Spirit of Occupation, Call to Action Spreads to the District

In the spirit of the many “occupations” that have taken place around the country over the past couple of weeks, people from all over gathered at Freedom Plaza on 14th Street and Pennsylvania Ave to “Stop the Machine” this weekend.

For the next four days, organizations including Code Pink: Women for Peace, Food not Bombs, the Saratoga Peace Coalition and many individual citizens will have come from all over to spread one central message to the government: enough is enough.

According to the Stop the Machine website, the event is centered on the idea that the time has come to “light the spark that sets off a true democratic, nonviolent transition to a world in which people are [free] to create just and sustainable solutions.” Rallies like “Stop the Machine” have popped up in cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles since mid-September to protest job insecurity, government overspending and unfair taxation.

The October 2011 movement, as Stop the Machine is also referred, has those same goals in mind, and begins during the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, one of this decade’s three wars that have cast a heavy burden on the federal budget.

Jack Nowitz, a member of the Saratoga Peace Coalition, traveled from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., to participate in the movement, something he hopes will mobilize citizens to “go to war for justice.”

“Our country goes through periods when I think people are hoodwinked and it takes people a long time to realize things aren’t what they seem,” Nowitz said. “Things are getting out of hand. I was hoping that there would be a movement where people would come together in masses to say that they have had enough. That’s what we have here.”

On Thursday, hundreds of people marched down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Chamber of Commerce holding signs and chanting in the spirit of social justice, but the scene on Friday afternoon was more toned down.

The concrete courtyard that makes up Freedom Plaza was sprinkled with people in tents and sleeping bags on the patches of grass. Stands serving food and passing out pamphlets and handbills lined the outskirts of the area and a makeshift city comprised of cardboard boxes painted like homes marked for foreclosure was nested in the center of the plaza.

Ellen Taylor, a representative of Code Pink: Women for Peace, sat among the box city and the ground near her was blanketed by hot pink signs that hosted phrases such as “Democracy is not a spectator sport” and “Make Art Not War.” Taylor has been working with Code Pink since 2003, but said she had been “on the streets” protesting and marching since the 70s.

“I believe in peace and justice,” Taylor said. “Where else would I be?”

Other believers in peace and justice that stood throughout Freedom Plaza came from all walks of life—every creed, race and generation had a representative present who felt it was their duty to stand up for justice in America.

D.C. resident Gerald Blair, 24, stumbled upon the rally yesterday, but began camping out with the other protesters because the event sparked his interest.

“We’re all here to have our voices heard,” Blair said wearing a white T-Shirt that read “Hire Me.” Blair has been out of work for several months after being fired from Best Buy. He said he didn’t go to college because he thought he could find a job, but felt the jobs he gets see him as “replaceable.”

“We’re banking on the government to do something so that we can find work for a livable wage,” he said. “I need a job, but we’re all hurting. [Jobs] is where the government is failing us.”

Rocky Twyman, D.C. resident and founder of the “Pray without Ceasing” Movement, was out on the plaza gathering signatures for a book of condolences for the family of Steve Jobs and to request that the family share the wealth to help create jobs in America.

“It’s important that these billionaires use their money to create jobs for the working class,” Twyman said. “I’m asking the Jobs family to consider donating some of their wealth to the Gates Foundation in order to help.”

Lawrence Guyot, a resident of LeDroit Park, said he is tired of “presidential candidates saying if you don’t have a job it’s your fault.”

Guyot, 76, was heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement and sees this as a modern renewal of the spirit that existed at that time. He says this movement is now pushing the Democratic Party to further mobilize and fight against further takeover by the Republican Party.

“We are facing a crisis that makes every other crisis look miniature,” Guyot said. “The only thing I know for sure about this movement is [the participants] won’t be supporting the Tea Party.”

Guyot compared this gathering to the Anti-Saloon League of the Prohibition Period, during which people came together, no matter what their specific beliefs were , with one goal.

“We all want citizens empowered, economic fairness, we are pro-civil rights and we’re pro-federal government,” Guyot said. “This is a time to restore legitimacy to community organizing—federalism is too important to be left to the federal government. It’s time for us to be able to say we’re proud of our government because we’re becoming a part of it.”

For more information on this weekend’s events in Freedom Plaza visit october2011.org. Protesters can gather legally in the area for the until Sunday, but plan to stay until their voices are heard.