I’m not sure you’ve heard, but freedom of the press is on the wane in the United States. Just last week the U.S. dropped 27 places in Reporters Without Borders’ annual Press Freedom Index, in large part due to the “many arrests of journalists covering Occupy Wall Street protests.” Apparently we now rank 47th in the world, just behind such noted champions of liberty as Hungary, Botswana, and South Africa.
So I’m a little nervous as I head over to the Occupy DC encampment in McPherson Square. I mean, who knows what depredations we reporters might be subjected to at the hands of that noted para-military organization, the Park Police. But, I must say, I am quite relieved when I actually arrive and see what’s going on. In fact, if anything, I'm left wishing for less press freedom as I wander through the square this afternoon. Police are supposed to be moving in at any moment to roust the occupiers, and I am here, a dutiful journalist, hoping to see some patchouli-stinking, Guy-Fawkes-mask-wearing GW sociology major get tased. But there are actually far fewer protestors on the scene than there are anxious and earnest journalists crowding into the park, huddling, with their cameras and recorders and notebooks and iPhones, close to the newly erected Tent of Dreams, a large blue tarp in the center of the square draped over the statue of Major General James McPherson. By the look on McPherson’s face, he appears to be an unwilling tent-pole, but he’s stuck there. Poor guy. At least he can’t smell anything.
After many months, the Park Police have finally decided to enforce their regulations against camping and set a deadline of noon today for the protestors to get their crap off the Major General’s lawn. The camp itself is pretty small and pretty much what one would expect based on all the stories our unfree press corps has been bravely churning out on the Occupy movement lo these many months (despite, you know, all that government abuse and whatnot). There are lots of bearded folks (male and female), lots of dirty tents, some college students, the unemployed, the career homeless, some white people dancing out of rhythm to rock music played over a loudspeaker. The “movement” itself is still a jumble of anti-capitalist/police/government rhetoric and pointless noise and pungent smells. Many Occupiers still have their smart phones and digital video gear and other trappings of the immense poverty our nation’s incorrigible economic system has forced them into.
The countless reporters are filming and recording the various “happenings” going on around us: the drumming, the chanting (“Let us sleep so we can dream!” Occupy Insomnia!), the guy walking around wearing a small tent (that’s deep, man), the blah, the blah, and the blah. As I see my peers chatting with various protestors, I can’t help but think how much I really don’t want to do that. Is it wrong to admit that you don’t care what the people you are writing about have to say? Am I really that closed-minded? Has my privilege made me unwilling to hear the clarion call for justice now screaming forth from the people’s collective boombox? Oh wait, that’s just “Jump Around” by House of Pain. Never mind.
The thing everybody seems to be wondering is when the hell anything is actually going to happen. The police are standing menacingly on the outskirts of the square, looking a little weary and annoyed to be there. But they’re not doing anything. Everybody is looking for the Park Police’s Public Information Officer, Sergeant David Schlosser, who finally shows up and is instantly swarmed by a hundred reporters and some protestors looking to get some answers. To everyone’s surprise, he announces that his men are… already enforcing the law! What? How is that possible? I’m a reporter and I haven’t been arrested yet. So far, nobody has been arrested that I can see, even though the protestors repeatedly accuse the cops of being Nazis and running a police state.
Schlosser explains that the park police have handed out flyers explaining what the protestors need to take out of the park—their bedding; not their tents mind you, they can keep their damn tents there—and asking them to do so in a timely fashion… please. If this is a police state, it’s the lamest police state I’ve ever seen. Where is the violence? Where are the arrests? Where are the tasers? That’s what we’re here to see! That’s why there are workers wasting their lunch breaks across the street with their phone cameras at the ready. That’s why I walked a whole 3 blocks from the office and have been standing here for an hour and a half. And now I’m cold.
I squeeze my way through the large crowd of journalists surrounding Schlosser and head back to the office. It’s exhausting being oppressed. I need a snack.