Guest Column: Occupy DC, Let Us Have Our Park Back

by Borderstan.com January 29, 2012 at 8:30 pm 2,039 20 Comments

Nick Barron, ANC 2F02 Commissioner. (Courtesy Barron)

The following guest column is from Nick Barron, which originally appeared on his site on January 28. Barron represents the single-member district for Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F02, a densely populated three-block area in DC’s Logan Circle neighborhood. Borderstan welcomes guest columns on variety of subjects with differing viewpoints.

Tomorrow, January 30, Occupy DC will be told by the National Park Service (NPS) to vacate McPherson Square, where the movement has been camped since October. (Note: McPherson Square falls within the boundaries of ANC 2F.)

I request that Occupy DC honor NPS’ wishes out of respect for the residents and businesses who have demonstrated a flexible attitude of empathy and support toward Occupy DC’s nearly four-month long occupation of the square, and because Occupy DC’s point on income inequality has successfully been made.

In early fall 2011, McPherson Square sparkled, just having had the wrapping taken off after an estimated $437,000 renovation that brought new grass, sidewalks, lights, trash cans and more.

Then Occupy DC arrived in October, and today you’d be hard pressed to find a single remaining blade of grass. We won’t know until McPherson Square is vacated if other damage has been done to the park, but it’s not outlandish to imagine additional negative impacts to the park because of its having been occupied. It’s estimated that replacing the grass alone could cost $200,000 to replace.

It’s also not a guarantee the grass gets replaced. As many DC residents understand, getting the federal government to spend money inside the District on improving things like parks can be a challenge. Our circles and squares don’t exactly benefit from an overabundance of federal funding.

But many residents and businesses, even those in close proximity to McPherson Square, supported, or at least did not oppose, Occupy DC setting up in the park initially. There was a general understanding of what the Occupiers were doing, an appreciation that they were doing something.

If sacrificing our small park, which many of us honestly didn’t use as often as we probably should have, brought awareness to the haves and have-nots issue facing our nation, then it would be a worthy sacrifice to make.

I myself never quite understood how the action taken (occupying a public park) would make a difference on income inequality, but I can’t argue with their success. While I do not condone Occupy DC’s tactics, I do condone their cause. And I believe many of us in ANC 2F, businesses and residents, felt that way.

And what an impact Occupy DC has had, with President Barack Obama calling income inequality “the defining issue of our time” in this week’s State of the Union address, and income inequality being the greatest source of tension in the United States. People, including the President of the United States, are talking about an issue barely on our radar this time last year. For that, you have to overwhelmingly credit the Occupy movement.

I’ve been proud of how DC and NPS has handled these months of being occupied. We’ve been patient, understanding and, in many cases, standing in solidarity with their cause. And I’ve been proud of how the leaders of Occupy DC have handled themselves and their protest action. I may not agree with them on everything, including tactics, but I find little fault in how they have conducted themselves as they’ve attempted to minimize the negative impacts of their actions on the local community.

But it’s a cause that now needs to move onto its next phase, a phase which does not involve occupying public space in ANC 2F.

I don’t know where Occupy DC goes next, both physically and philosophically, but that’s not my job. What is my job is to represent my community in the best way I know how, and today that means thanking Occupy DC, and respectfully asking them to vacate McPherson Square peaceably on, or before, Monday morning.

Let us have our park back, and please don’t tarnish, by refusing to leave and inciting arrest, what really has, all in all, been a positive experience sharing our community with you these past few months.

  • Lance

    This is a very well written letter. Although we don’t get vote in Congress, in DC we get more than our fair share of neighborhood assets (such as our neighborhood parks) getting used by groups with no connection to local DC but who wish to make a point to the world. A little over a decade ago, I had a similar situation in my neighborhood where I was then an ANC commissioner when a group that was out of power in some nation half way around the world decided to make their displeasures known by occupying one of our two neighborhood parks because it was near their embassy on Mass. Ave. They stayed well over a year there and more than wore out their welcome with the locals, having appropriated the park for their uses by camping there. It’s time for Occupy DC to move on before similarly completely wear out their welcome in this neighborhood.

