Archive for the ‘Protests’ Category

Emergency Rally to Stop Sessions and the New Drug War!

“Emergency Rally to Stop Sessions & the New Drug War!” That’s the wording of the online notification I saw from the Washington Peace Center, which describes itself as “an anti-racist, grassroots, multi-issue organization working for peace, justice, and non-violent social change in the metropolitan D.C. area.”  And as I read through the notification I realized that a protest was scheduled to be held from noon until one o’clock today in front of the Department of Justice Building at 950 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in Downtown D.C.  And since that’s just across the street from my office, I decided to check it out during my lunchtime break. Initially billed as a protest of the new Attorney General’s drug enforcement policies, it ended up including people who were there to protest for a variety of additional causes, such as Black Lives Matter, corporate greed, anti-Trump, and other generic issues such as the people holding signs that simply read “Resist.” Protests in D.C. are often entertaining, but ever since the Occupy protests several years ago I think the messages often get diluted in the diversity of causes that show up in addition to the original reason for the protest. Despite this, I’ll continue to show up at them.

         

         

         

         

         

          

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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Trump Protestors Get Trumped

Today I stopped by what was formerly known as The Old Post Office Pavilion, located at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), which reopened today as The Trump International Hotel – Washington, D.C.  Based on a 60-year lease from the Federal government, Donald Trump has transformed the building into a 263-room luxury hotel which he proclaims is “one of the finest hotels in the world.”

Beginning today, guests will be able to stay at the new five-star hotel at rates that start at $750 per night and go up to $4,800 a night for the premier “Postmaster Suite”.   After the hotel’s official grand opening, which will take place later this year, room rates will drop to around $472 a night for a “Deluxe Room”, and $9,000 for the one-bedroom “Presidential Suite”.  But the Presidential Suite is not the most expensive accommodations being offered.  For that, guests will have to book the hotel namesake’s “Trump Townhouse”.  For that, guests will have to pay $18,750 per night.

For today’s opening, the Answer Coalition and Code Pink organizations were joined by a few individual protestors to conduct a demonstration in front of the new hotel.  However, when I was there at around noon during the peak of the protest, only about two dozen protestors had shown up to display their signs and banners.  As indicated by a sign-up table and pile of mass-produced signs on the ground next to it, they had been expecting many more people to show up to participate.  It is unknown how many people the organizing groups initially expected to be part of the protest, but most likely they expected many more than I saw while I was there.  In the end, I saw more journalists and  photographers there to cover the event than the people they were there to cover.

Adding insult to injury, the protestors were often drowned out by a street preacher in a red shirt who brought his own bullhorn to their bully pulpit.  Riding around on a bicycle in front of the protestors while simultaneously broadcasting his own personal message, he often drowned out the speakers at the protestors.  At times the speakers even stopped what they were doing while they waited for him to stop talking or, at times, dancing.  But when he did stop it was usually only temporary.

However, despite the protest not being a success in terms of size or getting out their message, the protestors may eventually have the last laugh.  Trump made the deal and broke ground on the renovation before he entered the Presidential race.  At that time his brand was mostly associated with luxury amenities and quality customer service.  But now, after more than a year of campaigning, the Trump name is much more polarizing and off-putting to many people.  And how that will translate into business for the hotel is as uncertain as the outcome of the upcoming election. 

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[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

UPDATE (9/12/2016):  I was contacted via Twitter and advised that the protest was planned as an all-day event, and that the number of protestors had increased to approximately 75 participants by early evening.

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UPDATE (10/1/2016):  The hotel was the scene of ongoing discontent and protests when it was vandalized today with spray-painted messages of “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice No Peace” near the front entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue.

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Police Protecting Protestors Protesting the Police

We’re in the middle of a heat wave here in D.C.  And it has been so hot in the afternoons lately that for today’s bike ride I decided to go earlier in the day when the heat was a little less oppressive.  In fact, I went for my daily ride shortly after arriving at work this morning.  And since I usually begin my workday relatively early, rush hour was still ongoing while I left to go out on this ride.  This is important because the timing played a part in what I saw during today’s ride.

