The Occupy D.C. movement, which for three months has been encamped in a downtown park, is facing a crossroads, with its numbers dwindling, federal officials questioning why its members have not been removed and its organizers attempting to recapture the momentum of its earlier days.
The protest at McPherson Square in Northwest, one of a handful of Occupy sites remaining in big cities around the country, has thinned noticeably since its outset in October. Some of its members have even suggested a disillusionment with the direction the movement has taken.
Occupier Antoinette Hernan, 23, said that in the three months since demonstrators began the protest, there’s been a pattern of highs and lows in the camp, and right now things are on the lower end of the spectrum.
“Everyone was excited to meet, and it was a communal forum,” Ms. Hernan said. “Now it’s more capitalist and guarding tents with fences.”
“Kenny,” a 29-year-old member of Occupy D.C., said the movement is a catalyst whose purpose was “to have no leaders, but everyone raised to their maximum potential.”
“Very few have taken control of that,” he said. “This is a leaderless movement, but everyone was supposed to be a leader.”
Kenny said he’d seen changes since the warmer months, including the arrival of younger and less sociable campers as other Occupy camps around the country have been disbanded. He has been living in the Northwest park for 11 weeks, but said he plans to leave.
Local officials increasingly have expressed exasperation with the protests, which require police protection but are in areas of the city under federal control.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has demanded answers by Tuesday from the Department of the Interior — which oversees the National Park Service — as to whether or not politics had a role in allowing the Occupy D.C. movement to remain as long as it has.
It’s a theory that longtime protester Tracy Keith suspects has some truth to it.
“We are good for [President Obama] in D.C.,” he said. “We provide a counterbalance to the tea party,” he said.
The camp itself also has changed.
In the early days, protesters ate donated bread and used nearby restaurant bathrooms. Now portable toilets have been placed on site, and demonstrators have a kitchen, a library and an arts tent.
Mr. Keith, 57, says that during the movement’s busier times, such as a march in November that drew scores of demonstrators to the Key Bridge, a daylong showdown with police in December over a wooden shelter the group attempted to assemble in the park, and a protest a few days later in December that closed K Street, there were about 250 people living in the park. Today there’s about 100 or so, which means many of the tents that cover the Northwest park are empty.
About three-quarters of the tents are owned by Occupy D.C., he said, and their vacancy is monitored.
“Winter is not an easy time,” Mr. Keith said. “People will be coming back soon as the holidays are over. Some have left for good, and some have gone to visit other occupations.”
There are plans to jump-start the movement this month, including a march on Capitol Hill that according to the Occupy website promises “thousands” of participants.
Protester Robert Brune, 46, said committees in which the demonstrators discuss their organization and activities “are up and going again now that people are returning from being with their families.”
“I am seeing a more focused and determined group, ready to hit the ground while keeping the peace in the camp,” he said.