  • MSH

    Come on, Nick, let’s be serious. I’ve been working by McPherson Square for years, and the only people I see there are the homeless. Maybe the occasional office worker on a smoke break, but that’s it. No residents because it’s not a residential area. On top of that, it’s the WINTER. Who’s going to hang out in the park in January/February? So, enough of this nonsense about, “we want our park back”. You never even heard of McPherson Square until Occupy DC came around. Why don’t you tell us the truth about how you really feel about Occupy DC?

    • Lance

      @MSH, As District residents we definitely shoulder the special burden of seeing our local assets used and abused by those wishing to make a point with the feds,be they fellow Americans or foreign nationals. And I don’t think any of us would want it any differently, especially when it concerns a cause near and dear to us all. But at this point, what would a further occupation (and our further sacrificing of our use of our local park) serve? It’s not like the NPS has said the park can’t be used for protesting … just not for ‘living’ in. Which of course starts to beg the question of the intention of the occupiers. Is it really to protest … which they’ll still be totally free to do? … or is it just to have a free place to live … at the expense of the rest of us 99% … ?

      • Ruida

        Hey Lance, I had a plutonium processing factory near my house in Boulder, Colorado, I’ll trade you anytime. You sound so very put upon.

  • Rich

    Oh, the poor grass and the new trash cans…..Barron is clearly one of the most witless ANC ever. No wonder no one votes in their elections or comes to their meetings.

    • Lance

      @Rich, Maybe you’re prepared to personally pay the $200K plus it’ll cost to repair the park? … I mean it’s one thing to do something yourself to back up something you believe in … and quite another to expect others to foot the bill for it. Put your money where your mouth’s at.

  • If you’re truly interested in the “they destroyed $400k worth of grass” story and how completely false it is: Here is the stimulus project page on recovery.gov.

    $38k was spent on landscaping. That’s it. Did 100% of that go to grass? Most likely not.

    And occupiers have not damaged the benches, sidewalks, lights, water fountains, ANY of the other stuff the $400k paid for.


    And take a look at Franklin or Farragut park at midnight on a Monday. Who’s there? Homeless people. Who’s in McPherson at the same time? Homeless people, sleeping in tents, with a functioning kitchen, participating in self-governance.

    Sorry for detracting from the community so much.

    • Lance

      @Andrew, Like building a buidling, the bulk of the costs for a park renovation are what goes into the ground. This includes all the ground work such as regrading and the drainage and irrigation systems. As an ANC commissioner I was involved in the re-do of one of our local parks and the costs for redoing this 2 acre park came to $2M … half of which went into the ground costs. Another large chunk went into the soft costs which include design fees. The smallest part of the budget was for the actual things you think about when you see a park … e.g., the grass or the benches. It’s very likely that driving stakes into the ground at this park and the far-higher-than anticipated use of it will indeed mean that it will require ground work again far ahead of it’s otherwise anticipated life-span. And from being involved in renovating that neighborhood park I know how very difficult and costly it is for the neighbors. It took us ten years and neighborhood fundraising efforts of about $500,000 before we could get the District to agree to redo the park and foot the remainder of the costs. Given these restrained budget times, I doubt this federal park would see any new funding within even a 10 year period. I.e., the neighbors have paid a very high price … and they’ve done so graciously. There’s nothing more to be gained from people camping out at the park that a free place for them to live. If they’re serious about their cause then they can still picket without camping there.

      You know, while the Tea Partiers took a lot of flack for their stances whike they were protesting in DC a few years ago, at least they did it without imposing on others and freeloading off the people of DC. Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned there by this group that likes to talk about everyone playing by the same rules and not taking advantage of others.

  • Mike S.

    It’s the precedent being set that scares the devil out of me.

    If the Occupy folks can take over a public park and camp out there for months, then any other group can cite that precedent and do the same. Remember, a government doesn’t choose the protesters it likes. Anyone can protest.

    Anyone means the Westboro Baptist Church and their virulently anti-gay, in your face protests. It means white supremacist groups or neo-Nazi groups. Or any of a hundred other such groups.

    I wonder what those supporting this illegal takeover of a public park by the Occupy people would say if a bunch of the “God Hates Fags” types decided to camp out in Dupont Circle. By setting a precent and allowing one group to camp out for weeks in our public parks, they are paving the way for other groups, more malevolent groups.

