OccupyDC, Drones and Me

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McPherson Square, Washington DC

Washington DC can be cold in the winter. The wind will whip down the concrete canyons and swirl around the parks and squares with a force that makes the statues themselves bundle up.

It’s even colder when you’ve been sleeping out in McPherson Square since October 1st and now it’s the night before Christmas 2011.

The park, about 3 blocks from The White House and a little over one and a half acres had been home along with about 300 other people. Protesters, demonstrators, homeless and me were all crammed into the little patch of mud that used to be green and grassy.

OccupyDC had settled down for the winter and I was embedded with them to get the stories, the images, the feel of the place and the event and try to figure out how to show it to others across the country that would never have the chance to step foot inside the square.

My tent was a small one man tent that James had given me my second night in town. It wasn’t a large tent by any measure. It was narrow and low; more like a coffin with fabric sides. Just room enough to lay in without being able to sit. Standing was clearly out of the question. By the time I crawled inside and tucked away my gear bag between my legs there wouldn’t be enough room to even roll over easily.

With three sleeping bags on top of me, and layered insulation of wooden pallets, a space blanket and cardboard under me, I was able to sleep comfortabley most nights; exccept for that dreaded time at 2:15 in the morning when nature called and I had to make my way to the port-a-potty that was shared by 299 other people.


Laying under the small mountain of sleeping bags, I didn’t want to get out into the cold air. The air temperature was below freezing, the sky was clear and stars could’ve been seen if it weren’t for the tall buildings surrounding us and the light pollution from the street.

Walking back to my tent from the outhouse, I spotted several protesters standing beside the statue of the parks namesake; Union major general, James B McPherson who was killed in the Battle of Atlanta duirng the Civil War.

The 4 or 5 of us talked about the “barn raising” from a few weeks before, drunks and druggies that were hanging out taking advantage of the free food and shelter and we had questions about the National Park Service and US Marshalls.

Drone very similar to the one my friends and I saw on Christmas Eve.

Drone very similar to the one my friends and I saw on Christmas Eve.

Would OccupyDC be allowed to continue after Christmas? Would law enforcement wait until the New Year to evict us? Why had OccupyDC been allowed to continue so long when other encampments had already met their fate?

Then I noticed it. Looking towards the southeast I saw something hovering in the air. What was it? My friends turned and saw it also. Three, no four, blinking red lights vibrating restlessly above the sidewalk.

As we watched, it got closer. As it did, we could start to hear a faint whirr, or buzz, or something coming from the object.

Slowly it moved towards us until it was directly overhead. Too high to reach and touch, but not so high that we couldn’t continue to hear the whirr and buzz.

A slight downdraft hit our faces as we stared up — maybe twenty feet into the night sky. Black against the blacker sky and nothing but several red lights to illuminate, we couldn’t make out clearly what this mechanical thing was, what it was doing or it’s purpose.

We fell silent as we watched. Trying to understand. Trying to absorb.

Then, slowly, ever so slowly ti moved back towards the corner of the park, down Vermont Avenue, through Lafayette Square and over the White House fence. Each step of the way we followed, watching this flying contraption and wondering.

Since that night I’ve pored over images of ‘drones’. I’ve found one that appears to be fairly close to the one we saw that night. I can’t be sure that it was exactly like that, just very similar.

On that Christmas Eve, I didn’t know that February 4, 2012, the day that OccupyDC was raided and evicted by the US Marchalss, Washington Police Department and Secret Service, would be my last day to sleep in the park.

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