Best of: DC Protests 2011

Photo courtesy of theqspeaks
Occupy DC – In the Capitol’s Shadow 2
courtesy of theqspeaks

It’s been the year of the protestor in DC, and that’s after a 2010 filled with Tea Parties and Rallies for Sanity. We’ve seen protestors on our walks to work, outside and inside our memorials, sitting in the middle of the street and, yes, in our jails. Some protests have gone really well: they’ve raised awareness or made for some badass photo opps, or both.

Others have utterly flopped: did you hear about the Occupy The Art Institute of Washington protest? Yeah neither did anyone else.

So here they are! Relive the all the obnoxious traffic, repetitive catchphrases and handcrafted signage of the most memorable protests of 2011!

6. Silence = Death!

Photo courtesy of Max Cook

courtesy of Max Cook

Last January protestors took to the streets after the Smithsonian removed David Wojnarowicz’s controversial film from the National Portrait Gallery’s “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” exhibit. The decision and resulting outcry made national news and reopened the ever-exciting debate on censorship in national museums. Secretary G. Wayne Clough has since stated that the museum needs to have better communication, even though he claims his decision would be the same now. Seems to me that communication is just fine, at least from the Republicans to the Smithsonian: “We threaten funding; you do whatever we say; the public freaks out; repeat.

5. We’re Just Dancing!

Photo courtesy of ep_jhu
If I Can’t Dance I Want a Revolution
courtesy of ep_jhu

I personally think people should be allowed to dance in front of memorials as long as it doesn’t distract from other people being able to use and enjoy the space, but that’s not the only reason I’m listing the Jefferson Memorial dancing arrests as a memorable 2011 protest. I’m also including it because of the additional protest launched in the comments section to Don’s original post on the topic. People really didn’t like Don… The video in his post contains a sub-saga: watch for the police officer’s respectful warning, then his sighed acceptance that he’s going to have to arrest these folks, then his eventual and quite literal throwdown.

A week later, dancers came back to the Jefferson Memorial and danced without arrest:

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4. Stop the Pipeline!

Photo courtesy of philliefan99
army of sit-ins
courtesy of philliefan99

When protestors first took on the Keystone XL Pipeline, no one had really heard much about it besides the people working on the project and devout environmental activists. After weeks of arrests, marches, hand-holding, hymn-singing and White House sit-ins, the pipeline became part of a national debate. Perhaps the protests were too successful: while most of the activists involved demanded the project be stopped, Republicans have taken on its furtherance as a 2012 election issue.

3. Not in Our Name!

Photo courtesy of ryochiji
courtesy of ryochiji

In October a large group of activists marched on the National Air and Space Museum to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the related exhibits at the museum about drones and other military machinery. This particular assembly included mass pepper spraying and arrests, brought together multiple grassroots organizations and emergency response teams and required one of the most popular museums in America to shut down. The sheer drama makes this one of the most awesome protests of 2011.

2. Taxation Without Representation!

Photo courtesy of thisisbossi
2011 04 11 – 7869 – Washington DC – DC Rights Protest – Robert Vinson Brannum
courtesy of thisisbossi

When the mayor of a major metro area shuts down a city street, gathers hundreds of protestors and gets himself arrested, it makes the list. What will his actions come to? That we don’t know yet, but we’re waiting.

1. We Are the 99%!

Photo courtesy of LaTur
Yes, we camp………
courtesy of LaTur

You knew it was coming. The most memorable protest of 2011 is obviously the Occupy DC protest that has become a loved and hated part of our everyday lives. Of course, this includes mini protests like bridge-storming and structure-building. It also includes the protestors’ relatively respectful use of McPherson Square, the endearing way they adapted to practicing religious and national holidays from a tent city, and their stunning dedication to assembling even in the freezing cold. They shaped the way we talk about economics this year and inspired some of the biggest local news stories of 2011.

For that reason, among many others, I name them the most memorable protest of 2011. Here’s to even wilder protests next year, but with better traffic…

Joanna moved to DC in 2010 knowing she’d love it, and as usual she was right. She enjoys eating fried things, drinking scotch and smoking cigars, and makes up for the damage done by snacking on organic oats and barley and walking long distances to wherever with her dog Henry. Joanna now lives with her husband and said dog in Los Angeles, and they all miss DC terribly. Follow her on Twitter or contact her at

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2 thoughts on “Best of: DC Protests 2011

  1. Here’s my list:

    Biggest Flop – We Are the 99%
    They’ve been camping for months and other than trashing a public park they’ve achieved absolutely nothing.

    So Bad, We Had to Change Our Name – Stop the Machine
    Marching on the most popular museum on the Mall and getting it shut down is a sure-fire way to piss people off. They’re now called OccupyWashington, which is confusingly close to OccupyKSt, a sign of the incoherence of the movement.

    Most Ineffective – World Bank Protests
    Did they even demonstrate this year? Totally forgettable.

    Annoy the Neighbors Award – Unite Here Local 25
    They were picketing the Madison Hotel and liked to use bullhorns at 7AM. I live in the area and despite the pleas of me and my neighbors, they continued their megaphone war against the people who live here.

    Most Parasitic – Our DC
    A front for the SEIU, this well-funded group consists of government employees glomming onto the Occupy movement.

    The problem with all of these protests is that they’re hopelessly uncreative, using the shopworn tactics of the 1930s in our electronic age. I don’t hate all protests – just the stupid ones that march in the streets and interfere with the lives of others. As an example of what good protest looks like, I offer:

    Most Innovative – DC Flag Tattoo Day
    This was a really creative way to bring out people would never come to a DC statehood protest. This is how protest should be done – fun, modern, inclusive, compelling.

  2. I admire the protestors, and because of the way some of my investments tanked, I’m ashamed I haven’t joined them.

    I did go down to Freedom Square one night and talked to one of them. She had driven up from North Carolina.

    Sparked by Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian man who set himself on fire, 2011 was the year of the protester.

    I’m reminded of a sign I saw in Basic Training in 1978.

    “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”