WASHINGTON – They’ve occupied Wall Street. A few have occupied,and continue to occupy part of K Street. And now,protesters allied against what they see as government and corporate corruption are occupying a park along Pennsylvania Avenue.
Their concerns are varied and their rhetoric strong. They use symbols and slogans from activist movements past. No one organization leads them. But the protesters in Freedom Plaza,a few blocks from the White House,have one thing in common: they say they have had enough from the people in power.
The Freedom Plaza rally began Thursday morning and is to continue into the night,with a concert and a candlelight vigil. Some protesters plan to sleep in the plaza from Thursday through Sunday with rallies each day.
The rally,“Human Needs,Not Corporate Greed!” aims to “denounce the systems and institutions that support endless war and unrestrained corporate greed,” according to the group’s website. Plans for the rally began in April.
The rally comes on the 10th anniversary of the declaration of war in Afghanistan.
A few hundred people converged on the plaza,some independent individuals and some affiliated with organizations.
Priscilla Lynch,59,a D.C. social worker affiliated with Code Pink,said she opposes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,which she says are unmerited and unprovoked.
“Iraq did not do anything to instigate our attack against them,” she said. “Same with Afghanistan.”
Lynch said Code Pink organizes people to be more involved in the political process and to encourage the government to “use our resources for good rather than for harm.”
“We’re just here doing our civic duty,” Lynch said. “Somebody’s got to say,‘no,stop now.’”
Protesters said they hope to create solidarity among activists with similar goals,such as peace and justice. They also want to nonviolently influence the government to meet seven demands,as outlined on the action’s website.
Opposition to the wars was a common theme in protesters’ message.
Helma Lanyi,71,originally from Germany,is a member of St. Alban’s Episcopal Parish in D.C. Specifically,she is affiliated with the Episcopalian Peace Fellowship,a national organization that wants to stop violence and empower people to be peacemakers.
Lanyi said she is concerned by the disconnect between what Americans say they want,by voting and in polls,and what politicans do. She said she is also protesting against the wars and American militarism.
“Of course,we all had such hopes for President Obama,but we’re just heartbroken,” Lanyi said. “He’s definitely not what we expected him to be.”
Corporate greed was another major focus of protesters’ message. David Barrows,64,of Washington,sang an original ditty,“Billionaires Are Coming Soon” to the tune of “Happy Days Are Here Again,” Franklin D. Roosevelt’s campaign song.
He said he opposes “selfish” corporate rule in the United States.
“We have CEOs that are bandits,that don’t want to pay taxes,” he said. “They’re bribing congresspeople to do their will for them so they can get re-elected. They sell their souls. That’s not a democracy.”
Barrows said the United States needs to get rid of the Electoral College to improve democracy.
“We need to have proportional representation instead of 51 percent deciding the fate of the 49 percent,” Barrows said. “The Electoral College was set up to protect institutional slavery. We don’t need it.”
Like the Wall Street occupation,no one organization or person claims responsibility for leading or organizing the rally.
Christine de Fontenay,68,of Bethesda,Md.,who was with the Episcopalian Peace Fellowship,said she thinks the rally’s organizing method is vital for the movement.
“The best thing that’s happened since 1980 is the Wall Street protests that are spreading,” the former senior data and technology adviser said. “Wake up,America. We’ve got to get out and do it from the ground up,if you want to save Social Security,Medicare,if you want universal health care … anything good in America.”
Reach reporter Ariana Stone at [email protected] or 202-326-9865. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.