- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lacy MacAuley of Adams Morgan signed on after hearing of the movement by word-of-mouth. Eric Sponaugle of Olney joined after seeing images of what he called police brutality. “Joe” from Frederick, Md., saw the handmade signs and wondered what all the fuss was about.

“Somebody was really excited about something vague,” said “Joe,” a soft-spoken 37-year-old. “I wondered how someone could get so excited about something like that.”

The movement is “Occupy D.C.,” a fledgling version of the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstration that has crowded New York’s financial center for the past three weeks.

The D.C. version hasn’t yet drawn the thousands of demonstrators the New York version has. In fact, just five people occupied McPherson Square in Northwest on Wednesday morning. But organizers say the numbers fluctuate and point out that about 120 people joined them on Saturday night. Larger crowds of protesters tend to gather around lunchtime and in the evening, when employees leave work.

Supporters have marched twice a day to businesses around the District.

On Thursday, they expect their numbers to swell as they join a rally at Freedom Plaza to mark the 11th anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan and to denounce the use of taxpayer money to fund the war.

The rally, organized by a group called the October 2011 Movement, has been planned for several months, said Mr. Sponaugle, 23, who described himself as “between jobs.” The two assemblies will come together for the joint causes, he said.

D.C. police say they expect up to a thousand people — and they don’t expect any trouble.

The protesters’ complaints — corporate greed, corruption and social injustice — are vaguely defined, but they attract a wide swath of disaffected supporters.

A Montgomery County native, “Joe” asked that his last name be withheld because the protest is one with an “anonymous” face. He said he made his way from North Carolina, where he was doing some part-time tree work.

He and the others, who come and go from the rolling demonstration as their schedules allow, have rallied around the notion that 1 percent of American workers are reaping the benefits of an unequal economy. The 99 percent left are the taxpayers supporting — among other things — wars that cost billions of dollars, Mr. Sponaugle explained.

“We’re all that 99 percent,” he said. “We’re just the people too eager to wait.”

Since mid-September, the Occupy Wall Street protesters — inspired by the Arab Spring demonstrations that unsettled the Middle East — have made headlines for encamping in a park near the financial district and for their theatrical protests.

Hundreds were arrested Saturday after the group swarmed the Brooklyn Bridge, and some of their marches have included dressing as zombies — a metaphor for what they see as a mindless, insatiable corporate culture. Demonstrators have also made claims of mistreatment by police.

Yet the protests have drawn support from unlikely quarters.

Some of the country’s largest labor unions, including the AFL-CIO, are mulling whether to send representatives to swell the ranks on Wall Street, while other groups such as the Working Families Party and the Transit Workers Union already have joined.

The protests have sparked other “Occupy” gatherings in large and small U.S. cities, including Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles. College students in New York walked out of Wednesday classes to show their support for the Wall Street movement.

On Wednesday, the D.C. group milled about quietly in McPherson Square, chatting with curious onlookers and pouring their morning coffee from reusable bags.

Around the corner from the White House and surrounded by glass-and-steel downtown office buildings, the park is normally home to lunch strolls for workers nearby and the resting place for some of the District’s homeless.

“This is a liberated spaced. We’re not under the rule of a corporation or government,” Ms. MacAuley said.

Employed by a local nonprofit for which she does communications work, Ms. MacAuley said she spent a few days participating in the Wall Street rally, an experience she described as “really incredible” and possible thanks to her flexible career.

“People are overwhelmingly interested,” she said, and the balmy fall weather has encouraged passers-by to spend some time with the protesters.

“The people cleaning up the park in the morning came out with their gardening tools and gave us big smiles and thumbs-up,” Ms. MacAuley said.

And unlike the tension between protesters and the New York Police Department, Occupy D.C. members have established an understanding with D.C. police.

A recent march on a Bank of America branch prompted the tellers to shut down the bank and call the police, Mr. Sponaugle said.

Instead of assuming the worst, the police “gave us words of support,” he said.

The group members have also tried to stay within the boundaries of their legal rights to assemble, including sleeping on sidewalks instead of illegally setting up camp on park property.

“Joe” said nights have been spent napping alongside a CVS pharmacy. During the day, eager questions from passers-by and the kindness of strangers help pass the time.

“People are supporting us. They’ll ask, ‘What do you need?’ And if we’ve got all we need, they ask, ‘What do you want?’ ” he said.

As if on cue, a woman toting a suitcase stopped to confirm the group was related to the Occupy D.C. protest before she encouraged the members to “keep it going.”

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