October 6, 2011, was a perfect autumn day in our nation's capital: bright and clement. And at Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC, from early this morning, people gathered from across the US and places beyond to "stop the machine" and demand that human need, not corporate greed, guide the direction of this country. The October 2011 movement - planned six months ago - is separate from, but wholly synergistic with the "Occupy Washington" movement in nearby McPherson Park.
The Plaza was humming with purposeful activity from early in the morning, with tents set up for media, first aid, information, food not bombs, storytelling, legal advice; porta potties lined up against one side of the plaza, drummers maintaining a deep booming rhythm, peacekeepers meeting after their training the night before to confirm they were ready for the day - phone trees, affinity groups and positions in order. "Keep everything peaceful. Work in your affinity groups. Stay in touch. Position yourselves all along the march" were the final instructions.
Carol Hunter and Tom Bailey had volunteered for peacekeeping and come from Colorado "just to be here." Carol explained, "We've been very upset about what's been happening in this country and when we saw the uprising in Egypt on TV, we thought we'd been lulled to sleep in this country. Since we're both retired educators, we want to learn and to teach. We're upset about the demonization of teachers and the elimination of unions, the last bastion of the middle class. We've lived in Third World countries and we know what it's like, the glass shards in the walls and the barbed wires surrounding where the wealthy live and we see it's coming here. It's scary for me that people don't realize where we're headed ... Tom, why did you come?"
"Because you did."
Beritu Heile Selassie.
The peacekeepers were briefly reconvened to be advised about police liaison and how to cordon off a person injured during the march. Under no circumstances should anyone ever touch a policeman, even in a friendly way.
Peacekeepers Gary and Ashley Straw were in Washington from "Occupy Wall Street." Ashley explained, "We're both bicyclists and we met at the occupation. We had preplanned to be at 'Occupy Pittsburgh' and 'Occupy Baltimore.' It's been such a pleasure to work with the peacekeeping team here. It's an element of the occupations not present at Wall Street. Our forces need to come together and learn from one another."
Carrie Stone and Nicole Sandler.
Where do you live? "We live right here."
Mother and daughter "Raging Grannies" Gerrie and Marie Martini came from Madison, Wisconsin, to join the October 2011 movement this weekend in Washington before they return to the struggle in Wisconsin and getting the necessary 1.5 million signatures for Gov. Scott Walker's recall. Gerrie explained, "We have a lot of hardworking people in Madison. We want to be part of a national movement and we feel everyone in this country should be part of a movement because our government is broken. It may be a long struggle because there is so much money. We have to realign our politicians and our people."
Gerrie and Marie Martini.
Sally Alice Thompson from Albuquerque, New Mexico, wants "to stop war and stop fascism and we have to do something about it because we're sliding into eternal war and fascism. We can't just be those frogs that allow themselves to slow boil until they're cooked." Sally added, "I lived through the Depression and I can see the whole thing happening all over again; they're calling it a recession, but it's a Depression all over again. If all the wealth is concentrated, it doesn't circulate."
Anthony Gualtieri, carrying a well-worn copy of Shumpeter's "Can Capitalism Survive" in his wheelchair, said he was here to learn how to better advocate for his issues, which he declared to be economic justice. Losing the use of his leg in an auto accident that was arguably the result of corporate negligence, he said it "certainly gives you a different perspective on life." He described that perspective as "Be greedy for love and peace."
Vietnam vet Bob Bowes held a US flag on which the stars had been replaced by corporate logos. He was "here to show solidarity with my brothers and sister so maybe we can overturn this system." Asked what system that was, he responded, "I don't believe any more in Democrats and Republicans . I see it as Chris Hedges sees it. We need to do an overhaul on this system. These are our demands and the politicians don't grant them to us. We take them. Step aside. That's the way the young people in Boston are talking. The young people get it. They call the anti-war movement a corpse. And all 'liberals' are suspect. Liberals want to 'tweak' the system and there's no tweaking this system. The system is a criminal syndicate."
Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers on K Street.
Of his Bradley Manning T-shirt, Bob said, "Here's a young man whose Constitutional rights have been violated; he's been tortured; the UN can't visit him. In Boston, BU and MIT students had a wonderful rally and they exploded the Bradley Manning issue to apply to us all. It's comparable to the murder of al-Awlaki. It violates the Constitution. There was no due process. King Obama does it again. Our forefathers tried to protect us from kings."
