by Sam Vail

February 20, 2013

There was a strong sense of pessimism as people arrived – they were eager to participate, but nobody came to this rally thinking they’d solve the problem anytime soon. The cynicism kept us warm. 


There was a lot of advertising at the rally grounds.  All kinds of groups took the opportunity to get their message out there and organize.


There was lots of division throughout the crowd.  Some showed faith in the rally’s goal by standing quietly and listening to the speakers.  Others banged drums in defiance.  A small contingent of Occupy members stood away from the mass of protestors.  Had they lost faith?


The media coverage was pretty marginal.  Most reporters appeared to be freelancers.  A helicopter sporadically circled the rally for part of the day. 


One of the most interesting things I saw all day.  The “Occupy Cop” was in attendace. Captain Ray Lewis is the retired chief of the Philadelphia Police Department. He made headlines for his criticism of the NYPD’s handling of the Occupy Wall Street protests.


The D.C. Police Department was very subtle. They escorted the march around the White House with an occasional stern glance.  Rally organizers did the majority of the policing, fearing the negative publicity that comes from civil disobedience. They reminded protestors to get off the sidewalk and “listen to the police.” There was a strong sense of resentment in the radical section of the crowd.  They weren’t marching through 20-degree weather to keep the police happy.


Bill McKibben is co-founder of He walked alongside members of the First Nations, Sierra Club and the Hip Hop Caucus. That group took a leadership role at the rally.  Throughout the rally, McKibben called the Tar Sands Pipeline the “last nail in the coffin” regarding climate change.


Among other celebrities present at the rally, Rosario Dawson was at the head of the march. She carried a sign for the Indigenous Environmental Network.


Younger members of the rally take a break as the march stops for a photo-op. People seemed to have mixed feelings about the day.  One group would be all smiles and around the corner there would be people flipping off the White House.


As the day wound down, disheartening news spread that the President was in Florida playing golf with Tiger Woods.


Regardless of the President’s absence, the protest was a show of force.  Compared to the 15,000 people attending the rally in 2012, the Sierra Club estimated that upwards of 40,000 were present this weekend.  Everyone seemed to feel the pressure of the situation. Now that the President has entered his second term, he’s technically free of any promises he once made.  And though the Administration has promised prompt action on the project, no one there seemed ready to let him off the hook.


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