Posts Tagged ‘McPherson Square’

Charlottesville to D.C. March and Protest

During this past week I stopped by McPherson Square Park (MAP) during my daily lunchtime bike rides a couple of times to try to talk with some of the protestors who recently marched from Charlottesville, Virginia, (my hometown) to D.C. (where I currently live), and are now camping out in the park.  They marched to D.C. in an effort to speak out against the type of white supremacy that was on display at the “Unite the Right” rally last month in Charlottesville, which ultimately turned into a violent clash between white supremacist protestors and a significant number of counter-protestors who showed up to oppose them, and which resulted in 19 injured and three dead.

On my first visit to the park I tried several times to engage individual protestors in conversation in an attempt to better understand their perspective on the issues in general, and their point-of-view on the recent violent incidents in Charlottesville in particular.  Unfortunately, they seemed much more interested in talking with each other than with anyone stopping by from the outside to talk with them.  So I stopped by again the next day.  Sadly, I was equally unimpressed with those I encountered on the second day.  They remained off by themselves, with most seeming to be in his or her own little world as they were preoccupied with their laptops or their cell phones.

The March to D.C. started in Charlottesville with nearly 200 marchers on August 28th.  But by the next morning there were only 35 marchers.  And by the time the group got to D.C. there were substantially fewer.  The number has increased by protestors from the D.C. area stopping by the park to bolster the original group from Charlottesville.  But the march and subsequent protest lost most of the momentum they started out with, resulting in the group being as unimpressive as the individuals I encountered.

Also, like most of the marches and protests I’ve seen here in D.C. since the beginning of the year, they appeared to be blaming or focusing on President Trump regardless of what the issue happens to be.  They even have gone so far as to, for their purposes, rename McPherson Square to Impeachment Square.  It seems like it’s never a matter of right verses wrong anymore.  Now it’s almost always right verses left.  I’m glad we live in a country where you’re free to agree with someone or their cause, and still feel disappointed in them.

         

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

UPDATE:  Despite vowing to maintain a permanent protest vigil in Farragut Square Park until at least the end of September, the small group which arrived September 6th and set up tents in the park were gone in only four days.

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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]

Food and Friend's Pie Election

Food & Friends’ Great Pie Election

With the recent conclusion of the mid-term elections, I thought there would be a break from campaigning and voting.  But on this bike ride, as I was riding past McPherson Square, I was flagged down and asked by a group of people to cast a ballot in the election which they were holding.  As it turned out, the pre-Thanksgiving Day election was being conducted by an organization named “Food & Friends,” and they were passing out free slices of a variety of different pies, and then asking people to vote for their favorite kind.

Founded in 1988, Food & Friends began in the basement of D.C.’s Westminster Presbyterian Church, with the purpose of providing healthy, home-delivered meals to children or adults battling HIV/AIDS, cancer or any another life-challenging illness.  Since their beginning, Food & Friends has prepared and served approximately 12.5 million meals to more than 19,850 individuals. Having moved from a cramped church basement to their own state-of-the-art kitchen and pantry facility, they have also initiated additional new programs to meet the changing needs of the people they serve. In addition to home-delivered freshly prepared meals, Food & Friends also provides groceries and nutrition counseling, as well as friendship, empathy and kindness to those they serve.

Food & Friends was holding the election to advertise their organization. They were also taking orders from people who were buying pies for Thanksgiving, with the proceeds to be used to support their programs. So with such a worthy organization being involved, as well as the availability of free pie, I felt obligated to stop and do my civic duty. I don’t know how the election eventually turned out, but I find that I don’t really care. I think with Family & Friends, everyone wins.

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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Freedom Plaza

Freedom Plaza

Freedom Plaza, originally known as Western Plaza, is an open urban plaza built in 1980 in northwest D.C., located at 1455 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), at the corner of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.  It is adjacent to Pershing Park, and just a few blocks from the White House.  The plaza was designed and developed by The Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, as part of a plan to transform Pennsylvania Avenue into a ceremonial route connecting the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House.

The western end of the plaza contains a raised reflecting pool with a large, animated circular fountain, while the eastern end contains an equestrian statue of Kazimierz Pułaski, a general in the Continental Army.  The center of the plaza contains a giant inlaid black granite and white marble map of the national capital city, as designed by Pierre L’Enfant, with grass panels representing the National Mall and the Ellipse, and bronze markers denoting the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House.

It was renamed Freedom Plaza in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., who worked on his “I Have a Dream” speech in the nearby Willard Hotel.  At the time the name was changed in 1988, a time capsule containing a Bible, a robe, and other relics of King’s was planted at the site.  I look forward to another bike ride there in 2088 when the time capsule will be reopened.

Freedom Plaza is a popular place for political protests and civic events.  In the spring of 1968, it was home to a shanty town known as “Resurrection City,” which was erected by protesters affiliated with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Poor People’s Campaign.”  In the wake of King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, the encampment ultimately proved unsuccessful, and the inhabitants of the tent city were dispersed within the next couple of months.

Years later, beginning in October of 2011, it was also one the sites in D.C. which was temporarily home for a group which called itself Occupy Washington D.C., which was connected to the Occupy D.C. movement, encamped at McPherson Square, and to the Occupy Wall Street and broader Occupy movements that sprung up across the United States throughout the fall of that year.  However, by December, the movement’s presence at Freedom Plaza was nearing its end.  The two original organizers of the Freedom Plaza occupation divorced themselves from the occupation, and the “exploding” rat population around the camps at Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square was described by D.C. Department of Health director Mohammad Akhter as “no different than refugee camps.”

Freedom Plaza is one of those places in D.C. that many people have already been to but never really noticed.  Unique among the city’s plazas and parks, it is worth a long enough visit to appreciate its subtlety and details.

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