As city officials struggle to make sense of the emerging shantytowns springing up in Washington, D.C.’s Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square, their rising profile has brought many of the movement’s organizers into public view. Based on statements on the enclave’s website and bylines in a new newspaper calling itself “The Occupied Washington Post,” it appears largely led by professional activists, including a former black nationalist and a Vietnam War deserter.
Though at first blush the “occupations” seem like spontaneous grassroots movements, the two organizations — the October 2011 group in Freedom Plaza and Occupy DC, affiliated with the more famous Occupy Wall Street — are the result of much forethought and networking among left-wing organizers who sought a Tahrir Square-like moment in the United States.
The “October 2011” website lists that organization’s leadership including Lisa Simeone, the host of “World of Opera,” whose syndication by NPR was cancelled after her prominent role in the movement was uncovered.
Kevin Zeese, one of the main organizers of October 2011, previously served as chief counsel to the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws and director of the anti-Iraq War site Democracy Rising. He also ran for a Maryland Senate seat in 2006 as a Green Party candidate.
Former Maryland Green Party gubernatorial candidate Maria Allwine is also listed as a leader.
Several organizers have arrest records bolstering their activist bona fides. Dr. Margaret Flowers, an October 2011 founder and a medical doctor, was arrested in 2009 for disrupting a Senate roundtable event on health care reform, and again in 2010 following a Medicare-related protest outside a Baltimore hotel where President Obama was speaking.
Flowers is an outspoken advocate of a single-payer health care system. She quit practicing medicine about four years ago to pursue health care reform activism full-time.
But she isn’t the only Washington, D.C. “occupy” organizer with an arrest record.
In 2009 “full-time peace and justice activist” Ellen Barfield was sentenced to 25 days in prison for scattering blood-covered money at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
Chris Hedges, a former New York Times correspondent and one of the movement’s most conspicuous personalities, penned a front-page op-ed for Washington, D.C.’s first “Occupied” newspaper issue, released Monday. Hedges was arrested Thursday for blocking the front door of Goldman Sachs.
Ward Reilly, an anti-war activist who was court-martialed twice for desertion, is also a spokesman for the movement. Reilly was involved — along with Sen. John Kerry — in Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and his bio boasts being a “full time organizer and activist for 11 years.”
Another contributor to the “Occupied Washington Post” is former Black Panther Larry Pinkney, no stranger to starting new governments in opposition to the American social order. A black nationalist, Pinkney was once Minister of Interior of the “Republic of New Afrika,” a nation proposed by the Malcolm X Society that would have been carved out of the southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.