After a 14-hour drive, two of which were spent in northern Virginia traffic, we arrived back in DC.
McPherson Square, three months after we were last here
McPherson Square had changed dramatically since our departure. The park, which had seemed so large when we were only sleeping on the ground in one quadrant, had been filled with tents.
We made our way to the Capitol building, where the day’s demonstrators were planned. The group was filled with both young and old, seasoned protesters, Occupiers, children and grandparents – people had traveled from across the country to attend the protest.
Crowd gathers outside of the U.S. Capitol
Capitol Police Civil Disturbance Unit van
Capitol Police surveillance van
Retired Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis was in attendance, and quickly stopped and held by Capitol Police. Assuming his arrest was imminent, protesters rallied behind him.
Cpt. Ray Lewis, though detained, leads Capitol Police to the vans at the base of the Capitol
Protesters demand Capitol Police release Cpt. Lewis, chanting "Red Rover, Red Rover, send Captain Ray over!"
USMC Sgt. Shamar Thomas joined the crowd calling for Cpt. Lewis to be released
Protesters breach the line between the two walls and run to 'de-arrest' Cpt. Lewis
Captain Lewis was released to cheers and told protesters Capitol Police were confirming his identity and that he was not carrying a weapon. In a later interview with Occupy San Diego, he gave protesters some advice about dealing with police:
“Don’t be shouting things at them that rile them up. I understand the frustration, I understand the anger…we worked within the system, we elected Obama…but if you’re ever involved, do not become physical with the police. You will not win. You will come out worse.”
He also spoke about the Occupy Wall Street eviction, the increasing militarization of police, and the use of tasers and the LRAD system.
After the initial breach, the atmosphere around the Capitol steps turned jubilant, with protesters feeling they had achieved a small victory for the day.
First protester decides to climb a tree - for freedom
This officer, who was amiable and had fun with protesters, told the girl to get out of the tree. "You're going to get hurt," he said. "It's just common sense."
Protesters chant, "take the wall back" and urge others to cross over the wall
Protesters dance the Hokey Pokey on the Capitol wall
Capitol Police quickly lined up to contain the situation. Most were professional, calm, and even seemed to be enjoying the revelry, but several arrests did occur.
Protester tackled and arrested
Another young man was arrested shortly after. “I’m not resisting!” he said, “I’m standing here.”
After 2 pm, groups formed for planned autonomous actions and meetings with their Congressional Representatives, including at the Rayburn Office Building, which houses the offices of 169 Representatives. The group decided to forgo the crosswalks to the Rayburn Building and took to the street instead.
Protesters chant, "whose streets? Our streets!" as they cross to the Rayburn Building
Protesters outside of the Rayburn Building call for others to cross
Capitol Police clash with protesters outside of the Rayburn Building
One officer offered to allow us to cross to the Rayburn Building. "Are you trying to get us arrested?" one person asked. "No, you seem like the sane ones. I'm offering to let you go before we open the street back up," he chuckled.
Protesters at the Rayburn Office Building
Shortly after leaving the Congressional offices, protesters held an impromptu march through the streets. The police response was unprecedented. This was not the first time that an Occupy had taken the streets, but Capitol Police seemed more interested in containing the march than preventing it.
Protesters marching in the street at Jefferson
The march rounding Jefferson
Motorcycle police on the sidewalks
The march at 3rd and Pennsylvania Avenue
Protesters cheer and raise their fists at 3rd and Pennsylvania Ave
Back at the Capitol, protesters mic checked, "we, the people, found our voice!"
Already people were mic checking for another march, but the group decided to wait until the planned time on the permit.
Just before 7 pm, protesters again took to the streets for the planned march following a route from the Capitol to the Supreme Court and ending at the White House. I lost battery at this time, but still ran ahead of the march with other media. Police presence, perhaps in response to the earlier march, was heavier and more aggressive. At one point an officer forced me off of the sidewalk and into the street. When I told him I was covering the action he said, “if you’re covering it, you’re with them.” Another citizen journalist was similarly forced into the street.
The march ended at the White House.
Protesters demonstrate in front of the White House
After chanting and singing, the crowd began to dissipate slightly, with some people leaving for a planned party at the Capitol lawn and others demanding President Obama make an appearance. What we didn’t know at the time was that the President was out to dinner for the First Lady’s birthday. The security demanded by his motorcade returning may explain the events that followed.
Both Park and DC Metro Police were on scene but allowed normal pedestrian traffic to flow through the street in front of the White House and Lafayette Park. As protesters lingered, police presence began to intensify, with Secret Service mobilizing. One person mic checked that he was informed (through sources unknown) that riot police were on their way, bringing dogs, to disperse and presumably arrest any remaining protesters. Several of us decided to remain on site to document the events, aided by our ‘Ninja Backpack’ with its portable military-issue personal generator. After some time we began to see police donning riot gear and there were indeed vehicles marked as K9 units, but there were no signs of dogs or even police mobilization. There were, however, a number of fire trucks and ambulances staged on 17th Street, and police moving in from that area (Note – I lived in DC for a year and saw this many times when the Presidential motorcade was due to pass through a particular street).
Police donning riot gear tell us to "move on" as we attempt to document them
Tension steadily increased and we decided to leave the scene, as there were about 20 – 30 people remaining at the White House gate.
As we were walking back on H Street, on the north side of Lafayette Park, police informed us that the park and Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House were closed because “one of you Occupy people” lobbed a smoke device onto the lawn.
The corporate media has reported extensively on that incident, and I was not there, so I will not attempt to recount it. However, I do wonder if there is any correlation between mainstream media’s coverage of #J17 being almost entirely limited to this event and that members of the White House press pool held while the device was investigated.
I can also assert that there were not 1500 people present at the White House at that time, as Secret Service spokesperson George Ogilvie has been quoted as saying.
When we left, the remaining demonstrators were hanging paper hearts on the fence, confident that #J17 had been a success.
Demonstrators hang hearts with their 'wishes' to President Obama on the gates at the White House