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

by Borderstan.com January 29, 2012 at 8:30 pm 2,469 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.

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