Sept. 19, 2014

Protesters Plan to Occupy McPherson Square

As if K Street didn't have enough of an image problem, a band of grass-roots protesters will descend Saturday on McPherson Square to wave signs and protest Big Money in politics as part of a rowdy new Occupy D.C./Occupy K Street movement.

The planned protest, which has generated considerable Twitter and Facebook buzz but cannot be traced to a single group or organizer, appears to be an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protests and arrests that have disrupted lower Manhattan in recent weeks.

An OccupyDC.org website sheds little light on the group but posts ad hoc meeting notes and "general conclusions," including the group's objective: "Despite having other issues on the agenda our main message is to repeal corporate personhood and in particular [the] Citizens United" Supreme Court ruling.

An internal memo obtained by the news website DCist.com sheds some light on why protesters chose McPherson Square in Northwest Washington. "Located on K Street, the Square is the epicenter of the problem in D.C.: Corporate Money and influence in our politics, the income disparity, the lack of political equality in the system, and the gridlock which prevents our leaders from enacting the structural change to protect our society for future generations," the memo reads.

The Occupy DC/Occupy K Street protest, which Internet chatter suggests could draw several hundred people, is one of several similar efforts springing up across the country. According to the Occupy Together website, which describes itself as an "unofficial hub" for events inspired by the Occupy Wall Street model, such protests are being planned for several cities, including Chicago, Houston and Tampa.

Reform advocates inside the Beltway could not identify the organizers behind the group, but some are moving to take advantage of public anger over last year's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, which freed up direct corporate and union spending in elections. Organizers at the Sunlight Foundation, for one, have posted links on Facebook and Twitter aimed at educating protesters about lobbyist-sponsored fundraisers around town.

"I see this as a prime opportunity to reach out to grass-roots activists who care about the role of lobbying in policy and politics," Sunlight Foundation communications director Gabriela Schneider said.

"There is extraordinary outrage across the country at the state of affairs, and it is understood to be rooted in problems of excessive corporate power," Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said. While public anger is principally focused on unemployment and jobs, Weissman said the Citizens United ruling has emerged as a symbol of corporate abuses.

Public Citizen and some other reform advocates are pursuing a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling, and Weissman acknowledged that the effort faces political and practical hurdles. The Wall Street protests have failed to garner sustained media attention, in part because their anti-corporate message has come across as vague and unfocused.

"People are outraged, and they want to do something, but they're not sure what to do, or how to do it, or who to do it with," Weissman said. He added that public anger appears to be escalating: "In some ways, the biggest question for me is not why are people taking to the streets, it's why hasn't it happened earlier faster, bigger."

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