'Recharged' Occupy movement greets lawmakers back from recess

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 17, 2012 

WASHINGTON — Protesters from across the nation rallied Tuesday on Capitol Hill under the banner of the grassroots Occupy movement, saying they came to Washington to greet Congress as members return to work after a holiday recess.

"This recharges the Occupy movement," said Camilo Brokaw, a protester from Albuquerque, N.M. "This is a giant scientific testing ground for all of the different parts of the movement to come together and see what each group has been doing."

A group calling itself Occupy Congress organized Tuesday's event, using social media to draw other protesters aligned with the Occupy movement from across the country.

Protesters filled the Capitol lawn wearing costumes, holding signs and playing music. While the Occupy movement remains leaderless, without any official spokespeople or party lines, a central goal of the day was to bring together people from across the country to create concrete plans for the group.

"We're gaining support because our message is true," said Shamar Thomas, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who gained notoriety for his diatribe against police brutality at Occupy Wall Street in October.

"Thank you for coming to view your oppressed citizens," yelled a protester to a number of congressional officials gazing out from the steps of the U.S. Capitol. "This is what happens when you don't do your jobs."

The Occupy movement, which has its roots in the first Occupy Wall Street rally in Manhattan in September, has come under criticism for its lack of focus and organization. But protesters were quick to attribute its success to precisely that.

"I think that's been their strength, having respect for all different kinds of points of view," said Sharon Pio, of Washington. "This is really the smartest thing I've ever seen, when I think about it."

But such diversity of opinion creates divisions within the group. Just after 1 p.m., the crowd was split between protesters on the lawn in a "general assembly," going through an agenda of events for the day, and a larger group at the edge of the lawn, chanting at the police who barricaded them from the paved walkway.

"I've never seen it like this, blocked off before," said Debra Alexander, who said she traveled from the Occupy Charlotte, N.C., encampment. "I've been to protests here for over 30 years, and they've never blocked it off. ... I'm completely baffled over this."

U.S. Capitol Police reported four arrests as of 5 p.m.

Following the protest at the Capitol, groups of demonstrators marched to nearby congressional offices to break into smaller groups and speak with their respective representatives.

A group of seven Marylanders went to the office of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., to voice their concerns about what they view as corporate control of government. Hoyer was not in his office, but the protesters were invited to write their concerns on a legal pad for the congressman's review.

One of the protesters, Kathryn Seidewitz of Bowie, Md., asked one of Hoyer's legislative aides, Jim Wood, what the lawmaker had done to address money in politics.

"Hoyer has generally believed that those classified in the 1 percent aren't paying their fair share," Wood told her.

Seidewitz wasn't satisfied. The group left after about 15 minutes.

A final march at 6 p.m. was expected to go from the Supreme Court to the White House, where a candlelight vigil was to be held. The protesters' permit was to run out at 11 p.m., when they would be removed from the Capitol Hill lawns.

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