Washington is a strange place. It presents one of those rare intense dichotomies in the country where you can occupy the same space with the most powerful people in the world and the most powerless at the very same time. The super rich and the super poor. Those with all the influence, and those who desperately need some and can’t get it. The high profile, and the virtually invisible. It can make your head spin.
Secondly, one can live and work in the nation’s capital, and completely ignore the parade of protests that take place so frequently here (that is, if you choose to). For one, they are often localized, the small, more common demonstrations typically take place on the greens between the Senate office buildings and the Capitol, the sidewalk outside the Supreme Court, or at Lafayette Park in front of the White House. The bigger movements almost always trek down Constitution Avenue and on the Mall, but if you’re not sightseeing (or driving) on those days, you’d never know.
Today was clearly one of those days. Washingtonians buzzed about their business in or around the federal institutions that generate the federal trough from our tax dollars then dole it out to each other and the private industries and interests all duly represented on K Street, with some limited expectation that some of the money might make it out of the immediate zip code and back to the states where the rest of us live. All routine business: the business of lobbying and funding, policy making and lobbying, funding and more policy making, the cycle endless.
But something is in the air. The mainstream media has finally decided to pay attention to protesters other than Tea Party revolutionaries, and the antiwar activists who had planned for a year to be here on the 10th anniversary of the Afghanistan War are taking full advantage of the limelight drawn by Occupy Wall Street, which spurred the smaller, Occupy DC demonstrations going on here right now. Call it fortuitous or just inevitable, but the financial collapse and the growing outrage at the establishment is helping to bring the futility of the war into greater focus. A 10-year commemoration of a war that’s draining the treasury with no end in sight only serves to drive that point home louder.
“This (protest) seems to have an underlying energy,” that sets this particularly rally apart, suggests Ann Tiffany from Syracuse, N.Y, who was marching with fellow antiwar activists Friday. This time they felt the message was at least being heard outside the echo chamber.
The tiny McPherson Square encampment that appeared to be the staging ground for Occupy DC, was largely drained of people late Friday morning — I am guessing because most of its tenants took to the streets with the war protesters heading to Freedom Plaza (though there seems to be a really concerted effort to keep the organized movements separate). It was there I ran into Tiffany and her friends, who had a head full of steam about Afghanistan, drones and the militarism of post-9/11 American society. Catching them at the tail end of the parade, I asked what they thought of the dovetailing effect of Occupy DC/NY on the Afghanistan War anniversary.
“I think they are both very connected. This (Stop the Machine) protest was organized last winter. It is amazing how the Occupy Wall Street protests in the meantime took off so quickly. So, this became an opportunity to broaden the issue,” said Tiffany. “I think it’s important that we speak out together.”
“Can I interrupt?” charged Eve Tetaz, a retired teacher and old friend of Tiffany’s from DC. She said Occupy Wall Street/DC was in part about corporate greed and the lack of meaningful employment for the up-and-coming generation. That the Military Industrial Complex is one of few big American employers left should give no one any comfort. “Look at the number of young people who see no other viable opportunity, who see the military as a career path or a job for awhile. But who is profiting?”
Rae Kramer, who traveled down with Tiffany from Syracuse, said she was in town in part to draw attention to rampant militarism, “particularly the increased use of drones, it’s so disheartening…when did it become okay to pinpoint people in other countries and assassinate them?” she queried, before answering her own question: “it became okay under the War on Terror.” But it’s not okay with Kramer and her friends. She said their feelings are “especially acute” over the drones because they don’t live far from the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, from which unmanned but fully armed Reaper drones have been flying out to Afghanistan since 2009. Some 38 people were arrested in a “die in” there last April.
Kramer said she felt this week’s anniversary rallies were infused with a lot of new outrage against the White House. “There is grave disappointment with Obama. Grave disappointment with the abandonment of so many positions under the guise of seeking compromise.” All he was successful at, she added, “was in selling the store.”
More protests are set for the weekend. Meanwhile the power suits will head home later today, and an unknown number of protesters will camp out in the park. Washington’s beat will go on, but there is no reason why the normally-invisible-hardly-influential-have-nots shouldn’t try to screw with the sheet music. Maybe this time they’ll be successful.