Looking to reignite movement, Occupy Caravan passes through D.C.
|July 13, 2012||Posted by John Zangas under Featured, News, Stories, Web Only|
In a show of support and solidarity, the Occupy Caravan stopped in McPherson Square to visit Occupy DC and participate in a carefully choreographed schedule of protests and actions on June 28-29. The caravan crisscrossed the country in five well-coordinated routes, visiting occupations in many cities which are continuing the movement. Its final destination was the Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia that took place on June 30-July 5.
“The purpose of Occupy Caravan was to keep fire burning in the movement,” said Michael Levitin, an Occupy Wall street organizer who had been planning the excursion since January of this year. “People in isolated communities are not able to bring the same intensity to the big economic issues and the movement needed a national rebirth.”
The caravan was inspired by legendary folk singer Woodie Guthrie, who was famous for writing songs with messages of protest and economic justice. “We borrowed the title of his song [‘This Land is Your Land’] and changed the caravan theme to ‘This Land is Our Land,’ to highlight the need for economic justice across this country.” said Levitin. In honor of the singer, the two main branches of the caravan merged on June 17 in Okemah, Okla., Guthrie’s birthplace.
The group of four van loads and cars from the routes that had passed through Oklahoma arrived in Washington D.C. at about 2:00 p.m. on June 28 and were greeted by about 25 activists from Occupy DC. Travelers were welcomed with open arms and treated to lunch. A small assembly of tents and an information library had been assembled the night before, in anticipation of their arrival.
“We wanted to share smiles and welcome our brothers and sisters of the caravan and this was an opportunity to do that,” said Nancy Munoz of the Anarchist Alliance and Occupy DC. “Occupying public spaces is one of our most important tools to reach out and teach others our ideas,” she said.
Caravan traveler and Occupy Buffalo organizer John Washington said he felt a warm welcome when he arrived at McPherson. Washington said he traveled 800 miles and spent about $1700 on his caravan trip from Buffalo. “Traveling to Occupy DC was an opportunity to share best practices and help bring the movement together,” he said.
Jamie Stewart, also of Occupy Buffalo, said she joined the Occupy Caravan partly as a result of the failure of her father’s business. “Many friends and family are drowning in debt and I am not afraid to speak up about what I see.” She said she lost her job as a result of her involvement in the movement and wanted to make a difference in her community. The Occupy Caravan gave her the opportunity to meet and trade ideas on how to do that with others. She said she was happy that Occupy Buffalo was so supportive of the caravan activists and it helped her to grow and learn as an activist within Occupy.
Scotty Wells drove the entire way from Occupy LA, spending $10,000 on the trip, including renting all the rental vehicles. “A lot of people pitched in for gas along the way,” he said. “It was our biggest expense.” Wells said that it cost about $100 per tank to refill the vans – about $1000 per vehicle for the entire trip – but that “Occupy members of the cities we visited totally took care of our food and lodging.”
Despite a sweltering heat wave that marked their two days in D.C., members of the Occupy Caravan participated in many actions with Occupy DC participants. For example, within hours of arriving, members of the caravan went on a solidarity march to L’Enfant Plaza to join with the American Postal Workers Union protesting cuts to mail services.
Members of Occupy DC marched with the Occupy Caravan to the Martin Luther King Memorial on Independence Avenue SW later that evening. The march was organized to protest the New York Police Department’s ‘stop-and-frisk’ tactics, the nationwide racial profiling of minorities, and the high incarceration rates of blacks and Latinos.
“When we arrived at the MLK statue, several people joined us who were not a part of the march and we discussed how the dream had not been realized,” said Sweet, a member of Occupy DC originally from Occupy Eugene.
On Friday morning, the Occupy Caravan conducted a symbolic foreclosure of a Bank of America branch just as it was supposed to open. The protest took place at the location across from the U.S. Treasury building where 35 occupiers had slept the night before. At the predetermined moment, they unfurled a 4 ½ x 108’ banner which read: “Notice of Foreclosure -This Bank is Closed.” The group stood in protest in the 104-degree weather for three hours. “We loved the foreclosure sign, it was beautiful,” said Levitin. “We wished we had the banner at OWS.” Activists had worked on the banner, one of the largest made by Occupy DC to date, for about 18 hours.
Washington has been involved in Occupy Buffalo’s effort to encourage the city of Buffalo to divest 25 million from Chase Bank. He credits the Occupy movement with making great strides in his community. “Occupy Buffalo inspired me to get involved in my community,” he said, “Buffalo is the debt collection capitol of the world and for a time I worked as a collection agent for banks. [That] showed me how banks work to use the most impoverished to make profit.”
The schedule of events in Washington D.C. concluded with a march to ALEC, BP, and Monsanto on Friday night. “We marched to protest organizations that are really hurting our communities,” said Munoz. She felt that showing the Occupy Caravan visitors the locations of these organizations will enable them to plan actions in the future. “We met old acquaintances, shared experiences of past events, and formed new bonds.”
The Occupy Caravan left for the Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia on the morning of June 30. “Occupy Caravan can link us together and change the paradigm of thought in activism,” said Stewart on what she hoped the Occupy Caravan accomplished. “We will not accomplish success by fighting each other but by working together.”