During my ride, I decided to ride Julius, my orange recumbent bike, around the tree-lined, shaded streets of northeast D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.  As I was riding down Massachusetts Avenue approaching the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge, located at 328 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP), I saw a crowd gathered near the building and at the end of the block near Stanton Park.  So I rode closer to investigate.  And it turns out that it was a protest by the group which calls itself Black Lives Matter, along with others affiliated with Black Youth Project 100.

The Fraternal Order of Police District of Columbia Lodge #1 is one of the largest lodges in the United States. Its membership consists of approximately 10,000 members from over 114 various District and Federal agencies. The lodge also houses the organization’s national legislative office, which in the wake of the recent killings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, is calling for Federal legislation classifying the intentional targeting of police officers as a hate crime.  And the organization’s position seems to have gained additional momentum when President Obama stated that the black sniper who killed the white officers in Dallas should have been prosecuted for a hate crime if he were still alive.

Today’s Black Lives Matter protestors were gathered in the street in front of the lodge, joining arms to block rush hour traffic at the intersection of 4th Street and Massachusetts Avenue.  I heard some of the protesters shout to the commuters who were simply trying to get to work, “If this is your normal way to work, please go around. The FOP protects killer cops.”  Others said to at least one pedestrian on the sidewalk, “Use your white privilege to walk around.” (See video below.)  Some protestors were also blocking the gateways and access to the building, while others had chained themselves to stair railings and fixtures at the entrance to the lodge.  At one point they even hoisted a Black Lives Matter flag atop a flagpole in front of the building.

In response, Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police’s D.C. office, said he supports the protesters right to assemble. But because of the disruptive influence of the protestors attempting to block access to both the street and the building, he had decided to close the lodge for the day said they would continue their work from other locations.

So as Mr. Pasco and the other employees departed, they left behind a number of on-duty Metropolitan Police Department Officers. Those officers, who were most likely also members of the lodge itself, blocked and rerouted the vehicular traffic to protect the protestors themselves, and remained on the scene to protect their right to free speech. All of the police officers there remained calm throughout, and continued to act in a professional way to the protestors who were there to protest against them.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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Bloodstained Men Protest

On this lunchtime bike ride, as I was riding through Lafayette Square and past the plaza in front of the north portico of the White House (MAP), I noticed an unusual looking protest.  From a distance it caught my eye because the men protesting were dressed in all-white outfits with what appeared to be red stains on their crotches.  I also noticed that the demonstration was not only getting a lot of attention, but was also prompting double-takes or shudders from some of the tourists and other passersby.  So naturally I rode over to take a closer look and try to find out more.

It turned out that the protest was by a group called Bloodstained Men and Their Friends, which is traveling around the country to protest against infant male circumcision in the United States.  And they have more than 60 anti-circumcision protests scheduled throughout this year.  That includes this protest at the White House.

Two of the main Abrahamic faiths, Judaism and Islam, require that males be circumcised, while Christians and nonbelievers are mixed on the topic.  Others believe that circumcision has health advantages for men completely separate from religious belief.  Both the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have found that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks, and that the benefits justify access to this procedure for families who choose it.

However, the organizers of the protest consider the procedure of infant male circumcision to be a violation of human rights, and want this country to follow the advice of the European medical community, which has condemned American doctors for infant circumcision.  They also contend that in the United States, the legality of the practice is a violation of the 14th Amendment.

Despite being practiced in many African and Middle Eastern countries as a cultural custom, the Federal government passed a law in 1996 against Female Genital Mutilation.  In fact, just this week the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which considers it an international human rights issue, announced on its web site that it is encouraging people to come forward and report cases so that it can proactively investigate this illegal practice.  Bloodstained Men contend inasmuch as the 14th Amendment says that the law has to be applied equally, infant boys should be entitled to the same respect of their bodies that girls are.

