By Bev Fitzpatrick, Ed Castro, Nancy Waidtlow and Camille Russell
Following 10 years of the immoral, unnecessary war on Afghanistan, four Peace Fresno members went to Washington, D.C., for October2011: Stop the Machine (www.october2011.org), a protest and an occupation. The primary themes were ending militarism and corporatism.
Planning for October2011 in Freedom Plaza began in April. The gathering got a huge boost from the publicity and similar goals of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which had begun 20 days earlier and by Oct. 6 was multiplying in towns and cities across the United States. Occupy DC had created a robust occupation in nearby McPherson Square.
Peace Fresno President Bev Fitzpatrick writes:
Occupy2011: Stop the Machine, in Washington, D.C., was one of the best experiences ever. It was an honor to represent Peace Fresno and all who are discouraged with our government.
The first day, Oct. 6, we gathered in Freedom Plaza, three blocks from the White House. The organizers (who had a four-day permit) were told that tents were not allowed and people could not sleep there. Freedom Plaza is federal property and patrolled by the National Park Police. Sleeping is illegal in the plaza, unlike D.C. city sidewalks, where sleeping is legal. That night many slept in sleeping bags on the plaza and on a city sidewalk in front of Wells Fargo Bank with no problems.
By Friday, many tents were on the plaza, as more people gathered from across the country. The plaza began to fill with excitement as Americans with the same concerns: ending war, human need before corporate greed, protecting the planet, creating clean energy, etc., held signs and talked. All came to let the President, Congress and the public know that we want a true democracy ruled by the people, not the wealthy corporations.
Throughout the four-day permitted event, there were rallies with entertainment (including the Raging Grannies); speakers like Chris Hedges, Ralph Nader, Col. Ann Wright, Kathy Kelly and David Swanson; and words from concerned citizens. Every morning and evening, a general assembly was held to work through issues concerning the occupation.
During the day, classes were held on various topics: nonviolence, creating a new democracy, taxes, etc. There were also committee meetings and special events in other locations in the city, such as a forum sponsored by War Voices on the
anniversary of the beginning of the Afghan war.
Every day, there were planned marches to such places as the Chamber of Commerce, the new Martin Luther King Memorial, the White House, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Environmental Protection Agency (where there was a protest against the Keystone Tar Sands Pipeline). Often, a rally or civil resistance action was planned in conjunction with the march. A group of 24 protestors, including Ed Castro, made the trip to the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland.
The sign-carrying marchers were enthusiastic, led by large banners, and chanting along the way, letting the public know why we were there and asking them to join us. It felt right; it felt like “we the people” had power.
Each evening, we got a report from Dan Yaseen on the amazingly well-attended solidarity demonstrations in Fresno. What a wonderful feeling of support.
When it came time to leave our friends on Freedom Plaza and head back to Fresno, it was encouraging that we were returning to our own Occupy Fresno in Courthouse Park. The time in Freedom Plaza will never be forgotten.
At the beginning of the event I felt not much was going on. The type of decision making—which was horizontal, not vertical—was new to me. I would have liked to know what was happening the next day, but the agenda for the day was not available until the morning. I am not trying to attack the main organizers. I especially liked the way Margaret Flowers handled herself.
As for the positive, I liked the speakers such as Ralph Nader, the American soldiers who had served in Afghanistan, Cheri Honkala and others. As time went by, we had more activities to attend such as the October2011 and Occupy DC marches. I was impressed with the marches conducted by the D.C. college students who were there for the occupation.
The purpose of the daily general assembly was to reach an overall consensus on goals and how to achieve them.
I participated in marches by the college students to different financial institutions and the October2011 marches, except for the one to Smithsonian where nonviolent marchers got pepper sprayed. I observed first-hand the arrest of 14 people at Fort Meade, where the National Security Agency is located. It was a good experience for me as a reference in case I ever participate in future events such as this and plan to get arrested in nonviolent civil resistance. For this event, I participated as an observer.
Overall, both events (October 2011 and Occupy DC) showed that people are upset with the direction of our country. I
believe Occupy Wall Street is going to spearhead the direction of this movement as it goes forward.
Some people have gotten over the fear of losing everything. They want to see a brighter future, which is hard to determine at this time. One thing is clear: Things politically and economically will get worse.
Nancy Waidtlow writes:
I think if we can sustain the energy, we can finally make my (and our) dream of peace, with justice, come true. In Washington, D.C., at the Stop the Machine/Occupy DC event the momentum seemed unstoppable, especially when linked to the news of the thousands of determined people occupying Wall Street and other cities all over the country.
The news of 100, 150, 200 and 250 people coming out for the four demonstrations in Fresno was as exciting as anything in D.C., especially in light of the fact that the numbers at the Peace Corner each month have been dwindling.
Going to D.C. was a last-minute decision for me, and am I glad I went. I loved seeing Medea Benjamin and the CODEPINKers doing their thing. I was thrilled to see a gaggle of Raging Grannies by the stage when we arrived at Freedom Plaza on the first day of the event. I grabbed my granny hat out of my backpack, joined in the practice session, and we were the first performers. Ralph Nader and Bill McKibben were two of my favorite speakers. I loved the witty signs.
Bev Fitzpatrick and I took clever menu parody fliers advertising October2011 to the huge Taste of DC event that practically surrounded Freedom Plaza Friday through Sunday, finding people mostly receptive, and some enthusiastic about our message. Some of them came up and visited the encampment later. I’m sure the White House will take note when it receives the 2,000 Not My Priority postcards protesting the war budget (www.notmypriority.org) because Camille Russell made distributing those cards her priority.
As one of the chants goes, “This is what democracy looks like!,” and I think, I hope, this is what critical mass looks like. The idea of the 99% versus the 1% seems to be catching fire.
Camille Russell writes:
“Whose streets? Our streets!”
I chant as I rush onto E Street at the sight of demonstrators passing our hotel—heading away from Freedom Plaza. I had missed the march from Freedom Plaza to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum earlier in the day.
“Oops! Where are the other gray heads? Where’s the police escort that eased our way to the MLK Memorial yesterday? The signs and majority of young marchers make it clear that this is an Occupy DC event. Do I belong here?” I came to Washington, D.C., to participate, support and learn—not to risk arrest!
“We are the 99%! Are you—are the 99%!”
We are 300 strong. We fill the right lane and ignore the stop lights as we head to wherever. Several blocks later, a left turn takes us in a new direction and in another two blocks…
“Oh, oh!” Police cars block the intersection in two directions. We slow to a stop.
A young man leading and cheerleading says, “Form a solid line! Bunch up!” Suddenly, I remember the nonviolence training from the morning class. “Always have a buddy when there’s the possibility of police interaction.” Was I too impulsive?
I ease myself to the side of the street and am relieved as the demonstrators turn to the left in a direction not blocked by the police. Our numbers have grown and we now march in both lanes. Some bystanders looking at us take pictures, most just stare. Now drums and chanting are loud and constant.
“Join us! Join us! Off the sidewalk and into the street!”
Two young men accept the invitation and are greeted with backslapping and cheers.
Several blocks and many turns later, we arrive at McPherson Square, the home of Occupy DC. I break off and head back to Freedom Plaza with a chant to take home:
“Whose streets? Our streets!”
The authors may be contacted at www.peacefresno.org or 559-487-2515.