WASHINGTON – Friday night, armed with popcorn, lemonade and serious signage, a few hundred activists gathered at 1075 7th Street NW to protest billionaire GOP backers the Koch Brothers as they graced the Americans for Prosperity-sponsored Defending the American Dream Conference.
But this time, they were determined to do it with style.
In addition to the protest signs, catchy slogans and noise-making to disrupt the conference, the organizers flipped the script by providing a community party space. As mid-tempo house music, reggae and hip-hop blasted from speakers in a small parking lot off of L Street NW, activists sampled wares from local vendors and watched a projector flash images of protests from around the country on the back wall.
The Occupy the Kochs: Guerilla Drive-In was organized by The Other 98%. The nearly two-year-old organization found some overlap with the larger Occupy Wall Street movements, particularly in the framing. According to co-founder John Sellers, “We want to see a country that works for all of us.”
Sellers, a 45 year old activist who spent two decades crusading against the corporate take over of America, is thrilled at the shift in strategy. “We didn’t want to throw a protest. I, for one, am tired of being called a protester. We wanted to throw a demonstration of what America could be like, the America we want to live in. One where people are welcome to come into the streets and boogie down and speak their minds.”
“Often times, progressives get seen as self-righteous or shrill, a little too literal. And we wanted to show America that we’re fun, that we’re having a blast, and that we need people to join us. Right now, this is a make or break moment for this country, and we need people to get off the bench and get into the streets and take their country back.”
Avram (Av) Goldstein, Communications and Research Director of Health Care for America Now, mentioned that his organization joined the protests because they were “not fans of the Koch brothers trying to purchase Democracy.” As he juggled a sheaf of Occupy The Koch’s leaflets with sing-a–long lyrics on the back, he hoped that everyday people will be inspired to end the kind of corporate control that continues to dominate politics. Ethan Rome, the Executive Director of Health Care for America Now, noted “Wall Street, the Koch Brothers, the 1% have no sense they’ve pushed people too far.They think they can buy this country and they are wrong!”
Other activists swirled around during the pre-film mingling session. Sarah (who chose to give a pseudonym) is a 23-year-old activist who came out to protest the Koch Brothers for their anti-environmental ways. After learning about the Koch Brothers role in funding research that pushes misinformation into debates around climate change, she decided to take to the streets to call attention to their misdeeds. However, she wasn’t completely in favor of all the chanting about Fat Cats. “I don’t care if [the Kochs] rich,” she explained, dropping her voice a bit, “I care about what they are funding. I’m not a fan of their created truth.”
She enjoyed the attention grabbing, party-like atmosphere of the Guerilla Drive-In, saying that it helped to encourage more participation. She explained that protests like the White House crash can be “theatrical,” but the venue and feeling of the drive in more personal. “And there’s popcorn!” she said with a smile.
As Dylan Ratigan raged in the background, the Occupy DC folks showed up, bringing cheers and a wave of racial diversity. Since the goal of Occupy Koch was to take a fun, irreverent tone, they employed a group of about 15 volunteer peacekeepers to ensure that the large crowd respected police direction and didn’t get too out of hand. Laila, age 25, suited up in an orange night vest, ready to do her part. As a supporter of the Occupy Movement, she found out about the Drive In through that network.
At seven, the film began with a round of shorts about the Koch Brothers shady dealings and some irreverent pieces staring Jack Black. Post screening, Occupy DC took over the show, leading protesters in a ring around the Washington Convention Center, chanting and demonstrating in front of clusters of men by the glass windows, staring warily at the crowd gathered below. The gathered forces chanted the one phrase designed to strike fear into the hearts of the moneyed class: “Occupy Wall Street, Occupy K Street, Occupy Everywhere and never give it back!”
[Image via Ryan Reilly on Twitter]