Pulaski had in mind when he gave his life for the cause.
Of course just like in New York, the demonstrators come with specific demands:
...apparently all their talk of "living wages" and free health care benefits are just friendly suggestions. As you can see, all they really want in exchange for their work is "peace."
This sign was posted on one tent, ostensibly by someone looking for work. Others I spoke to weren't exactly sure why they were there. One said she was there to protest "fracking." Another said she didn't want to pay her student loans. An immigrant from Sri Lanka told me he was there because he heard about it on television.
Unable to nail down specific demands in tent city, I ventured across the street to see if the SEIU demonstrators knew why they were protesting:
These workers were out protesting against a private nursing home housed in a public building, arguing that they were being treated unfairly and demanding the city take action against the company. The SEIU just happened to be there with pre-made signs for them to hold, tee-shirts for them to wear, food for them to eat and water for them to drink. Using the left's favorite new tool -- the "human microphone" -- union reps even told the protesters exactly what to say.
I decided to mingle among the health care workers to get their own opinions, but actually finding one turned out to be somewhat difficult. When I spoke to this group of SEIU/Obama supporters, I found out that they didn't work for the nursing home in question, nor did they even work in the health care industry. The woman with blonde hair (pictured below) admitted to me that she and her friends actually worked at the U.S. State Department and just came down to support the union... you know, by chanting about how they were disenfranchised and wearing the SEIU's signature purple duds:
If there's one thing the radical left has come to understand, it's that optics are important. Whether you're camped out in a tent waiting for the police to drag you away, or standing in a solid block of purple tee-shirts, the illusion of unity is more important than actual representation.
The left also understands that raw human emotions are the best political tool in their arsenal.
After speaking with several protesters at Occupy DC this week, it became painfully obvious to me that the "99%"ers are gaining momentum not because they represent an ideological "big tent" movement, but because the far-left has ditched the tent completely.
Displeased with the government? Join us.
Support teachers, firefighters and police? Join us.
Hate your boss? Join us.
Want to live debt-free? Join us.
Hate war? Join us.
Like breathing clean air? Join us.
Want a pony? Join us.
Like potholes? You're a tea partier.
The left is redrawing the lines of the ideological debate and working to encapsulate everyone -- right or left -- under their umbrella of organized protest. What's truly scary about this movement is how agreement on any one issue seems to be enough to get people involved, regardless of whether they agree with 99.9% of the other issues being debated.
Barriers separating libertarians from Big Government liberals are being torn down. Atheists and churchgoers are sharing tents. Communists and Nazis are marching in unison with Democrats and Republicans. And while the left praises this movement for bringing these people together, failing to watch what the "other hand" is planning to do with this growing popular movement poses a serious threat to us all.