When I got there, they were just wrapping up a chant session outside the Chamber of Commerce, right across from the White House. Bemused men and women in suits exited and snapped camera phone pics as a happy, older-skewing throng finished up. I walked alongside Francis Cain, a 64-year-old longshoreman, as the march moved toward McPherson Square.
"I want the bankers who screwed this up to be prosecuted," he explained. "Did you know -- this generation is the first one that'll be less educated than its parents? Now, why is that? We're cutting everything. We started with gym, now we're cutting the other classes. We've made it too expensive. $30,000 for school and you can't find a job." So he wanted tax hikes? "When Eisenhower was in there, the top tax rate was 91 percent. Bob Hope was the richest man in America, and he made a $1 million, paid taxes on 75 percent. And that was so bad?"
This was not really an Occupy D.C. march -- not technically. This was put on by the October 11 movement, a war-focused lefty coalition. (October 11, 2011 was the start of the war in Afghanistan.) But this march only happened because of the Occupy movement, and the people who'd driven in for it -- one from Austin, Texas -- said that the new cause was the reason they were there. As we approached McPherson, where the real Occupy D.C. action was, we passed a Wells Fargo branch. A cry went up: "Shame! Shame! Shame!"
"There's a lot of shame to go around," said Marie Martini, who drove in from Wisconsin -- "the heart of the revolution."
When we got to the park, the actual Occupiers cheered, called "come join us," and suggested a slogan: "Tax the rich, end the wars!" The crowd picked it up, and kept marching down 14th Street. There was very little honking, and what noise there was sounded supportive -- the "brap brap brap" honk that means that the driver likes what he sees.
We got to Liberty Plaza, where the main rally -- set to last all weekend -- would take place. October11 knows its stuff. There was a medic tent, and a tent of free food, with apologizing volunteers working its main table. "All we have is spaghetti sauce, no spaghetti," said a ladel-bearing activist. "Pizza's on the way." A few feet away, Code Pink activists were building a faux village of foreclosed houses.
The signs I saw were a mixture of anti-war slogans and economic slogans. Anti-Bush T-shirts had come out of mothballs. Anti-Gitmo hoods and prison jumpsuits, too. The economic protesters were more interesting, not too worried about the co-opting. Cardyn Brooks, 42, who's waiting on a patent she's submitted on a new swim cap design, rejected the idea that higher taxes would choke innovation.
"Our economy is 70 percent consumer driven," she explained.
"Plus, Bush cut taxes!" said her friend Jasmine, 19. (They met on the march.) "That's a bullshit excuse."
Also, there was this guy.
And there were kids with smartphones.
A singer-songwriter started into a ditty about Bradley Manning, so I left and went back to Occupy D.C. -- much smaller, but with around 30 people enjoying themselves, and some homeless people who didn't mind the company.