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Washington, D.C., has its turn in the anti-Wall Street spotlight

October 6, 2011 |  5:15 pm

 D.C. protestOn Thursday, more than 500 chanting people kicked off what became Washington, D.C.’s biggest  version to date of the Occupy Wall Street protests -- with many of the protesters seemingly willing to sleep overnight for days in sleeping bags, tents and cardboard boxes painted up as foreclosed homes.

Officially, the day was billed as an anti-corporate “Stop the Machine” rally that had been months in the making. But with the Occupy Wall Street protests gathering attention around the nation, the capital’s version -- Occupy D.C., which started last weekend –- merged into Thursday’s much larger protest.

The goals of the protests are similar, organizers have said, even “synergistic.”  Occupy Wall Street opposes corporate greed and various social ills; Stop the Machine wants a dramatic reduction in national corporate influence, plus “peace and social, economic and environmental justice.”

The day started with a review of non-violent resistance tactics, sign-making and a yoga session led from a stage with a replica of the U.S. Constitution as a backdrop. In the afternoon, protesters conducted a police-protected march around the White House shouting to the beat of drums: “Shame!”

Protesters then proceeded to the headquarters of the United States Chamber of Commerce, which organizer and Green Party activist Kevin Zeese had said they would try to shut down. The organization’s  policies support corporate, not democratic, power, he said.

But police kept the  200 or so protesters who marched to the chamber out of the building. (At the time, the chamber was hosting a conference on building partnerships between businesses and nonprofit organizations.) So protesters tied up a sign between two lamp posts in front of the building reading “Chamber of Corporate Horrors” and left resumes and job applications at its door.

They then lined lobbyist-dense K Street to demonstrate until heading back to Freedom Plaza late in the day.  The hard-core protesters plan to stay at the plaza,  at the corner of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, after Sunday, when their permit to stay there expires.

The protesters included a wide range of ages, from seniors in wheelchairs to Jamie Davis Smith’s 13-month-old daughter, Sarah.

“I grew up in a healthy middle-class family and I’m growing increasingly concerned that my children aren’t going to have the advantages my husband and I grew up with,” said Davis Smith, 36, while her 3-year-old son painted a roof on one of the cardboard houses.

Members of the anti-war group Code Pink were  also in the plaza Thursday, leading marches and inviting protesters to the sign- and box-painting station. Ridgely Fuller of Waltham, Mass., was among them. She said she’s been to Occupy Wall Street protests in Portland, Maine, and Boston; one of her sons is stationed at the New York City protest and another at theLos Angeles City Hall protest.

“Every one of these protests takes on its own flavor, and it’s great,” Fuller said. “I never thought this nonviolent uprising would come to America. I think we’re a pretty passive country that isn’t as active in democracy as it is supposed to be.”

Earlier in the week, former White House advisor and environmental activist Van Jones said at a conference for progressives in Washington that the momentum behind Occupy Wall Street protests should be used to form a liberal answer to the tea party.

But Zeese says he’s fighting to keep the Occupy Wall Street protests unaffiliated with any political party.

“Van Jones is very much inside the Democratic Party and we want to stay outside the two-party system,” Zeese said. “If this movement is co-opted by a political party, it’s dead.”


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-- Alexa Vaugn in Washington, D.C.

Photo: A protester holds a "This is just the beginning" sign at a rally outside the Chamber of Commerce  in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press