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When the day dawned gray and wet Sunday morning, fewer than one third of the 170 tents that populated McPherson Square at the height of Occupy D.C.’s encampment there remained. Those that did had been emptied of their contents, doors flapping in the wind, as if a wildfire had ripped through. Tyvek-clad Park Service employees were still at work breaking down the rest, while excavators cleared away the remains of wooden structures, painted signs and all. Still surrounded by barricades, the muddy square stank of horse manure.
By the afternoon, most of the police had gone; they were busy giving Freedom Plaza the same treatment. The library and information tent had opened for business, and a scaled-back kitchen handed out food, though nothing like the bountiful meals it had served up before. A 24-hour vigil is being organized to make sure there’s still a protest to justify the tents’ continued presence. The lawyers had been busy collecting grievances about the eviction to lodge with the judge this week. It appeared that, just maybe, Occupy could carry on as before.
Of course, that’s impossible now. As I mentioned yesterday, the lack of a residential population makes it a fundamentally different kind of operation.
Sunday evening’s General Assembly—-moved up for the Super Bowl, and little like Saturday night’s emotional gaggle in the middle of K Street—-centered around how to carry their momentum forward without the easy community of a tent city. The last four months have spawned a lot of projects: Various parties are organizing a bimonthly student general assembly, a corporate personhood working group, an effort to stop foreclosures and evictions, weekly leafletting around Wells Fargo branches. Some folks are working on digging up and displaying datasets about economic inequality. A house in Petworth is hosting an Occupy-themed screen printing guild and food coop; the proprietor offered three months free housing to anyone who wanted to come help, as long as they agreed to be live-streamed on the internet in a kind of Occupy Real World.
Occupies in lots of cities have already faced the question of what to do when their space is taken away. The space is really important to the nature of the movement, but I do wonder if it’ll limit the Occupiers’ effectiveness going forward. The Tea Party, by contrast, pivoted very quickly from its rallies and marches to both local and national political campaigns, launching a wave of amateur politicians into Congress. The Occupy thing is more creative and less willing to operate through traditional political channels, which may make for little short-term impact, and more long-term change. From this evening’s G.A., it appears possible that four months of intense activity could evolve into a kind of freewheeling activist collective, knitting together D.C.’s fragmented lefty movements.
And who knows, maybe the whole encampment thing will get a reprise. Somebody’s launched a petition for the Park Service to create a permanent place for protesters to camp on the Mall. Which makes sense, in a way: This is an expensive city, and free public accommodation would make your First Amendment rights much more substantive. Goodness know the park’s big enough.
Photo by flickr user thisisbossi.