Credit: Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

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There’s a typical way of protesting in Washington: A group of people muster, say their piece, and go home. Early in October, however, two groups planned to stick around for a while. Since then, McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza have turned into activist communes, with their own feeding systems, arts programming, internal policing, and distinct residential neighborhoods.

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For the activists, the home bases were a way to make political points. But even for residents unconcerned with Wall Street perfidy, the protests had a benefit: They’ve changed the way we see our parks. Rather than manicured show spaces, they’ve become thriving mini-cities, programming the small patches of ground more intensively than the feds ever have. At the same time, they’ve made the parks more welcoming, rather than pushing people out. Even after the Occupy D.C. moment fades, the occupiers who changed the way the city regards its public green spaces will have have done it a service.