Occupy D.C.: Trash Concerns Grow Along With Number of Tents

WASHINGTON -- "Trash is the biggest issue, and no one wants to be on the sanitation committee," said Geko, a 25-year-old Occupy Wall Street protester who wouldn't give his last name. He came to the District of Columbia eight days ago to help the protest in the nation's capital grow, he said on Friday.

And grow it has. After nearly two weeks in McPherson Square, the Occupy DC demonstration has expanded to about 40 tents housing some 50 to 75 people. There are also tents for media, visitors and food, and an ever-expanding group of committees that now address such issues as press relations, communication with the concurrent Stop the Machine protest on Freedom Plaza, and the concerns of nonwhite protesters. Participants note that as their protest grows, so does their trash problem.

Geko, himself a member of Occupy DC's de-escalation committee, looked over the swath of tents now covering the northern section of McPherson Square -- which is also covered in mud after a very wet week -- and seemed annoyed.

"Before the rain, it was great. It looked nice. Then the rain came, and all the cardboard got wet and everything," Geko said. "It's very important that everyone understands the seriousness. The disgustingness is drawing media attention."

It's attracting more than just media attention. Downtown business owners and social services groups have also expressed concern about trash in the park.

Geko said that Occupy Wall Street has a sanitation operation that works around the clock making sure that its camp stays clean (and good thing, since the lack of cleanliness in Zuccotti Park threatened to become a protest-killing issue earlier this week). He wishes Occupy DC took sanitation more seriously.

"This is our park, and we have to keep it clean. We have to leave it better than we found it," he said, before correcting his earlier statement that "no one" wanted to be on the sanitation committee. There are, in fact, two members of the committee. But, at almost 11 a.m. Friday, they were both still asleep.

What hasn't been a problem, said Geko, is toilet issues.

He said that helpful strangers have been offering up their home showers, and some local businesses have allowed Occupy DC to use their restrooms, sometimes for the price of a cup of coffee and sometimes for no charge at all.

"McDonald's down the street is very kind to us, Starbucks is very kind to us, the pizzeria right next to it is very kind, and a bar and a strip club down the street is very kind," Geko said.

Rooj Alwaziz, a 23-year-old who has been with Occupy DC since Oct. 2, said the strip club in question is Archibald's Gentlemen's Club, around the corner in the 1500 block of K Street NW.

An unnamed male protester explained that a bartender at the club was protester-friendly, as opposed to the business as a whole, and that the bartender gave the protesters free shots on top of access to the facilities. "I don't endorse strip clubs," this protester said. "I endorse cool bartenders."

At a little after 11 a.m., just before Archibald's was to open for the day, no bartender admitted to being the cool one. A blond woman with rollers in her hair, who did not give her name, said that she didn't know anything about the protesters coming to use the restrooms.

"The only people allowed to use the bathroom are paying customers," she said.