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Occupiers Plan Protests Despite Power Battles

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Occupy DC protesters camped out in Freedom Plaza in October. An offshoot of the group, NOW DC, will gather in Franklin Square for a monthlong sit-in starting March 31. The group plans to skip tents and sleep on the streets.

Cherry blossoms aren’t the only thing likely to bring tourists to Washington, D.C., this spring. Some will be coming for a 30-day, Occupy Wall Street-inspired protest.

OccupyWashingtonDC.org, a group of occupiers that split this winter from the protesters camping in McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza, has invited activists from around the country to gather in Franklin Square for a monthlong sit-in starting March 31.

But the plan has ignited a long-smoldering dispute between the two groups. Occupy DC protesters, who were evicted from their tent cities in early February, object to the national ambitions of the offshoot group and think the movement should focus exclusively on local issues.

The dispute has played out online for months, but with the NOW DC (short for the National Occupation of Washington DC) event fast approaching, the controversy over the future of the movement in Washington is increasingly apparent.

The conflict centers on two of the career activists who appear to lead OccupyWashingtonDC.org — Kevin Zeese, a lawyer who ran for Senate in 2006 as Maryland’s Green Party nominee, and Margaret Flowers, a pediatrician and Congressional fellow for Physicians for a National Health Program, a group that advocates for a single-payer national health insurance system.

Occupy DC activists say Zeese and Flowers tried to dominate the protest movement last winter.

Sam Jewler, an Occupy DC activist who frequently serves as spokesman for the group, said Zeese and Flowers “were basically run out of Freedom Plaza for trying to hold excessive amounts of power.”

But Zeese blamed outsiders — he called them “infiltrators” — for trying to derail the movement and said that he and Flowers simply decided to switch strategies amid the turmoil.

Steve Chrismer, another NOW DC organizer, also dismissed the criticism.

“There are some people who love to stir things up and others may not be as skeptical as they should be,” he said in an email to Roll Call.

The infighting is not terribly surprising; many said it is the hallmark of a “leaderless” movement. Similar conflicts played out on the right in the early days of the tea party movement. The leaders of two of the most prominent tea party groups, the Tea Party Patriots and Tea Party Express, even took their disputes to court.

“We’ve looked around at different occupations around the country, and it’s sort of the same story,” Chrismer said. “There are some dissenters.”

But libertarians, anarchists and the other activists who make up the Occupy Wall Street movement are dissenters by nature, and corralling them has proved particularly challenging.

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