The question that popped around in my mind after a long day at Occupy Congress was did this movement still matter?
I wanted to think that it does. As I’m sure the thousand or so activists that had gathered at the Capitol’s west lawn do too.
But has the carnival come to a conclusion?
The bad: Nothing in America has directly changed because of Occupy. The rich are still incredibly rich. They’re funneling money through Super PACs, corporations are still people and real people are still suffering from massive amounts of debt.
The good: There has been more talk in the news about the depths of economic inequality. There has been a slight emboldening of the labor movement. And there has been an influx of new activists joining a spineless political left.
But this small, yet loud movement’s aspirations still revolve around occupying public space rather than aggressively taking on issues. As I walked to the Capitol lawn with livestreamer Tim Pool and Tina Dupuy, the editor of Crooksandliars.com, Pool said he probably shouldn’t tell us this, but that he has heard rumblings that they plan to take back Zuccotti Park on February 17.
Dupuy told him it was just a symbol and not a progression. I agree. The camps were an excellent place to organize and network for the activists. But now that many of them are gone, or have devolved into a semblance of their early days, activists are searching for what’s next.
J17 was supposed to be the next step. But yesterday it seemed to be a fairly standard D.C. protest. It started off in the morning, with a few hundred protesters gathering in front of the Capitol. It was raining. By mid-afternoon there were close to a thousand protesters gathered. The sun was out.
Some protesters attempted to scuffle with police in order to create the controversy that didn’t exist. They crossed police lines, they threw things, they yelled and screamed. They wanted a reaction, but the D.C. police didn’t give them one. Only four people were arrested all day, despite protesters’ best efforts.
They went inside the Congressional office buildings to attempt to speak to Members of Congress. The whole point of the protest on Jan. 17 was to greet Congress as they returned to session. However, very few Members were actually in their offices. As a result, staffers handled the questions of the protesters.
I sat in on one of these conversations in Congressman Steny Hoyer’s (D-Md.) office. First a staff member said she was unable to answer direct questions about economic inequality and corporate personhood. Instead she said she could tell the activists’ about what type of legislation Hoyer was supporting that involved those topics. Yet she couldn’t think of any legislation.
Then Hoyer’s Congressional office manager arrived and began fielding questions. He said the protesters’ were in the wrong office and that Hoyer supported their efforts. I asked him why Hoyer had taken in $90,000 from the finance and securities industry during this election cycle if he supported the protesters. He said he doesn’t deal with the campaign side and that anyone can contribute to the Congressman. I asked why they had to accept every contribution. He said that’s a good point.
Over time, the activists grew frustrated with the staff members’ constant deflection of questions and left. The staff members looked relieved to see them go.
Here’s another story about staff deflecting questions yesterday.
After the deflection session, the protesters went back to the Capitol lawn, had a little concert and then went on a march through D.C.
At perhaps the most meaningful moment of the whole thing, over a thousand protesters broke a light police line at the Supreme Court and illegally scaled the steps in a show of force against Citizens United.
That was a moment that rarely, if ever, happens at the Supreme Court. The entire steps of the Court were filled with protesters. The police attempted to shout through their bullhorns that the protesters could be arrested, but the activists didn’t flinch. They chanted, loudly, “Money is not speech! Money is not speech!”
But rather than stay at the steps, which would have made a powerful statement against corporate personhood and the powers of corporations in America, the protesters left after about five minutes.
They marched to the epicenter of every D.C. protest ever, the White House. They shouted some things. There was no dramatic speech, no dramatic arrests. The only thing that happened was someone threw a smokebomb over the fence or from within the fence (not clear). Of course, this was the story that dominated coverage of the White House protest.
Obama wasn’t even at the White House, he was at a steak restaurant nearby having dinner with his wife for her birthday.
After protesting at the White House the occupiers returned to the Capitol lawn. There was another concert. At 11 p.m., they dutifully left the grounds as their permit expired.
No police brutality. No overarching message. No organized civil disobedience.
At the end of the night I sat on a wall with Dupuy and a protester named Rob that has been active with Occupy D.C.
He said he’s not going to give up, but he also said that change doesn’t happen in America without organization. I attempted to find an example of when disorganization worked, but could only come up with the French Revolution, and that didn’t really fit, I didn’t even say it out loud.
This movement has had some lucky breaks without organization. The public-private partnership of Zucotti Park allowed protesters to stay there for an extended period of time due to a legal gray area. The police brutality against young activists has garnered national sympathy. Union involvement has created blue collar support. And it is only four months old.
Martin Luther King was active for 13 years pushing for civil rights before he was assassinated. The first women’s rights convention was held at Seneca Falls in 1848, but they couldn’t vote until 1920. The Tea Party happened in 1773, yet the war didn’t start until 1775.
Occupy has ignited an examination into our social and political structures that could take years to shake down, if they can stay relevant.
But on Tuesday, they missed an incredible opportunity at the Supreme Court. They were at the symbol of corporate power and political mishaps in the 21st Century. They were 1,000 strong, occupying the place that gave George W. Bush the presidency and said corporations are people. And they left.