The first force is the occupiers. Taking over McPherson Square on October 1st, 2011, the number of occupiers has grown, shrunk and is now growing again. Problems arise occasionally when occupiers from other movements arrive. Along with their tents and sleeping bags, they bring memories of the police culture with them. And their memories are not the reality of OccupyDC.
The next force in this urban battle ground is law enforcement. Over 19 law enforcement agencies have some sort of jurisdiction in Washington D.C. The three that have impacted OccupyDC the most are the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, The National Parks Service Police and The Secret Service. While they are separate and distinct entities, they often act in unison and in cooperation with each other.
Instead of advocating open warfare and violence like so many law enforcement agencies have done to occupy movements across the country, those in D.C. are taking a more measured and incremental approach. As Washington D.C. has, on average, over 800 protests of some sort each year the experience area law enforcement has gained has led to more reasoned tactics. Experience combined with a higher level of professionalism than is normally found elsewhere have created a unique relationship with the occupiers.
While not “law enforcement” agencies as such, the third group of combatants are governmental. Beginning with Darrell Issa, (R-CA) who made history when he recently convened the ONLY Congressional Inquiry into protests by asking questions about the existence of OccupyDC.
The Washington DC Health Department joined the fray when they inspected the encampment and told the occupiers that the propane stoves used for cooking were unsafe and had to go. They followed that right cross with the upper cut of closing the kitchen next because there was now no way to prepare hot food. While Washington Mayor Vince Gray and Issa claimed that the Health Department was concerned about protestor’s health because of the rat population, the Health Department’s spokesman said, “there has not been a single formal complaint of rats in McPherson Square”.
When the Health Department representative repeated his “concern” about the health of the occupiers during the Congressional Inquiry, Evelyn Norton Holmes, the congresswoman for Washington D.C. and a black stated, “I remember being a little black girl during the civil rights protests. How come no one from your [health] department expressed concern about the health of the protestors then?”
If someone were to give a “State of the Union” type of address regarding OccupyDC, the picture they’d paint would be a mixed bag. Sleeping bags and bedding have been confiscated. Sleeping is no longer a right but a crime. The kitchen has been closed. No food other than bagels which are occasionally donated. Tent flaps required to be open allowing elements of the weather and rats to freely enter.
However, the occupiers persist. With black humor and a sense of purpose, the occupiers roll with each and every “punch” thrown at them. Creative ways to maintain the protest are thought up even as law enforcement modifies their approach to the old tactics. Youth and energy is finally combining with age and wisdom. While OccupyDC may not be unstoppable, it is showing signs of being extremely adaptable. So the encampment may go on for a long, long time.
Or it might get shut down tomorrow.
Jerry Nelson is a nationally recognized photojournalist and adventure photographer. His work has appeared in many national, regional and local publications including CNN, USAToday, Upsurge, Earthwalkers and Associated Content and he is a regular contributor to Huffington Post as well as OpEdNews. Nelson travels the country seeking out the people, places and things that make America unique and great. Nelson currently is in Washington D.C. pointing his camera at OccupyDC and freelancing for The Washington Times the second largest paper in the nation’s capital.
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