Beritu Haile Selassie claims to suffer from "all the diseases: I'm black; I'm a damn foreigner; I'm single and I'm disabled. The US has one disease: it's CORRUPT. I've been unemployed for the last four years and I blame this country. It's rich. It's not poor. It's just that all the money goes to a few."
Clinical psychologist Brad Blanton, of the Center for Radical Honesty and author of "Korporate Kannibal Kookbook," purveyed his in-your-face T-shirts ("I Don't Need Sex. A GIANT Corporate 'Person' Fucks Me Everyday"). [Full disclosure: I happily accepted one on the condition I wear it.] He said, "Cure for everything: Start telling the truth. It clears everything up and is the cure for depression. We're made afraid of things by the corporate networks. We're too scattered. Our strength is now that we're getting together."
A student from George Washington volunteered to lead one of the informal teach-ins scheduled for Friday morning. A friend and fellow student had been to Occupy Boston. They were trying to balance school and activism.
Robin Brookman of Bluemont Virginia spread clouds of bubbles over the plaza, declaring, "We're cleaning up America."
Mary Arbuckle - from North Dakota originally and Pittsburgh most recently - met her husband Bob, a vet, in Spain and married in Philadelphia. They felt compelled to come to October 2011: "There was too much going on that had to be addressed and we were looking for a way to express ourselves ... of course we've called our Congresspeople - AND written AND visited their offices ("We're on a first name basis," Bob interjected) but they don't seem to hear us." Mary and Bob left together to walk with the veterans coming into the Plaza when a volunteer was requested to help a wheelchair-bound vet.
Master of Degrees Shackled by Debt.
At the media table, a young Israeli helped out. His T-shirt read, "We will not be silent" in Arabic, Hebrew and English. After Downing Street Co-Founder David Swanson told an interviewer, "This is the sort of society the American colonists wanted to leave behind 250 years ago."
Ashley Lowe fights corporate lobbyists every day at her job for a nonprofit that promotes proper nutrition for children.
Charlotte Casey came from San José "because something needs to happen and it seemed appropriate on the 10th anniversary of a war that should never have happened. It's going to be a long struggle, but we have so many tools at our disposal that we didn't have in the '60s. I remember the mimeograph machines and underground newspapers, when our only phones were our home phones."
Another woman added, "Capitalism ate democracy. They don't seem to listen to individuals, so maybe when we come together as a group we can get their attention. Nobody speaks for us. We're the majority, but nobody hears us."
Sally Alice Thompson.
Carrie Stone walked 200 miles from Wallace West, Virginia. while her partner Elisha Ross drove a support vehicle. Stone, a lawyer, was "fed up. Everything was just getting worse and worse from the health care fiasco on and we were getting sick and tired of it. None of our representatives are listening to us. They all seem to be taking the advice of campaign donors and I thought if a grandmother, a lesbian and a cancer survivor who can't get health insurance walked here, it might get some publicity, so more people would come. The Tea Party seems to have co-opted all the attention, which goes to stupid people fighting on the wrong side. And I did get some media attention, but Occupy Wall Street has really helped."
Vietnam vet Bob Bowes.
The veterans contingent walked ("I don't march no more," said one) in from Lafayette Park and surrounded the plaza.
A moment of silence was observed to commemorate the life of the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who died October 5. The reverend was a civil rights activist, who fought racism and segregation. Raging Grannies from around the country took the stage and sang. The Occupy Wall Street success was acknowledged and everyone was invited to join Occupy DC any time at McPherson Park.
Medea Benjamin and friend.
The Wisconsin contingent came in from the park, and Ben Matson quoted Bob LaFollette, legendary governor of Wisconsin in 1900, on our domination by the forces that thwart the will of the people. A full program of speakers and artists, including two Egyptians, David Rovics, Head Roc, Glen Ford, Dick Gregory, Dennis Trainor and Cheri Honkala inspired and entertained the crowd before Code Pink organized a 99 percent photograph and the march began past the Treasury Building and the White House (chants of "Shame" and " Whose House? Our House.") to stop in front of the American Chamber of Commerce. Medea Benjamin and Dennis Trainor performed some street theater based on the huge "JOBS" banner adorning the Amcham building's facade, but the doors stayed closed and the march proceeded down K Street, past McPherson Park where hugs, back slapping and high fives were exchanged with the DC "Occupiers," and finally the marchers returned to Freedom Plaza. Passersby were invited to join; police were thanked for clearing the way and the festive but purposeful mood that had characterized the entire day was preserved.