Erika Grohoski, a 20-year-old George Washington University student, believes the United States is headed towards a plutocracy. She wrapped up midterms and came out to Freedom Plaza on Saturday, Oct. 15, with her mom Anna Grohoski and Grandmother Connie Peralta. She said she had to add her voice to the chorus of calls for Congress and other elected officials to reign in the excesses of Wall Street by enacting greater regulation, protecting consumers from predatory lenders, providing relief for beleaguered homeowners and "helping the everyday person who is burdened by debt."
Grohoski, Naismith and Evans are just three of hundreds of people in the District of Columbia who count themselves as part of Occupy D.C. For the past two weeks, protestors have set up encampments at Freedom Plaza in Northwest, across the street from the District Council chambers, and also in McPherson Square, at the intersection of 15th Street and Vermont Avenue in Northwest not far from the White House and K Street.
"All sorts of different things have brought people here; people have had it," said Naismith as he stood pensively over 17 pairs of shiny and beaten-up boots laid out in a line to commemorate American soldiers who have died for this country's ideals. "We really need a new world order. In countries throughout the world, people are standing up. I am against corporate greed and I support healthcare for all. The people are finally speaking out. It's time to change the world."
Naismith, a professional activist from upstate New York, said he had occupied the District of Columbia for 11 days and intended to be here for a while. He credited his "other half at home" for allowing him to participate.
"She's the reason I can do this."
Evans, a native Washingtonian, said he had been going to McPherson Square for the past two weeks – since the first day of the occupation – and expected to have a tent set up within a day or two after he spoke to a reporter. He said joining this burgeoning movement is personal.
"I had a beautiful life and a beautiful woman but I lost my job," he recounted. "I was unemployed for a year and a half. I finally got another job and worked with my activist friends. When this movement sprung up, I said, 'Yeah.' All of this is interconnected. Our not having a job is connected to the lobbyists ... we're dealing with inflation and people are barely making ends meet. The American worker is like a dead man walking."
"I will stay out here until this job is done. I want equal living wages for all," said Evans, who is also known as "Seven." All these banks got bailed out so why wasn't I bailed out too? We didn't get (anything)."
Evans, a singer and guitarist with the band Villain 21, said a lot of people are battling anxiety and fear "because all want to have control of their futures. There is a lot of built-up frustration and people don't have a say."
It is that rising frustration that has proved to be the catalyst for the grass-roots protests that began in New York City on Sept. 17, and like a brushfire has spread to more than 1,400 communities in 30 states and countries overseas. A number of protestors and activists in the District alluded to the uprisings in parts of the Arab world earlier this year which was dubbed the "Arab Spring", and several carried signs that spoke of an "American Autumn" of spirited protests against a Congress they say has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the wealthy and large corporations whose greed appears to have no bounds.
What's happening in the nation's capital is an off-shoot of a larger, more vigorous occupation. The Occupy Wall Street movement is comprised of activists from a range of backgrounds and interests. They have railed against social inequality, the vast disparities between the rich and poor – which they deem unacceptable – and corporate gluttony writ large. They oppose the 2008 bailout and are angered that while banks and a number of corporations sit on piles of money, the middle class and the poor face high unemployment, lack of access to quality healthcare, foreclosures and other social ills that have turned the American Dream into a veritable nightmare.
The protest began in the heart of the financial district in New York City at the New York Stock Exchange and demonstrators are camped out at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, not far from Ground Zero.
Protests have hopscotched from Anchorage, Alaska to Orlando, Fla., and from Lansing, Mich., to Massachusetts. Protestors have erected tent cities or marched in scores of cities, including Boston, Los Angeles, London, Toronto, Rome and San Francisco. The New York General Assembly, the decision-making body of Occupy Wall Street, promises to stay put until the problem of corporate greed and the influence of the wealthy on regular Americans is addressed.
In both D.C. locations, protestors pitched tents and transformed the areas they're occupying into little villages on the green.
See Occupy D.C. Part II in next week's issue.