However, the Bloodstained Men philosophy is not strictly anti-circumcision.  Although they do not advocate the process for anyone, the group believes the decision on whether to be circumcised should be left to the individual once he is an adult.  They also believe that protesting isn’t their main mission.  Rather, protesting is a means by which they seek to start a dialogue about the subject in hopes of educating people.  By this measure, I think their protest was a success.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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The Cannabis for Countrymen Rally

During today’s lunchtime bike ride as I was passing by the park at McPherson Square I noticed a lot of activity and tents being set up. So I stopped to find out what was happening. This is the same park where a few years ago demonstrators from the Occupy D.C. protest movement camped out for several months to protest against social and economic inequality around the world. And I thought they might be back. But it turned out that today’s demonstration, which is scheduled to continue through tomorrow’s Veteran’s Day holiday, was a very different kind of demonstration.

The event currently going on is called “Cannabis for Countrymen,” or D.O.P.E (Don’t Oppress People Ever) Festival, and is being sponsored by a number of groups and organizations, including Weed4Warriors, The Drug Policy Alliance, The People’s Champ, LLC, GreenTech Industries, the National Association for Concerned Veterans, DC NORML, and many others. The purpose of the event is to raise awareness about potential medical benefits of marijuana in treating veterans who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and other illnesses related to war trauma. The event will include a protest at The Department of Veteran’s Affair Headquarters, which is only a block away from the park, as well as a march to the White House for a first amendment demonstration. In another corner of the park I watched as an artist was setting up an exhibit comprised of twenty-two American flags surrounded by pill bottles, which I was told symbolizes the number of veterans who commit suicide each day in this country. They also advised that tomorrow they will also be handing out free marijuana to military veterans. Today there were booths set up offering samples of different hemp products, including everything from clothing to skin care products to flavored teas. I stopped and talked with a number of people, and they advised their products are in compliance with local D.C. law. When I asked if the products violated any Federal laws, I found out that some didn’t but others did. I explained that I appreciated the information they were offering but because of my position with the Federal government, I would have to decline any of the free samples.   

I did stop on the bike ride back to work, however, and treated myself by picking up some Kung Pao chicken at Soho Café & Market to take back to the office. It was a good ride today, despite the fact that it was raining. And of course, it was interesting too. It just goes to show you that there’s always something going on in D.C., and it is often something unusual. 

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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Million Mask March

Instead of a monument or statue or other identified attraction which is my usual destination, I instead rode to an event during yesterday’s lunchtime bike ride.  I attended the “Million Mask March” here in D.C., which was a protest organized by the hacktivist group Anonymous, scheduled to be held simultaneously “in 671 different cities” throughout the world.  I found out about the march about an hour and a half before it began when a security bulletin was sent to me at work, and since I was already here in D.C. and always open to new experiences, I grabbed one of the bikes that I keep in the parking garage of my office building and took an early lunch break to go check it out for myself.

According to the event’s Facebook page, the demonstration was intended to address a myriad of topics and issues, to include: “Major Corruption In Every Government; Education Reform; The Trans-Pacific Partnership; The National Defense Authorization Act; Militarized Police State; Police Brutality; Wars Of Aggression; Genetically Modified Organisms; Free Palestine; 911 Truth; Health Care Reform; Houselessness; Starvation; Human Rights; Alternative Energy; 2nd Amendment; Stop Paying Taxes; Fukushima; Bradley now Chelsea Manning; Jeremy Hammond; Aaron Schwartz; Barrett Brown, and; Freedom!”  But demonstrators also voiced concerns about additional topics as diverse as buying only locally-grown food, or not shopping on Black Friday.

The turnout wasn’t quite what was expected, with pre-event estimates ranging from one to twenty-five thousand local participants. In the end there were, at most, only a couple hundred people, many wearing the trademark Guy Fawkes mask popularized by the “V for Vendetta” movie, who marched in the event here.  While the diversity of issues may be an attraction for some, I think the lack of focus and specificity, much like the Occupy D.C. Movement that camped out in protest in McPhereson Square a few years ago, may ultimately be what kept the size of the crowd smaller than it might have been.  I think it also, for the most part, inhibited the group’s message from getting out to anyone outside the group of protestors themselves.

