- Security guards pepper-sprayed protesters as we tried to enter the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.
I was with the protesters at the Air & Space Museum today. We had marched there from Freedom Square, probably a mile or so, hundreds of us, chanting and waving. We got to the museum and I was pertty close to the front, perhaps 10 feet back, when I saw people in front of me start to fall down and others running away. My eyes, nose and throat started stinging, but my journalistic instincts kicked in and I ran toward the door with my camera.
I was close enough to the front to know there was no warning. No one asked us to move back in a voice loud enough to hear 10 feet away.
Someone might have pushed a guard although I didn’t see it. I did see guards knock over an older man who was carrying a camera. He was pushed with enough force to fall down and lose his glasses.
We had planned to go into the museum to the drone exhibit and have a “die-in,” meaning some of us would lie down under the exhibit. When we were told to move, only a few of us would remain (the ones willing to be arrested to bring more attention to the use of unmanned drones, which kill civilians).
The guards claimed at first that we were the ones who used chemicals first, but that wasn’t true. No one had any chemical spray of any kind. I heard no one tell us to move back; I only saw people in front of me dropping or running, covering their faces and coughing.
We did not perpetrate any violence. In fact, we all signed a pledge of nonviolence and several of us calmed frightened protesters who were cursing at the guards.
I think the guards themselves were frightened. I’m certain they haven’t had to deal with hundreds of protesters asking to come in.
The Smithsonian spokesperson told the media that we had sprayed first and that they closed the museum because there had been a bomb threat. The truth? They closed the museum because so much pepper spray had been used that you couldn’t get near the door without feeling it.
Hours later I can still taste it, although it no longer stings.
The crowd did NOT disperse, contrary to what the spokesperson said. We sat down and waited for word of the three people who had been detained. We talked to each other, sang, did some improv puppet theater and waited. Some chanted, “Whose museum?” “Our museum!”
When we heard the 19-year-old who had been detained had been taken to jail, a couple dozen of us walked the two miles to the jail and sat on the lawn outside, waiting for her release, which we were told would be within two hours.
When she came out, we decided to take the Metro back to Freedom Square rather than walk. Most of us were pretty tired.
As we waited in the train station, we sang again, and as the train approached, we chanted, “Whose train?” Our train!” The other passengers were supportive, waving, giving us the thumbs-up or peace sign. At our stop, we chanted, “Whose stop?” Our stop!” as the other passengers laughed.
We marched back to the plaza, chanting, “We are the 99 percent!” and arrived to a cheering crowd.
During all our marches, we have been met with enthusiastic support. I think the American people are frustrated with a government that ignores their needs and their wishes just to kiss the butt of corporate donors.
The three days here have felt like something really historic is happening. The crowd has grown each day and people are enthusiastic and positive.
I hate to head home tomorrow.
But I will hook up with the Asheville occupation once I get home. This is just the beginning.
Leslie Boyd, a former newspaper reporter, is president of the health care advocacy nonprofit, WNC Health Advocates, founded in memory of her son, who died in 2008 because he couldn't access health care. E-mail her at leslie at lettersfromtheleft dot com or follow her on Twitter @leftyletters1, visit Letters from the Left on Facebook. For more information about WNC Health Advocates or to read Boyd's health care blog, visit wncha.org