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Four arrests blemish peaceful ‘Occupy Congress’ rally

By Latoya Peterson
Tuesday, January 17, 2012 17:51 EDT
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#OccupyCongress kicked off its first large, coordinated protest on Capitol Hill in several months today, but the first of two big events did not pass without controversy. As of the time of publication, there were four confirmed arrests marring a protest organizers tried to encourage participants to keep very peaceful.

Milling around on the west lawn of the Capitol, a broad range of occupiers set up camp for the day to sing, chant and demand the attention of their Congressional representatives. At a quarter to four, the protesters mobilized to march up the steps of the Rayburn office building, sparking the clash that resulted in four confirmed arrests.

#OccupyCongress just demonstrated how the modern movement has evolved into a three ring circus despite organizers’ best efforts. One ring holds the people with the future of the movement in their hands. During a general assembly session, a large group of occupiers tried to plot strategy while others sang the hokey pokey. The ideas put forward were essentially the backbones of being an engaged citizen – forcing accountability on government officials, spreading the message of occupy through service to the homeless and elderly, canvassing around their cause, and maintaining independence through projects like collective gardening.

The second ring is the one that gets the most media attention. These are the rabblerousers, the ones who are motivated by either ideology or destruction, that are ready to go head to head with the people standing in their way.

Occupy DC published two guides in advance of the protest, one for legal assistance and one on de-escalating situations. The de-escalation guide asks protestors to:

> Do not yell or scream. Raise your voice CALMLY if you need to do so to be heard.
> Do respond calmly to questions, no matter how rude the other person is.
> Do empathize with feelings even if you disagree with the behavior. Cops have it rough too.
> Do not argue or try to sway them to your side. We’re de-escalating here, it’s not the Oslo Accords.

This advice was ignored by some protestors, including a young white woman with “freedom” spelled out on her cheek in face paint. Angry that the police shut down the path around the lawn, she yelled into a bullhorn “Protect the right people! Enforce the laws that need to be enforced!” Switching tactics, she tried provoking a reaction by getting personal. “Carrying a gun and a badge doesn’t make you honorable. Be someone your children would be proud of! They’re terrorists – stop protecting them, stop being the enemy!” She paused only to ask for water.

The third ring was the audience – people who believe that government needs to change, but weren’t exactly sure what their place was. All over the protest were people waiting for something to happen.

The only question was what. And for many, that didn’t get answered.

Latoya Peterson
Latoya Peterson
Latoya Peterson is a D.C. Native who writes about race, gender, and culture for outlets like Spin, Vibe, The Root, the The Guardian and The American Prospect. Follow her on Twitter: @latoyapeterson
 
 
 
 
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