The group met at the Washington Monument, where I caught up with them, and then proceeded to march, under police escort, to the White House.  After conducting a demonstration in front of the north portico of the White House, the group later in the day marched to the U.S. Capitol Building, with stops along the way, such as at FBI Headquarters.  Although protesters were supposed to follow a specific route, they were characteristically unpredictable, and some broke off from the main group causing minor chaos with afternoon commuter traffic.  But despite some minor incidents, the demonstrators here in D.C. were for the most part law-abiding and non-violent,  which cannot be said of all the other groups in other cities yesterday.

Despite the low number of participants, however, it was an worthwhile event with an interesting group of people, as you will be able to see in these photographs that I took along the way.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Westboro Baptist Church Protestor

Westboro Baptist Church Protestors

Westboro Baptist Church is an unaffiliated Baptist church, at least technically. In actuality, it is one of the most abhorrent and rabid hate groups in the United States.  And on this lunchtime bike ride I stopped to watch a couple of its members, who were here in D.C. actively protesting on the sidewalk on Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in front of the White House.

The church originated in 1955 as a branch of the East Side Baptist Church in Topeka, about three miles west of the Kansas State capitol. East Side Baptist Church initially hired a man named Fred Phelps to be an associate pastor, and then promoted him to be the pastor of their new church plant, Westboro Baptist, in a residential neighborhood on the west side of Topeka. Soon after it was established, Phelps broke all ties with East Side Baptist. Since that time it has basically been a family-based cult of personality built around its patriarch, Fred Phelps. And despite Phelps’ death in March of 2014, the church continues to remain focused on the hatred he cultivated.

Typified by its slogan, “God Hates Fags,” the Westboro group is best known for its harsh anti-gay beliefs, and hate speech which is usually directed against LGBT people, Jews and politicians. The hateful rhetoric can often be seen in the crude signs its members carry at their frequent protests, like this one. The group began its “picketing ministry,” meaning their practice of holding controversial protests to raise awareness of the church and its beliefs, in 1991 in a nearby park in Topeka, alleging it was a den of anonymous homosexual activity. Soon their protests had spread throughout the city, and within three years the church was traveling across the country.

The group claims to claim to have picketed more than 40,000 times, and claims to conduct an average of six protests in different locations every day. Many of the targets of the group’s protests seem to be chosen at random. Examples of places where the group has picketed include Kansas City Chiefs football games, the Indianapolis 500, Broadway musicals, the headquarters of Twitter, President Obama’s daughters’ schools, Comic-Con, public appearances by Bob Dole, and Justin Bieber concerts.

But it was in 1998 that Westboro came into the national spotlight, when they were featured on national news programs for picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man from Wyoming who was beaten to death by two men because of his homosexuality. Since that time the Westboro group, also sometimes referred to as “Phelpses,” have made a point of picketing at funerals for the publicity and notoriety in generates. They have conducted protests at: the funerals of three students who were killed in a house fire at the University of Wisconsin; the funerals of the victims of the Sago mine disaster in West Virginia; the funeral of former Mormon Church president Gordon B. Hinckley in Utah; the Arizona funeral of Christina Green, a 9-year-old victim of the 2011 Tucson shooting in which Representative Gabrielle Giffords was also shot; the Sandy Hook School shooting victims’ funerals in Newtown, Connecticut, and; recording artist Michael Jackson’s funeral in California.  And as if protesting the funerals of tragic deaths of gay individuals and celebrities were not extreme enough, the group expanded to include protesting at the funerals of American military members killed in the service of their country.

I guess I can sum up my thoughts and impressions of the protestors I watched and the group they represent by saying that they enabled me to find the only thing on which I can say that I side with the Ku Klux Klan.  The Klan, the white supremacy hate group which has been known to use terrorism aimed at groups or individuals whom they oppose, recently felt the need to repudiate the Westboro Baptist Church and its beliefs and activities.  The Klan even participated in a counter-protest when the Westboro group held a protest at Arlington National Cemetery.  Exactly how evil does your organization have to be to have the Ku Klux Klan say, “Ummm … yeah … they’re too extreme and evil for us.”

