Friday, October 14, 2011

We the People--A New Movement: Freedom Plaza Occupation, Washington, D.C., October 2011

We the People—A New Movement
Submitted for
Michael and Cynthia Orange, 10/14/11

There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear...
—From “For What It’s Worth,” Steven Stills and Buffalo Springfield, 1967

We participated in theStop the Machine! Create a New World” 
gathering in Washington DC to launch the occupation of Freedom Plaza. The occupation was the culmination of efforts from a large coalition of previously existing grassroots organizations, including the Veterans for Peace and Vietnam Veterans Against the War. What we saw in DC and have been seeing in broadcasts from some of the other “occupations” throughout the country convince us that we are witnessing the birth of a new movement.

For months, we felt compelled to make the trip from our home in St. Paul primarily because the focus of the gathering in Washington DC was to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the US war and occupation of Afghanistan. It was also to “connect the dots” that link our imperial wars as the root causes of our country’s debilitating domestic problems. The military-industrial-media complex bears increasing responsibility for our growing economic inequity, chronic joblessness and union bashing, defunded public education and public services, decaying public infrastructure, the assault on the environment, the health care debacle, and the hijacking of our democracy by the rich and powerful.

We’re not novices at this. We’ve been peace activists for over four decades now, sustained by an abiding hope that eventually the people will rise up to take back our country. This DC Occupation is not new but it’s certainly different. It’s the latest chapter in a two-century history of struggle by Americans who sought fair treatment.

In addition to the war economy focus, the DC Occupation embraced a broader range of interests that garner wider support and are more in harmony with the Occupy Wall Street purpose. In fact, a large majority of the American people consistently support ending the wars, creating a more equitable tax system, ending corporate welfare, protecting the social safety net and worker rights, transitioning to a clean energy economy, and reversing environmental degradation. Of absolute necessity is getting the money out of politics.

We were very impressed with the event organization. This is in contrast to some of the corporate media spin that wants you to believe that Occupy Wall Street and the similar actions are led by a bunch of angry losers or old hippies who don’t have a clue. In DC, there were tents for the media, legal aid, first aid, free donated food, electronic tie-ins, and a long line of porta-potties.

The small grassy side of the totally paved plaza became a crowded campground for the hundreds who spent the night there. As the crowd grew to nearly a thousand, the buzz of hundreds of conversations from people of all ages, races, and walks of life created their own energy. There was music, dancing, laughter, and deep discussion. And everywhere, there were people with signs, most of them hand lettered:

·A Vietnam vet’s sign read: “How’s the war economy working for you?”

· A man held a sign that said, “I wish I could afford my own politician.”

· A middle-aged woman’s signs said, “You screw us, we multiply.”

· A white bearded veteran held a US flag with corporate logos where the stars should be.

· A young woman stood alone holding a piece of brown cardboard with penciled letters that read “Another single mother in foreclosure.”

· There were two children, one with a sign reading, “Please don’t steal my future,” and the other with “Toddlers Against Corporate Greed.”

· “Capitalism ate Democracy” read another.

· And there were Vets for Peace banners from across the country.

The women from Code Pink created a cardboard village with labels such as “Foreclosed Dream House.” It served as a playground for kids during the day and shelter for the overnighters to “rest” after the Park Police banned sleeping and the use of tents on the plaza.

A display of worn combat boots carried tags that listed their now-dead owners. The backdrop for the main stage was a twenty-foot-wide, parchment-colored banner, titled “We the People,” which proclaimed the text and calligraphy of the Preamble to the Constitution. In the middle of the plaza was a companion banner titled “We the Corporations” with a parody of the Preamble complete with a host of corporate logos.

To begin the formal program, the Raging Grannies from Madison sang original songs that we had first heard when we attended the massive pro-labor rallies there last spring. (photo)
During the evening program, we heard from an Iraq War vet and his artist friend who had biked 6,000 miles to bring attention through their music to the stupidity of our ongoing wars.
We spoke with event “Peacemakers” whose job was to quell hot tempers and prevent violence. They were called into action at the demonstration two days later at the Smithsonian’s military drone exhibit when an agent provocateur in the group created a violent situation. 

