On Thursday, Occupy Wall Street protesters nationwide marched along with New York's huge crowds, but uprooted from Zuccotti Park, the movement's focus looks to be shifting toward Washington, D.C. Such a move would represent a sea change for the protest, which has so far refused to issue specific demands because members didn't want to play into traditional politics. But little by little, the movement is showing it's willing to engage with Washington lawmakers, and a big march already planned for Washington, D.C. next spring shows the movement is putting ever-more stock in national politics.
Way back in early October, anthropologist and anarchist David Graeber, who helped Adbusters conceive of the Occupy movement, told the Washington Post's Ezra Klein: "If you make demands, you’re saying, in a way, that you’re asking the people in power and the existing institutions to do something different. And one reason people have been hesitant to do that is they see these institutions as the problem."
But two months into the movement, Occupy has shown it's more willing to take on specific political issues. A delegation left New York on foot last week, heading for Washington D.C. to demonstrate in front of the Congressional Deficit Reduction Super-Committee, calling on it to repeal Bush-era tax cuts. The spring march calls on protesters to come from all over, establishing a new encampment on the National Mall -- a traditional site for protests from the civil rights movement to the Tea Party. The spring action sounds a lot like the initial occupation of Wall Street, but with a bent towards politics. "We will demonstrate the failure of the Democrats and Republicans in Congress to represent the views of the majority of people," its Facebook page reads. And in contrast to New York, Washington D.C. has so far been lenient about letting the existing Occupy D.C. encampment stay in place in McPherson Square. "The National Park Service certainly recognizes and respects and reveres the First Amendment and especially reveres political free speech," National Parks Service spokesman Bill Line told Washington ABC affiliate WMAL.com. The National Mall is also operated by the Parks Service.
It's too early to call it a change in zeitgeist, but calls for Occupy to take its fight to D.C. do seem to be increasing. The sentiment pops up on Twitter, and the New York Daily News talked to an NYU professor who said it was the logical next step.
Mitchell Moss, NYU professor of urban policy and planning, said it’s time for the protesters to take their show on the road.
“At this point, I think they should quickly migrate to the Washington Monument,” he said. “There’s ample space, and close proximity to the decision makers.
“That should be the next stop on their magical mystery tour.”
Moss said the protesters were successful in bringing attention to the issue of wealth distribution in the U.S. But he felt additional demonstrations like the one aimed at shutting down Wall Street would work against OWS.
“New Yorkers are a work-oriented people, and there is only a limited amount of patience with people who want to disrupt the city,” he said.
Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson wrote on Wednesday that "systemic failures in law enforcement and public policy" could fuel a serious Occupy political movement. "As the great organizer Bayard Rustin put it, from protest to politics." Filmmaker Alen Gregory made the comparison to the protests against the Vietnam War, which were ultimately successful in Washington. "It's like the difference between when you fall in love, and when you get married. Right now, it's the possibility of something possible," he told the Village Voice.
But of course, not all are convinced. "No, OWS shouldn't move to washington. protests are a dime a dozen here. If OWS had begun in D.C., it wouldn't be in the news today," tweeted Media Matters blogger Oliver Willis. And the protesters themselves have vowed to maintain a presence in Zuccotti Park. But with temperatures dropping in New York and blankets and other comfort items banned in the park, that presence was looking pretty darned meager on Friday.