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After Infusion of New Energy, ‘Occupy DC’ Shows No Signs of Letting Up

November 24, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Hari Sreenivasan reports on the 'Occupy' movement in Washington, D.C., where demonstrators have settled in after getting a shot in the arm from some energetic protesters who traveled down from New York City.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: McPherson Square, Washington, D.C. — home to the D.C. wing of the movement known as Occupy Wall Street.

Occupiers have held this park nearly 60 days and there is no sign of letting go. As we visited, preparations were underway for an infusion of new energy. Protestors from the symbolic capitol of the movement, Wall Street, were marching this way. And no amount of rain would dampen the spirit and anticipation.

WOMAN: I’m excited. I am so excited to meet them. They are family. You know, we are all here for the same reason.

AARON BICKETT: Yes, that will be great. They come down here and we support them, arms wide open, come on down.

HARI SREENIVASAN: This encampment in the heart of the nation’s capital has drawn a lot of attention for its proximity to the seat of American government, and the variety of demonstrators that have come from all over the country to join in.

J.C. Cullen is 29. He’s been here from the beginning.

MAN: I’m here because I feel that I need to be here. This is something that I feel like I have been waiting for since I was a little kid. I want it to go beyond this camp phase and come together and build a community.

HARI SREENIVASAN: J.C. helped build the kitchen which today is well-stocked thanks to supporter donations and help from groups like the labor union AFL- CIO. There is also a library, community spaces and a medical tent. All things that suggest a permanence here or at least a long occupation. But winter is coming.

MAN: The tents actually are pretty warm and D.C. winters usually are not that harsh. But then again this will be my first one here, so I guess we’ll just find out. But it is definitely going to stay. I’ll definitely be here. I’ll be here.

MAN: This is where we live at, man.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Damian Bascom (ph) has pretty much moved in.

You’ve got furniture in here, you got a futon. This looks a lot more permanent than just an Occupy tent.

MAN: Yes, definitely. I want to be comfortable because I’m in it for the long run. I’ve got a TV in here.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Why?

MAN: So, you know, at night time, we can watch different movies, civil rights movies. We can stay here because we are staying here sacrificing our life.

We’re not just coming here to just play around and or just joke around and just camp out outside. A lot of these other demonstrators around the country that are in these different states, they have been demonstrating with violence. And they’ve been having a lot of controversy going on inside their tents in their camps, which we only have about 250 people out here. We try to monitor them to the best of our ability with -

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, you’re self-policing.

MAN: We’re self-policing here, yes.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Protesters say they’ve been working with authorities to keep things peaceful and nonviolent here. But another reason that things might not be flaring up here at McPherson Square is that D.C. is not just the nation’s capital, it’s the nation’s protest capital. This city is used to it.

Beyond the police, there are a lot of eyes on the occupiers. A steady flow of non-resident supporters come through the park daily, stop for coffee, ask some questions, or simply say hello.

Eric Lotke is from Virginia.

ERIC LOTKE: I’m a middle aged guy. I got two kids. I’m in the PTA. I own my home. I’ve got a job with health care.

I’m doing just fine thank you, but I’m with these folks in spirit. I think they are right, I think the economy is broken, I think the government is broken. And I love it that they are out here trying to do something about it and I want to go stand with them. And I want to stand with them like a middle-aged, middle class guy and a PTA parent, not a hippie beatnick with purple hair.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Mid-afternoon, the long-awaited marchers arrived, wet and tired. About 20 true believers who had walked for two weeks, 240 miles from New York City, joined by others along the way. They quickly gathered the whole camp in the center of the park in general assembly. No megaphone required.

MAN: There was a supercommittee …

CROWD: There was a supercommittee …

MAN: …that failed us.

CROWD: …that failed us.

MAN: There was no decision.

CROWD: There was no decision.

MAN: No democracy.

CROWD: No democracy.

MAN: We are democracy.

CROWD: We are democracy.

MAN: I will march.

CROWD: I march.

MAN: Until my feet bleed.

CROWD: Until my feet bleed.

MAN: To make this point.

CROWD: To make this point.

MAN: Amen, brother.

MAN: So you ask me.

CROWD: So you ask me.

MAN: Why did I come to this march?

CROWD: Why did I come to this march?

MAN: I ask you, why didn’t you.

CROWD: I ask you, why didn’t you.

MAN: Peace.

(CHEERS)

HARI SREENIVASAN: Eric Carter marched here after spending weeks occupying Wall Street.

ERIC CARTER: Zuccotti Park is recognized as kind of the beginning of the situation and people look to us I guess for like tips and pointers on — and kind of affirmation that this is a valid part of the Occupy movement.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But not necessarily leadership. The Occupy groups pride themselves on not having an official leadership structure. The movement’s trademark, in fact, are its general assemblies — where decisions are made by all participants, opposing views are welcome and people are encouraged to speak.

I asked Carter if he saw problems in it.

ERIC CARTER: Compromise is kind of a natural part of the process, that your idea, while it’s a slam dunk in your head, someone else may have a better idea, someone else may not agree, or that it might not be the right time for your idea to come up, you know?

HARI SREENIVASAN: That democracy’s messy.

ERIC CARTER: Yes, of course. It’s super inefficient. It’s super — it grates my nerves sometimes how things grind to a halt. But at the end of the day, when you have a decision that was hard to make, and everybody agrees to it, and everybody is happy with the resolution, it feels so good, you know?

HARI SREENIVASAN: How different is that than what happens a few blocks from here on Capitol Hill?

ERIC CARTER: Capitol Hill, they are not making any decisions. They’ve come to a point now where they don’t want to compromise at all. It’s antithetical to their process for there to be any compromise, it’s us against them and I’m always right — when that’s just not the way the world works.

HARI SREENIVASAN: This is very much a movement that is learning as it grows. And the protestors we spoke with said they didn’t know what the future held for them. But they are sure they are not breaking camp anytime soon.