    • MaggieB

      I think this is an excellent point. As a supporter of the Occupy Movement I have been torn about the issue. I wish them well and I want them to succeed in raising these issues to the public consciousness. However I realize that the tent city cannot go on forever, and I am also concerned about the precedent it sets for other groups, as Mike says.

      Unlike Occupy groups in other cities that have been chased away, the DC movement has the unique problem of being allowed to stay until now. This has backed them into a corner, in a sense. They can’t pack up and move without looking like they are abandoning their cause.

      While I don’t share Mr. Barron’s concern for the grass, I appreciate his request that the Occupy Movement “move on” to its next steps. I hope the group can do it in a dignified way that preserves their non-violent beliefs. And they have my support in whatever their next steps may be.

  • A well-reasoned and polite request from a local official. OccupyDC responds with personal attacks and insults. This is why people hate you.

    • Ruida

      So you’d like everyone to play nicey-nice while the democratic process is reduced to a carnival side show, the national treasury is looted, and the heartland is hollowed out? Please tell me you have better things to do with your time. The hatred of small people is not something I find particularly intimidating.

      • Lance

        Did you ever stop to think that maybe the 99% of us don’t believe that “the democratic process is reduced to a carnival side show, the national treasury is looted, and the heartland is hollowed out” as you put it? And maybe that your just projecting your personal problems? Get a job and do something to make this world a better place. Whining doesn’t cut it.

        • bugagboo

          I believe you totally misunderstand the Occupy / 99% movement. The people at McPherson Square are not asking for welfare. They are fighting for a system (closer to the one we used to have in this country) where there were more opportunities to get ahead and better their lives. The Occupy movement is about a system that creates more jobs, NOT more welfare. Respectfully, you need to get outside of the DC bubble. Not everything is as rosy as it is here in DC. Since when is protesting “whining?”

    • bugaboo

      I really doubt that people hate them. Unless, of course, they are Tea Party people who really don’t care whether it is still possible to have opportunities to get ahead in America.

      I do believe a lot of people in DC support the principles behind Occupy DC and the other Occupy movements. I think people are torn over whether, and for how long, they can occupy public spaces.

  • Ruida

    Very reasonable. And completely misses the point. This is the National Capital amigo, the fact that it’s your neighborhood is rather secondary, don’t ya think? This reads like a suburban HOA letter. Anyway vast tracts of Middle America have been laid waste by poverty, their industries gutted, while the tribute trains continue to arrive in Rome…get used to it, this party is just getting started.

    • Lance

      @Ruida “This is the National Capital amigo, the fact that it’s your neighborhood is rather secondary, don’t ya think?

      I don’t think so. People who are successful in the ways of life realize that their concerns aren’t the only ones out there … and that solutions need to take into account everyone’s concerns. Attitudes like yours won’t help anyone. They just point to the selfishness which these occupiers say to be combatting. Actions speak louder than words, and the selfish actions of the occupiers in regards to this ANC commissioner’s very reasonable and balanced request don’t do much to help their cause.

      • Ruida

        Please climb off your high horse. ANC commissioner…well forgive me if I’m NOT IMPRESSED. There’s a war for the soul of the Republic and you’re off in some HOA wonderland of 3 1/2″ clipped lawn grass and matching trim color schemes. I’m confident that the irony of you calling us selfish escapes you completely so I won’t bother pointing it out. DC has tons of wonderful open park space, so kindly walk a block down to Franklin if the democratic process is that offensive to your aesthetic sensibilities.

  • Just wanted to say I appreciate everyone’s feedback, and that I’ve read every comment. As this discussion highlights, there is no one perspective to consider, and it’s incredibly valuable to me to hear what you all are thinking and feeling.

    Thank you for taking the interest and the time to engage in this discussion.

  • Doc

    Political leanings aside, what is being asked here is a polite request from the person directly responsible for looking after the community. We call on these people time and time again to look out for our (ANC 2F constituents) best interests, which is exactly what Mr. Barron is doing. Is this not one of the better examples of the modern democratic system at work?
    Superficial elements such as grass aside, another thing the Occupation of McPherson square is putting a drain on is our local public services, in particular police presence. The Occupy situation has caused DC police to divert patrols meant for the local neighborhoods to be more focused on McPherson, thus allowing more oppurtunity for crime in our local neighborhoods.
    Please do not decry the letter of Mr. Barron, for all he is trying to do is fulfill is responsibility as ANC commissioner.


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