Occupy Wall Street protest enters fourth week, spreads across country

Demonstrations inspired by the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protest in lower Manhattan were reportedly held in well over a hundred cities and towns across the country over the weekend. Beginning last Thursday, thousands converged at Freedom Plaza in Washington DC to amplify the movement’s message in the nation’s capital.

The events at Freedom Plaza in Washington DC were organized by Stop the Machine October 2011, a coalition of groups opposed to the nation’s ongoing wars and the corruption of our political process by corporate interests.  Beginning on Thursday, thousands of demonstrators converged on the plaza for four days of rallies, marches and organizing sessions. When the group’s permits run out today, hundreds plan to maintain an ongoing demonstration like that in New York City.  

The events planned by Stop the Machine were in the works for some time before the Occupy Wall Street protest erupted in New York City, and have been subsumed by the movement that has spread across the country.  Another group called Occupy DC, a spontaneous protest that sprung up in response to Occupy Wall Street, has been camped out a few blocks away in McPherson Square for over a week, holding general assemblies, and organizing protest actions and marches in the city. Though the two groups have begun to coordinate some of their actions, they are still maintaining their independence from one another.

It is difficult to keep track of all the protests and demonstrations that took place in DC over the last five days.  On Thursday, thousands marched from Freedom Plaza to the Chamber of Commerce.  Chanting “Where are the jobs?!”, their numbers swelled along the way until they reached the Chamber, where, not coincidentally, a series of large banners hung on the building’s facade spelled out the word ‘JOBS.’

The next day, a demonstration which appeared to have been organized by Occupy DC, was held outside the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.  On Saturday, a number of protesters were maced by security officers as they attempted to enter the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum to stage a “die-in” in opposition to an exhibition devoted to military drones.  On Sunday, a smaller but spirited group marched to the Federal Reserve, where a number burned Federal Reserve Notes in protest of the institution.

Protesters had come from as far away as Alaska to participate in the demonstrations.  Lara Jablon traveled from Hornbrook, California, in Siskiyou County, with her brother and partner.

     “We flew out because we are tired of people not having the power to create the kind of communities they want to live in and we believe this is because corporations are using the commerce clause to do whatever they want whenever they want,” said Lara, a high school social studies teacher and organic farmer.  “We believe there is plenty of money for a working education system, but that money is going to fund wars and corporate bailouts and we’re tired of it.”

Some protesters were already involved with occupation protests in their home towns.  Julie Levine said she has been very active with Occupy Los Angeles, which kicked off over a week ago with a march to City Hall.  She said thousands participated in the march and that hundreds have been camped out for the last week near City Hall.  “Camping is not easy, but I feel invigorated,” said Ms. Levine, who has a master’s degree in social work and is active in a number of community groups including the Topanga Peace Alliance and the MLK Coalition for Jobs Justice and Peace.

Asked how she became involved with Occupy LA, she said she first learned of the group during a protest demonstration outside an Obama fundraiser.  “We were at the Obama protest at the House of Blues and a group of young people chanting “we are the 99%” marched up and joined us,” said Levine.  She was hooked after the first Occupy LA assembly she attended.  “That meeting transformed me,” she said, “I was completely moved.” 

Politically speaking, the protesters in Washington DC were a fairly diverse group, though many if not most leaned progressive.  There were Independents, Greens, Democrats, Ron Paul Republicans, Socialists, and Libertarians on hand, to name just a few. 

The Occupy Together movement has already begun to capture the attention of the nation’s political establishment and invited comparisons with the (post-Obama) Tea Party movement, which spread across the country in a similar fashion in 2009.