The incident serves as an excellent example of how peace demonstrations are often infiltrated and discredited. Patrick Howley, who is an editor at the conservative magazine The American Spectator, boasted that he shoved his way into the museum and this led to the security guards dousing the group with pepper spray. This is what Howley wrote about his motives: “As far as anyone knew I was part of this cause — a cause that I had infiltrated the day before in order to mock and undermine [it] in the pages of The American Spectator.”[1]

There is a striking contrast with the two-year-old Tea Party whose members are also voicing their anger at conditions for the average person. Unlike the “Occupy” movement, the Tea Party has been co-opted by the corporate elite who have bankrolled it and used their corporate media to mold opinion and to serve their own interests and those of the Republican Party. In contrast, these occupations, like the one we attended in DC, are part of an organic grass-roots movement that actually resists outside control from even traditional progressive groups (e.g. organized labor).

Like the peace movement of forty years ago, we protesters are angry and completely frustrated by the imperial wars and the oligarchic control of the many by the wealthy and powerful few.

David Morris of the Institute for Local Self reliance describes it, “We’re mad at the devastation wrought in the last four years by the toxic combination of unrestrained greed and concentrated wealth.... We’re mad at Wall Street for taking our money and giving nothing back.... We’re mad at the 1 percent of the country who make decisions that enrich themselves while impoverishing the rest of us.” His article, “It’s Labor vs. Capital, Stupid,” is rich with the facts to back up his assertions.[2]

As Gerald Gannon, fellow member of Veterans for Peace, writes, “Let me be clear here: we are not anti-business or anti-capitalism.... The great majority of entrepreneurs, sole proprietors and small-to-medium sized business [that] provide most of the jobs in our country and practice true capitalism ... [are] more than willing to pit themselves against the competition for a fair share of the marketplace.... But the giant ‘multinational’ corporations seek to stifle competition.... These Godzilla-like corporations built on the backs of American workers and with American dollars now deny the people in the country of their origins—jobs for their livelihood, their tax dollars, the fundamental control of their own government and any allegiance what so ever. They are driven only by insatiable lust for ever greater profits with no concern at all for the American people or the environment in which we all live. They have been allowed to metastasize into traitorous monsters....”

Chris Hedges,[3] the keynote speaker for first night of the DC Occupation, has stated, “The greatest gift the occupation has given us is a blueprint for how to fight back. And this blueprint is being transferred to cities and parks across the country.” As we write this in mid-October, there are nearly 1,500 occupations in the US, and many more around the world.
In his remarks in DC, Hedges challenged us all by saying “Either you are rebel or a slave. (Hedges photo) Here are some excerpts of his speech:

There are no excuses left. Either you join the revolt taking place on Wall Street and in the financial districts of other cities across the country or you stand on the wrong side of history. Either you obstruct, in the only form left to us, which is through civil disobedience, the plundering by the criminal class on Wall Street and accelerated destruction of the ecosystem that sustains the human species, or become the passive enabler of a monstrous evil. Either you taste, feel and smell the intoxication of freedom and revolt or sink into the miasma of despair and apathy. Either you are a rebel or a slave....
“Choose. But choose fast. The state and corporate forces are determined to crush this. They are not going to wait for you. They are terrified this will spread, as it is spreading....

“Those on the streets around Wall Street and here tonight are the physical embodiment of hope. You know that hope has a cost, that it is not easy or comfortable, that it requires self-sacrifice and discomfort and finally faith.... But as long as we remain steadfast we can see our way out of the corporate labyrinth.

There is indeed, “something happening here.” But what it is, is getting clearer. The people are rising up to take back our country. We stand together in this new movement.

About the authors:

Michael is a member of local Chapter 27 Veterans for Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and the author of Fire in the Hole: A Mortarman in Vietnam. Cynthia is also a long-time peace activist and author of Shock Waves: A Practical Guide to Living with a Loved One’s PTSD.

[3] Chris Hedges was a foreign correspondent who, for 15 years, covered wars throughout the world for the New York Times. He was an early critic of the Iraq War and left the paper to become a senior fellow at The Nation Institute, write books, and teach (see