Freedom Plaza is an open block in the middle of D.C. in between the White House and the Capitol Building, and on Thursday it was packed with activists and concerned citizens protesting against the government’s wars and corporatism.
Well over 500 people showed up to protest, which had initially been focused on the war in Afghanistan. The website, set up months prior in preparation, contained a pledge that many participants signed: “I pledge that if any U.S. troops, contractors, or mercenaries remain in Afghanistan…I will commit to being in Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., with others on that day or the days immediately following, for as long as I can, with the intention of making it our Tahrir Square, Cairo…”
Increased interest and attendance, particularly since it coincided with the growing Occupy Wall Street protests, broadened the scope of the grievances of participants to include socialists, environmentalists, workers rights groups, End-the-Fed Ron Paul supporters, and others. Still, a strong and abundant antiwar crowd made up one the largest constituencies in attendance.
A stage set up at the head of Freedom Plaza adorned with a massive banner of the Constitution’s opening lines – “We the People” – was a platform for political speeches, hip-hop performances, and protest folk songs. Chants like “Peace now,/Stop the war” and “Banks got bailed out/We got sold out” filled the air in between performances. To the right of the stage was masted a model Predator drone of about five feet wing span to protest their ever-growing use in American warfare.
The crowd took their signs and drums and slogans and marched towards the White House, where police had barricaded the sidewalk so as to keep protesters on the street and away from the fence that surrounds it. Unified shouts of “Shame! Shame!” rang loudly through the corridors of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Some of the groups organizers, including Kevin Zeese, Margaret Flowers, and Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin held bullhorns at the front of the march, leading chants. Benjamin quickly yelled to the crowd to continue through LaFayette Square opposite the White House and across the street to the front door of the Chamber of Commerce, because “that’s where the power is.”
After a half hour of congregating on the steps of the Chamber of Commerce, the building had to be shut down, Medea Benjamin announced in her bullhorn. “The police line in front of the building has been broken,” she said ” through nonviolence. The police are here for us, the people!”
The march, led by accommodating police cruisers and traffic officers, was then led four blocks down 17th Street to hit K Street, the major D.C. thoroughfare known for its thinktanks, lobbyists, and organized advocacy groups with the ear of the political elite. Chants against corporatism and war persisted, but now also echoed the Occupy Wall Street cheer “Whose street? Our street!”
The march was to conclude in the evening, and return to Freedom Plaza for more music, demonstrations, and a candlelight vigil at 9:30. Participants say they will stay there as long as they have to.
See here for more pictures.
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