Behind Enemy Lines: How the SLU College Republicans Occupied Occupy DC

While in Washington, D.C., for CPAC 2012, Brandon, Kelsey and I decided to take a walking tour of our nation’s capital in the frigid February weather. As we strolled down K Street, we (somewhat intentionally) stumbled upon Occupy D.C.’s encampment at McPherson Park.

While Kelsey and I at first kept a safe distance by taking pictures of the movement’s signs from across the street, Brandon marched boldly into the center of the camp. After several minutes, Brandon was nowhere to be found, so Kelsey and I decided to search for our fellow College Republican. Considering the environment, we had no idea what kind of trouble he could have gotten into.

Soon, we spotted Brandon in the middle of the camp speaking with none other than the leaders of Occupy D.C. in all of their unwashed glory. Cautiously, Kelsey and I crept up behind Brandon and inserted ourselves into the conversation. We did not, however, give any indication of our conservatism. In fact, we posed as Occupy sympathizers and questioned the leaders about the aims of the movement, nodding in agreement at each reference of the “evil 1 percent.”

As “Occupy’s most famous protesters,” (giant rats) scurried around our feet, the Occupiers weaved a tale of income inequality, conservative bigotry and free speech infringement. When we inquired about their plan to occupy a conservative conference [O1]  (which we happened to be attending) taking place in the nation’s capital, they freely handed over literature describing their plan to “Occupy CPAC.”

According to the D.C. protesters, CPAC is one of the country’s biggest gatherings of “racist, extreme, bigoted, right wing” conservatives. I nodded in fervent agreement, making sure not to let my CPAC agenda slip out of my pocket and reveal our undercover operation. One of the flyers we received claimed that the movement aims to “respect others’ rights to have different opinions.” It also stated that “different points of view encourage discussion, growth and further understanding.” However, the Occupy flyer advertising Occupy CPAC included a statement that read “We’ve heard enough from the 1%!” Hypocrisy anyone?

One of the Occupiers also expressed disgust and outrage that conservatives were being given an opportunity to express their disappointment in our nation’s movement towards extreme multiculturalism. Apparently the only free speech rights Occupiers value are their own.

At one point, one of us praised Occupy for remaining a “peaceful movement,” and it took everything in me not to burst out laughing at the irony. One of the leaders hesitated, claiming that Occupy D.C. is NOT a peaceful movement. He even acknowledged that many of the Occupiers’ actions are, in fact, illegal. There’s a reason why the flag of the movement is a fist, not a peace sign, he explained. The same Occupier did claim, however, that his movement is one of nonviolence. Sort of.

While the movement itself does not condone violence, they “stood in solidarity” with anyone who acted out violently in the name of Occupy D.C. Not only were the Occupiers comfortable with violence, they seemed to be open to it. When they spoke of their plans to Occupy CPAC, one of the protesters claimed that “there will be shield and batons” when they go “toe to toe” with the one percent supporting CPAC attendees. Thankfully, in the end that was a bust. On Friday afternoon, after 300-400 Occupiers stormed the Marriot Wardman Park Hotel, they were pushed back by the police. Additionally, dozens of CPAC attendees confronted them, chanting “get a job” over and over again.

Half an hour into our conversation with the Occupiers, one of the leaders elaborated more fully on the nature of the movement. He claimed that, although he was a facilitator of Occupy D.C., he was not the “face of the movement.” In fact, he quickly proclaimed that for a movement like his to become successful, he and all Occupiers had to “suppress their egos” in favor of Occupy’s collectivist nature.

The Occupier acknowledged that the movement is not about certain individuals. It’s about the larger movement itself. “You’re the face of the movement,” he claimed while pointing a gloved hand at me. Little did he know that this face of the movement is a card carrying Republican.

Though the aforementioned Occupier insisted that humility was a vital part of maintaining the movement’s purity, the arrogance of these people was truly astounding. As Kelsey, Brandon and I spoke to the Occupiers, they consistently put themselves on par with heroes like our Founding Fathers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela. Right, holing up in a decrepit encampment surrounded by misspelled protest signs is certainly analogous with the actions of such historical giants. Not.

In addition to aligning themselves with America’s heroes, they also claimed affinity with some of the world’s largest villains. At one point, one of the Occupiers stated that although he “disagreed with their politics,” he supported Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in the Cuban Revolution because they “did something.” I found it unsurprising that the same Occupier who hesitated to label his movement “peaceful” would not be uncomfortable with the violence exemplified by Castro and Guevara.

In addition to witnessing the collectivist, turbulent nature of Occupy D.C., we also got a glimpse into its future. They claimed that the movement has slowed in intensity, but at the same time is also garnering financial support. Often, “uptight looking white people” will stop by their tent and quietly drop a few dollars into their collection bucket. One man even donated more than $600 worth of food for the campers at McPherson Park. The movement thrives on these “grassroots” contributions and shies away from large donors because, as one Occupier claimed, “large amounts of money [mess] up occupations.” (Please ignore the fact that the CPAC Occupiers were paid to stand outside the hotel and protest on Friday afternoon).

Additionally, the Occupiers strongly declared that they would not be leaving anytime soon, as their Occupation was “indefinite.” Although they might appear to be dying out, I got the impression from the Occupiers we spoke to that this was desired, if not intentional. If we all believe that they are fading away, we’ll “never see them coming” when they emerge stronger than ever.

As I became more uncomfortable with the environment, I nudged Brandon, silently letting him know that we needed to escape as soon as possible. Although the Occupiers talked our ears off for several more minutes, we eventually slipped out of the rat-infested, unsanitary, unsettling epicenter of D.C.’s Occupy movement. Was it the wisest idea to march into Occupy D.C.’s camp and pose as sympathizers, exposing ourselves to the most unsettling, unsafe aspects of the movement? Probably not. However, as we stepped across enemy lines, we got a new understanding of the movement. We now more clearly understand their motivations and goals. And, if nothing else, it sure makes one great story.