While most people focus on the political and social grievances against government and corporate greed from protestors at Freedom Plaza in what has become known at Occupy DC, several homeless Black women who have taken up residence there say the movement’s agenda doesn’t include demonstrating for the homeless or the needs of Black people.

The homeless women say they have been denied blankets and supplies given to other protestors and have been confronted by Occupy DC leaders who have tried to force them out of the encampment, saying that Occupy DC has rights to all space on Freedom Plaza.

“Before Occupy DC came on the scene, many of us were here being treated unfairly by park police,” said Arafa Speaks, 56, a homeless activist. “As soon as we saw tents go up we started reaching out for cover in the same manner. We noticed that the outsiders were being treated like royalty by the park police and D.C.’s homeless were being viewed as intruders. It was amazing!”

Aida Peery, 56, said she came to Freedom Plaza after she was kicked out of a homeless shelter when she returned from a job placement program. “I first moved to Occupy DC at McPherson Square but there was always arguing and fighting. After I moved here for a couple of days, I was told to sign up or leave. It was okay at first but things change when they want the stuff that was given to you. Now I basically do for myself like I was doing before they came,” said Peery. Speaks said she refused to provide personal identification to Occupy organizers. “When Occupy had a meeting and said it wasn’t interested in homeless issues, that’s when I knew to do my own thing.”

Speaks and her comrades continued to set up their tents and speaking to the AFRO when they were confronted by a man who said he was an Occupy leader. “That tent will have to move. All of these tents will have to move,” said the man who identified himself only as Jonathan. “We plan to put up another big tent here and they will be too close to ours.”

“We’re not moving,” said Speaks.

“We have a permit to be here. We will call the park police, tell them your tents cause a fire hazard and have you moved,” Jonathan said.

“This is federal land, public property. God! This is Freedom Plaza! Do you know why this is even named Freedom Plaza? No, we’re not going anywhere. Call the police,” Speaks said.

Jonathan raced across the plaza bringing other Occupy DC representatives with him. The confrontation, however, dissipated and the women were left alone.

“It happened to me already,” said Blair Rush, who entered the camp two months ago with her service dog. A donated tent was repossessed and the group threatened to have her dog sent to animal control if she did not conform to their rules.

Realizing she had nowhere else to turn, Rush said she agreed to join the group, signed papers and began doing chores at the camp. “I try to blend in as much as possible. I don’t want to be displaced again.”

The women claimed when churches and organizations made donations to the campers, they were denied blankets, tents, tarps, water and food simply because they wanted to raise legitimate issues about Black people.

The office of D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray was notified about the situation and the hypothermia unit was deployed to bring blankets and warm clothing to the women. “I was amazed that finally the government reached out to us as decent human beings that were just as important as the Occupy DC,” said Speaks.

Carole Johnson, a representative of the National Park Service Division of Permits, said Occupy DC’s permit does not give it exclusive rights to the plaza. “No one group can infringe upon the rights of another person.”

Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO