By, Caryn Freeman
They call themselves a leaderless movement. Everyone involved in the Occupy DC and Stop the Machine movement at Freedom Plaza seems to be a leader in some capacity. The sense is those participating now early in this movement are at the cutting edge of the beginnings of a transformation to a truly participatory democracy with a democratized economy. In the beginning, six months ago they were five people which then blossomed into a 45 person steering committee that then disbanded into a general assembly. Margaret Flowers a Physician and Kevin Zeese a Baltimore lawyer are the organizers of October2011.org otherwise known as Occupy DC. Zeese and Flowers are responsible for the permit to use the Freedom Plaza.
“Occupy DC” and “Stop the Machine” in addition to organizing and leading protests are offering community based services in Freedom Plaza as well. There is a health tent that they are hoping to grow into a free health clinic. The organization is also feeding the homeless. Shanty towns have been assembled in Freedom Plaza as symbols of a new era of homelessness. Many Americans who owned their homes just a few years ago now live in boxes and tents themselves.
What’s driving the movement nationally, says organizer Kevin Zeese, is economic insecurity. Similar to the opposition against the military draft in the sixties when Americans became outraged at the Vietnam War and seemingly endless casualties. Zeese believes similarly every family in America has been affected by what has become inherent government corruption. Economic insecurity affects everyone except the top one percent of Americans and there are now hundreds of occupations across the country demonstrating similar frustrations.” Leadership in this effort forms by doing. Everything that is done at Freedom Plaza takes someone stepping up and doing it. “Leadership is action not titles,” he explained.
Yesterday the Park Service met with Zeese and Flowers and extended the groups permit an additional four months. The Occupy DC governing principle is decision by consensus. A general assembly was established and holds meetings twice a day 8:30am and 6:00pm with volunteers and occupiers. They are trying to model what they want, a transparent participatory Democracy. The other arm of the project “Stop the Machine” aims to stop the machine with protests. Last week protests at the Chamber of Commerce building were successful in shutting down for two hours. The group also shut down a local drone manufacturer during a protest last week. Tuesday morning over 150 protestors filled the Hart Senate office building shutting down that building as well.
Steven Graham a restaurateur originally from New Jersey moved to Costa Rica six years ago after growing disillusioned with the American political system. He is living in a tent at Freedom Plaza and plans to occupy DC until November 6th. His greatest concern is his children and their future. “I do not believe the United States is a free country anymore I believe we have a criminal element running our country.” His oldest daughter, 19, is supporting him. His youngest daughter, 17, doesn’t quite understand what he is protesting against. He says he began to see disturbing changes taking place in the U.S. as early as 2003 when the government began increasing domestic security and encroaching on civil liberties. He decided at that time to leave the United States. “I though the problem at the time was George Bush and the Republicans but as time has evolved I see there is really no difference between Democrat and Republican. The White House seems to be the same no matter who’s President.
At Freedom Plaza they are teaching classes on how to work with community banks to make sure money is invested in your community. How to create a community market or start an employee owned business. Just as I arrived at the Plaza a course on the history of the Labor Party as an alternative party was wrapping up. They are also fifteen committees that focus on core issues and policy recommendations. Occupy DC shares information with the entire “Occupy Together” movement in an effort to build a foundation for an independent movement. “The goal is end corporate rule and shift power to the people,” says Zeese. “That's a big goal, it’s transformational and we don’t expect to solve that in one occupation.”
This is could be a multi-year effort or it could happen very quickly. No one knows what the outcome will be. The organizers and occupiers are prepared for the long haul. “We already have a collapsed economy, the military is stretched thin and very expensive, the European banking system is in danger and Bank of America is on the verge of collapse. Any one of those could knock the economy down and bring massive change,” explained Zeese. The organizers are not interested in working with Congress or any government officials at this point and warns establishment Democrats, like the president or minority leader Nancy Pelosi against embracing there movement. The group believes the system itself is corrupt partisan politics is not a part of their agenda.
Zeese talked about beginnings of the civil rights movement where independent groups pushed both parties for change, criticized both parties and received support from both parties. “That’s a more effective way to operate. When you get yourself joined with one party you’re finished,” he explains. “Every measure of impact of impact for African Americans these days from education, incarceration, health care, life expectancy pick it, any issue, it’s of much lower measure than it was when they were independent. Unfortunately the civil rights movement has now become Democrat and that’s really hurt the civil rights movement.” Occupy DC and Stop the Machine are not sure what’s ahead but these organizations have the underpinnings of a political and social movement that could have a significant impact on 2012.