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Occupy! At CPAC

by Jo Freeman
posted to SeniorWomen Web February 2012

While the movie is still a work in progress, the trailer does expose one serious problem with Occupy. It proclaims itself a non-violent movement, but has no control over those who choose to ignore this mandate. There were plenty of demonstrators during the 1960s civil rights movement who were not personally committed to non-violence, but they were kept in check by staff who worked the crowd to deter violent acts and verbal provocations. Occupy doesn’t have any staff, or the equivalent.

Some of the scenes in the movie trailer were quite a contrast to the discipline shown by the over 600 union members and their supporters who protested at the front entrance to the Mariott Hotel on Friday. They marched up the street carrying tents, signs and posters saying "Stop the War on Workers" and "We Are the 99%" to be greeted by a 20 foot inflated "fat cat" choking a worker.

a large inflatable fat cat wears a businesss suit and chokes a worker in one hand, while a nearby person holds a sign reading Greed is Good with a picture of Romney a croud of Occupy Protesters hold signs reading Stop the war on Workers and We are the 99 percent

As the unionists marched, a dozen college students wearing t-shirts that said "Money is Speech — Poverty is Silence" walked into an overflow room for CPACers listening to Mitt Romney’s speech and stood in front of the screen with tape over their mouths. The crowd yelled at them for a couple minutes before they were removed by hotel security.

It was CPAC’s invitation to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to be its keynote speaker that prompted the protest. Walker has been a union target since last year when he and the Republican state legislature passed a bill undermining collective bargaining rights of most public sector unions. So wide is the anger at the Republican Governor that busses came from New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia to augment the ranks of local union members. Some were dressed in baseball costumes with "1% Tax Dodgers" on the front.

protestors stand near a huge baseball Mitt and wear baseball uniforms with the words Tax Dodgers and 1 percent on them

Organized by the DC Labor Council, the action was originally timed for Walker’s 7:30 p.m.  speech at the "Ronald Reagan Banquet" on Friday (at $275 a ticket). The need to accommodate union members’ schedules resulted in a major protest at noon, and a smaller one of about one hundred at 5:00 p.m.  Most of the unionists at the noon protest had gone home, to be replaced by those who couldn’t get off work earlier. There were two to three dozen people from Occupy at both, though they had the bigger signs.

a crowd of protestors gathers at an intersection with plenty of signs

Ironically, the police presence at the larger protest was lighter than at the smaller one. Police confined protestors to the sidewalk in front of the hotel, not allowing even media to step on the hotel lawn. Eventually the DC police permitted protestors to take over the street for an hour, where they picketed with signs saying "Greed is Good — Romney-Gekko 2012" and extolled the virtues of "Walmart for President." (If corporations are people, surely one can run for President).

a protestor pretends to be a corporation running for president

CPAC attendees came out from the hotel to shout and argue. Carrying signs saying Stand With Walker, printed for his appearance that evening, some faced off against unionists who hoisted signs demanding Recall Walker! While sometimes loud, it was a civil confrontation.

a crowd holds stand with walker signs a croud of Occupy Protesters hold signs reading Recall Walker

As the crowd dissipated about 6:00, a group of two dozen young people, mostly Occupiers, marched around the block and up a driveway to the rear entrance of the hotel, where some entered one of its restaurants. They were removed by hotel security, as DC police, who had been prowling the hotel all day, ran to blockade everyone else.

protestors stand near two police on horses and a third policeman standing in the foregraound

While the police were herding the young people back down the driveway, an extremely agitated Andrew Breitbart came out of the hotel and began shouting at them. Breitbart, a former lefty turned righty, is featured in CUP’s film on Occupy. While he had used some strong language during the "blogger briefing," when facing actual Occupiers, he lost it. Calling them "freaks and animals," he yelled "stop raping people." As hotel security gently pushed him back inside, he ranted  "you, filthy, dirty, murdering freaks."

protestors calmly soeak with people in suits

Back on the street, Occupiers once again exchanged words with some CPACers who had followed them. While police blocked the road to the rear hotel entrance, but otherwise only watched, a few CPACers and Occupiers traded words in a manner a bit more cordial than a shouting match.

protestors holding signs stand next to a group of police

The shouting resumed the next day, when Occupy returned for a rematch, though much of it seemed like an anti-climax to Friday. While a few dozen Occupiers congregated on the street in front of the Marriott, hotel security removed six grungy looking young men lurking outside Sarah Palin’s noontime speech to the Clare Boothe Luce luncheon for female undergraduates, only to discover that they were a patriotic band hoping to give her a CD.

In the meantime a dozen or so Occupiers were casing the joint, having successfully blended in with the thousands of CPACers filling the lobby and the halls. Some of them got into the ballroom where Palin gave the closing speech at 4:30. Others pasted stickers on candidate literature which would later be handed out. They also dropped a banner from a balcony into the lobby, and distributed balloons with Occupy written on them. Every time an Occupier did something provocative, CPACers responded by shouting "USA, USA, USA." It was a very patriotic day.

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