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Protest Van

I never know what kind of protest I might come across when I go for a bike ride in D.C., but I can practically guarantee that I will see at least one protest.  From the hate-filled protests by the Westboro Baptist Church, to people flying the Confederate flag, to groups that gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Building whenever a controversial decision is announced, to The White House Peace Vigil, this city always has somebody somewhere protesting something.

One of my favorite kinds of protests are the ones like this van, which I saw on a recent bike ride, that combine advocating for a cause with an unusual vehicle.  These “Rolling Protests” on wheels often travel throughout the city, so you never know when the timing will be just right to happen upon one.

But even after stopping to read the writing that appears all over it, I’m still not quite sure what the owner of this van is protesting.  It is covered with religious writings that mention Jesus, the Holy Ghost and Jehovah, as well as political writings that touch on a number of diverse subjects, including government corruption, outsourcing jobs, hate crimes, and Bain Capital.  There are also phrases on the van which read “God is Jesus a Black Man from Egypt Ham Land” and “The Holy Ghost is Against Kroger Texas.”  The van’s license plate indicates it is from Texas, and reads “7 Jesus”.

If you click on the photos included in this blog post you will be able to see the full size versions of the photos, which make the schizophrenic-like writing on the van easier to read.   So if you do, and you think you understand the van owner’s message, please let me know.

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The March for Life

The March for Life

Occasionally the destination for my daily lunchtime bike ride is an event rather than a location. That was the case for this ride, as it is every January 22nd, when the “March for Life” takes place in D.C. The March for Life is an annual event which began as a small demonstration on the first anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the cases known as Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton, which were landmark decisions on the issue of abortion.  Over the years the March for Life has grown to include numerous other cities in the United States and throughout the world. The March in D.C., however, has become and remains the largest pro-life event in the world.

The first March for Life was founded by Nellie Gray, a lawyer and employee of the Federal government for 28 years, who after the Supreme Court decisions chose to retired and become a pro-life activist. The event was held on January 22, 1974, on the West Steps of the U.S. Capitol Building, with an estimated 20,000 supporters in attendance. Over the years, the attendance has increased substantially, with recent estimates of well in excess of a half a million participants. And it is estimated that about half of the marchers are under age 30, with many teenagers and college students attending the march each year, typically traveling with church and other youth groups.

The day’s events usually begin at noon with a rally on the National Mall, which features prominent activists, celebrities, and politicians. In some past years it has even including addresses by U.S. Presidents, including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.  President Barack Obama has been invited, but chose instead to decline and issue a pro-abortion written statement.  The rally is followed by the march, which begins near Fourth Street and travels down Constitution Avenue, turns right at First Street and proceeds past the U.S. Capitol Building, before ending on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court Building.  Another rally is then held in front of the Supreme Court Building, which features accounts from women who regret their abortion, referred to as “Silent No More” testimonies.

Many other associated events also take place in D.C. each year during the week in which the March is held. Various pro-life organizations hold events such as a candlelight vigil at the Supreme Court building, church and prayer services, educational conferences, and visits to lobby Congressional representatives. A dinner is also held each year, hosted by The March for Life Education and Defense Fund, which is the primary organizer for the March. An organization named Students for Life of America, which is the largest association of pro-life groups or clubs on college campuses, also holds an annual conference in D.C. for pro-life youth on the week of the march.

In recent years, the March for Life has chosen to focus on a theme in order to bring attention to specific aspects of the issue. Coinciding with this year’s 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the March for Life 2015 theme is “Every Life is a Gift,” with a special focus on babies who are diagnosed in the womb with a disability or fetal abnormality. Statistics indicate that this population is at the greatest risk for abortion, with studies indicating that approximately 85% of these pregnancies are ended by abortion, compared with the national abortion average of approximately 20%.

