‘No, not that Occupy DC’
On Saturday, Feb. 4, McPherson Square made headlines once again after a police raid left the park gutted of its many tents, enforcing the park’s no-camping ban. The following morning, only the two library tents remained standing. The rest had been confiscated, crushed or abandoned.
Since then, about a dozen new tents have appeared in McPherson Square, but without a kitchen, a
medical tent or even blankets, sleeping in the park has become virtually impossible.
But just a few blocks away at Freedom Plaza lies another encampment, one with a fully functioning
kitchen and a wide array of multi-colored tents—the other Occupy DC encampment, also known as Stop
the Machine (STM).
Though STM officially voted to adopt the Occupy moniker—both movements, after all, seek to end
corporate greed and to empower the “99%”—the mood at Freedom Plaza is a far cry from that at
For one, the group has a legal permit to hold its “24-hour vigil,” and relations between
protesters and police have remained civil, with no arrests or raids. Police have even allowed the encampment’s kitchen-tent to remain in service after it passed a routine health inspection.
“I’ll never turn away someone who’s hungry,” said Bear, one of the encampment’s two volunteer chefs. He added that the kitchen usually feeds about 200 people a day. Bear said he plans to expand the kitchen-tent into a kind of Occupy café with weekly open-mic nights, provided he obtains a few tables and chairs.
Altogether, the encampment receives between $100 and $200 in donations a day, coupled with
revenue from the signed tarps they have started selling on Ebay. In fact, after the tents in McPherson Square were confiscated during last Saturday’s raid, STM donated “six or seven” of their own tents to the fellow encampment, according to one protester.
STM has even expanded to two houses where the group holds general assemblies every Sunday. Some
protesters also sleep in the houses, explained Bill, who runs the information tent.
“Some people just couldn’t make it through the winter,” Bill said, adding that he expects many of them to return in the spring.
In the meantime, STM holds occasional joint-general assemblies with the protesters from McPherson
Square. Bill explained that these days, STM— which is comprised mostly of older protesters and veterans—tends to have fewer active demonstrations than the McPherson camp.
“Some of us are trying to unify [the two camps],” said Sarah, a homeless woman who has been involved in the McPherson encampment for several months. She added that despite her desire to see both camps working together, there is little communication between the two.
But there is an unmistakable consensus about unifying across both camps: absolutely not.
“We’re working against the system— they’re part of it!” shouted one protester at McPherson.
Tariq Ashbury, who has been camped at Freedom Plaza since protesters first gathered in October,
said that he found it difficult to stand in solidarity with what he called a “renegade bunch.”
“Here, we push it to the edge of legality,” Tariq said, referencing the group’s protest permit. “There, they jump over the line.”
Still, some protesters say they move between the two camps, attracted to different aspects of each.
“I like to go [to Freedom Plaza] to decompress,” said Sarah.
Heather, who arrived at McPherson two weeks ago—prior to the Feb. 4 raid—said that she chose the site because it was the one she had seen on the news.
“That’s the one I knew about,” she said. Just a day later, however, she learned from a friend about the encampment at Freedom Plaza and, hearing that it was more low-key with a mostly older crowd, decided to move.
Even if the camps do not consolidate—which is almost certain to be the case—both groups will join
together for a demonstration on Mar. 30, which they are calling the “American Spring.”
“We’re all after the same thing,” said Bill, “but we’re the old farts.”