City Desk

Occupy D.C. Has Already Won and Already Lost

It's official: Mayor Vince Gray wants Occupy D.C. out of McPherson Square. News broke last night that Gray had sent a letter to the National Park Service requesting that the protesters be relocated to the Freedom Plaza encampment for public-health reasons.  "The most serious of these concerns include dangerous rat infestation as well as the serious potential for communicable disease, hypothermia, and food borne illness," Gray wrote.

The news was met with a predictable flurry of outrage on Twitter: If rats were enough to get you evicted, critics noted, much of D.C. would have to be relocated. Why pick on activists, especially ahead of next week's Occupy Congress gathering?

In fact, it's been clear for some time that the mayor—for all his initial support for the protest—has been heading toward this position. The encampment, of course, puts the mayor in an awkward position. Ditto Barack Obama, whose federal government actually controls the square. Neither man wants to be seen as opposed to Occupy's cause, but they also have bureaucracies to run. Considering that D.C. has the last large encampment in the country, we'd be willing to bet Gray is envious of his counterparts who were able to get rid of their protesters without dealing with the federal government. And it's likely that the Park Service would rather not have to deal with Occupy at all, especially since it faces legislative oversight from the likes of Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who's been demanding to know why the protesters haven't been evicted.

Against that backdrop, public health concerns—rats!—could represent a reluctant pol's deus ex machina.

This latest development, though, also represents a major flaw of Occupy. Yeah, establishmentarian critics like to poke the movement for not having clear goals. But the bigger issue is one of stagecraft. It's fairly clear that when the encampment ends, whether that's today or this month or some other time, it will look like a defeat—a case of cops or mayors or federal bureaucrats sending the campers scurrying. And those optics will be a shame, because, in changing the national conversation, Occupy has won big. "One percent" wasn't a phrase in usage pre-Occupy. Now it's everywhere.

Here's some unsolicited advice for Occupy: Figure out a way to declare victory.

A good protest, after all, works a bit like a concert. Everything builds towards that rousing finale, a moment of triumph that sends the audience confidently out into the night. No one feels the same about a show that goes on and on until the band runs out of energy or the audience drift off or the stadium maintenance crew cuts off the electricity.

Why shuffle off when they can go out with a bang?

Occupy D.C.'s end will be the symbolic conclusion of this stage of the U.S. Occupy movement. Shouldn't it end on Occupy D.C.'s terms? Here's what we think they should do: Announce an end to occupancy on Jan. 18—the day after their planned protest on Capitol Hill—and invite all the departed campers, or the occupiers evicted from other cities, to come show their strength. The crowds will grow, the images will be impressive, and the sense of success will dominate the coverage.

Which will also ensure that, when the movement plans its next act, the momentum will be even stronger.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • drez

    Great suggestion.

  • ggbg

    It MAY not be a bad idea. Go out with a bang, and end this phase on Occupy's terms in a huge show of solidarity and strength. Then start planning for Phase 2. Besides, it is one less thing that Issa can bitch about.

  • Occupy Supplier

    Good headline, interesting political advice (not that OccupyDC needs your advice), but your analysis & advice are premised on one major bad fact: It is simply NOT true that "D.C. has the last large encampment in the country." There are over sixty (60) encampments with sleepers all over the country. Most, of course, are not as "large" as McPherson alone or Freedom Plaza alone, and none would be as "large" as both DC encampments combined in a single location. But "large" is largely irrelevant: the occupations are thriving all across the country, in warm areas (Birmingham, Gainesville, Miami) and sub-arctic areas (Boise, Pittsburgh, Rochester).

    In combination, these 62 occupations qualify as a "large" presence in my book, even if any single one of them is smaller than either DC occupation. For confirmation, check out these links:

  • Typical DC BS

    Finally. Kick them out. All they are doing is camping out illegally. I'm willing to bet that they accomplish NOTHING, other than their 1% and 99% slogans becoming well known. They've already gone out with a whimper everywhere else.

  • Occupy Supplier

    @Typical BS -- do you read anything besides your own comments? You had three hours to check out the links in my comment preceding yours, but rather than get informed you shoveled your own BS about Occupy Wall Street encampments all over the country. You said "They've already gone out with a whimper everywhere else." False. There are over sixty encampments still in place in cities and towns all over the U.S. I hope they aren't going "out." Deal with it.

  • Typical DC BS

    @Occupy Supplier - why don't YOU face reality? What has this movement accomplished? NOTHING.

    I guess they forgot to teach you what the definition of "large" is when you went to school. Keep living in fantasy land.

    Until I see concrete results, the whole Occupy movement is a joke.

  • Pingback: Occupying is Sooooooo Much Better in New York | New York Investment

  • tom bodett

    Occupy is dead. It became an irrelevant social scene when it proved unable to simplify political issues in the black or white (Us vs. Them) terms that the public understands.

    The very interesting thing about Occupy (and to a lesser extent, the Tea Party) is that these are some of the first serious social movements in the information age. The glut of reporting and propaganda support from Iranian and Russian reporters (Russia Today (RT) news, for example leads to vast exaggerations of popular support and membership levels. The Occupy group monitors itself in the media and unknowingly does interviews with foreign propaganda news sources which leads the Occupy to lose complete touch with the real level of support and accomplishment of the group.