Occupy DC protesters returned to the District on Monday, exactly one year after they took over McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza to express their displeasure with Wall Street banks and corporate lobbyists. However, this time the group made no attempt to "occupy" any public spaces, including McPherson Square -- which is still recovering from the aftereffects of its four-month-long illegal encampment. Protesters were evicted from the squalid tent city on Feb. 4, after the patience of even sympathetic D.C. officials and the overly lenient National Park Service had finally worn thin.
This week's protest also included a march down K Street, with stops at the offices of a number of banks and big businesses such as JPMorgan Chase, British Petroleum and Monsanto. But compared with the group's former activities, the Oct. 1 demonstration was a peaceful and uncontroversial exercise.
With a still-struggling economy and a tight presidential election, the latest "Shut Down K Street" demonstration proceeded without creating the "chaos" that Occupy DC, a spinoff of the Occupy Wall Street movement, had promised on its website. That might have been due to the fact that there were fewer marchers present at Monday's police-supervised event than the number arrested when Occupy DC marched down K Street last December, blocking intersections and clashing with cops. This time, the worst altercations involved profanity and two ill-fated efforts to hinder the police with sign poles.
The implications of Occupy DC's transformation are profound. The group's members belatedly discovered that even in protest-friendly Washington, there's a limit to public tolerance for unruly take-it-to-the-streets political theater, especially when it drags on for months. In the end, most people remembered Occupy DC's filthy, rat-infested tent city more than the anti-Wall Street message that the group was trying to send. By June, when the last remnants of the failed protest were finally torn down at McPherson Square, hardly anybody in the city was sorry to see them go.
That's why a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police Department spoke for most District residents when she expressed hope that future protestors who come to the nation's capital to exercise their First Amendment rights "do so under the confines of the law." Demonstrators are welcome in D.C., as long as they obey the law and don't trash the place.