'We Can't Afford Not to Be Here': Occupy DC Takes Off

The Occupy Freedom Plaza protest in Washington DC kicked off on Thursday, October 6. The protesters were a diverse crowd; young and old, men and women, the jobless and the employed, all in solidarity with one another and those occupying cities across the country in protest of the corporate greed that has destroyed the lives of so many Americans.

Cancer survivor Carrie Stone said that over the course of nine days, she traveled from Wallace, West Virginia to Washington, DC by foot. The 56-year-old grandmother plans to stay in DC indefinitely, saying, "If I can do it, anyone can."

Throughout the day, live musical performances and inspirational speakers blared over the loudspeakers. The popular DC hip-hop artist, Head Roc, performed while leading the audience with chants like "Keep DC Walmart free" and "Affordable housing is a human right." The crowd went wild when the legendary comedian Dick Gregory (he turns 80 next week) walked onto the stage. In between jokes, Gregory energized protesters, reminding them, "You've already won because you're giving people hope who didn't have hope."

And the gathering was filled with hope. Holding her year-old daughter in her arms while clasping the hand of her 3-year-old son, Jamie Smith told me she came to Freedom Plaza because, "I have a sense that if we don't do something drastic, we might be the last generation who can really prosper."

Smith's close friend, Rachel Moshman, whose 12-week-old baby girl was with her, said she was "caught up in the fever from Occupy Wall Street" and added that the Arab Spring and similar democratic uprisings throughout the world inspired her to join the Occupy DC movement.

Simone Evans Blango, from northwest DC, said she was in Freedom Plaza to represent "the individual mothers and fathers who have to go home to their children without jobs." Despite a bachelor's degree in english and psychology along with a masters in elementary education, Blango has been unable to find work for six months. She is a wife and mother struggling to pay back $90,000 in student loans for an education she thought would lead her to a more prosperous career. "I hope that this demonstration gives Americans the courage to look at their circumstances and understand that they don't have to accept it, because the numbers are in our favor," Blango said.

At one point in the day, protesters formed the number "99" with their bodies for an aerial photograph, to illustrate the 99 percent of Americans whose interests are drowned out by the top 1 percent.

Freedom Plaza features a first-aid tent run by nurses and doctors from around the country who have volunteered their time and skills to support the movement. Nurse Yuriy Reznick traveled all the way from Chicago, because, he said, "I want to actually do something to help instead of watching from the sidelines."

Carol Paris, a physician from Maryland, told me she was volunteering in the first-aid tent because she wants to represent her patients who are jobless and unable to afford health insurance, along with the gas to make the trip from southern Maryland to DC. She said, "Those of us who can afford to be here, can't afford not to be here because we are all the 99 percent."

Around four in the afternoon, protesters marched from Freedom Plaza to the Chamber of Commerce building, which had the word JOBS written on the front. The marchers delivered a large stack of resumes filled out out by the movement's unemployed to demonstrate the irony of the word Jobs on the front of a building that hasn't contributed any.

On the march to the Chamber of Commerce, protesters passed a Bank of America, and chanted "Shame, shame" and later, "How do we fix the deficit? End the war and tax the rich!" when approaching the White House. 

The occupiers of Freedom Plaza are pumped with energy and inspiration from Occupy Wall Street and the growing occupation movement across the country. Most everyone I spoke with said they planned to stay as long as it takes for the voices of the 99 percent to be heard. 


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