During this week that began with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal holiday, I also found it noteworthy that his niece, Dr. Alveda King, was a prominent participant in the March for Life.  Dr. Alveda King is a civil rights advocate, NAACP member, author, and Christian minister.  In her capacity as a full-time Pastoral Associate of African-American Outreach for the Roman Catholic group, Priests for Life, she is also a staunch and outspoken pro-life advocate.

March for Life has received relatively little attention from the press or mainstream media over the years. So to counter the relative lack of coverage, one of the March for Life’s supporters, The Family Research Council, organized what it called a Blogs for Life conference several years ago, which took place in D.C. and was one of the March for Life week’s events in 2011. The main goal of the conference was to “bring pro-life bloggers together to discuss strategies for securing more effective media coverage and advancing anti-abortion issues. Such strategies include securing media coverage through legislative means or by tapping into the new media outlets of the future, such as blogging.

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McPherson Square

McPherson Square

This month marks three years since a disillusioned band of protesters first pitched tents in a park in lower Manhattan, sparking a movement against corporate greed known as Occupy Wall Street. The New York protest initially garnered a significant amount of media attention and public awareness, thanks mainly to the involvement of the Canadian anti-consumerist magazine named Adbusters, which originally came up with the idea for the occupation. Adbusters began to promote the occupation, and then enlisted help from the Manhattan-based public relations firm Workhouse, who was well known for its successful work on client brands including Mercedes and Saks Fifth Avenue. It was their efforts that lead to media awareness, inspiring the initiation of other Occupy protests and movements around the world, including here in D.C.

Occupy D.C. was a protest in McPherson Square in D.C., and was connected to the other Occupy movements that were springing up across the U.S. in the fall of 2011. The group began occupying McPherson Square in October of that year. As a result of an inability to resolve internal differences and disputes, a number of protestors broke off from the original group, and began an occupation of Freedom Plaza several days later. That group called itself Occupy Washington. This squabble was an early indicator to me that the movement was destined to fade into obscurity.

The main issues raised by the Occupy movement were social and economic inequality, greed, corruption and the perceived undue influence of corporations on government – particularly from the financial services sector. The Occupy slogan, “We are the 99%”, referred to income inequality and wealth distribution in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. However, without designated leaders or specific demands, Occupy eventually turned into an amorphous protest against everything that anyone perceived to be wrong in the world.

For its first two months, authorities largely adopted a tolerant approach toward the movement, but this began to change in mid-November of 2011 when they began forcibly removing protest camps. By the end of the year authorities had cleared most of the major camps, with the last remaining high profile sites – in D.C. and London – evicted a few weeks later. The movement’s end seemed to arrive almost as suddenly as it began.

The problem with the movement was that its mission was always intentionally vague. It was deliberately leaderless. It never sought to become a political party or even a label like the Tea Party. And because it was purposely open to taking in all comers, the assembly lost its sense of purpose as various intramural squabbles emerged about the group’s end game. The Occupy encampments, which began with a small band of passionate intellectuals, had been hijacked by misfits and vagabonds looking for food and shelter. And as the USA Today newspaper described it, “It will be an asterisk in the history books, if it gets a mention at all.” Regardless of your support or opposition to the Occupy movement, I think it can be described as an interesting time that began full of idealism, but ended with unrealized potential.

I went to McPherson Square, as well as Freedom Plaza, several times back when the Occupy D.C.’s and Occupy Washington’s protests and occupations were ongoing. And to mark the third anniversary of the beginning of the Occupy movement, I rode back to the location where they began, McPherson Square.

McPherson Square is named after James B. McPherson, a major general who fought in the Union Army during the Civil War. It was identified as a park on the original 1791 design plan for the national capitol city created by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, and is a key element of the historic monumental core, along with Farragut Square and Lafayette Square.

McPherson Square is located in northwest D.C., and is bound by K Street to the north, Vermont Avenue on the East, I Street on the south, and 15th Street on the West (MAP). It is two blocks northeast of The White House, and one block from Lafayette Park. Located in the central downtown commercial and business district, today the square is frequented by area workers and street vendors during the day, and restaurant-goers and the homeless at night.

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[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]