Free Franklin, Occupy DC take over Franklin School, formerly Franklin Shelter

On the 19th of September, an “Occupy cabaret” puppet show visited a variety of locations with activist history, such as the World Bank before ending Franklin Square. A puppet show about the history of Franklin School and the shelter there ended with one additional act-the dropping of banners announcing the liberation of the building for the third time.

Video of the occupation and the march/puppet show that preceded it

Related:Video Highlights of Nov 21 Community meeting on future of Franklin and DC public property

Shortly before what was only promoted as a traveling puppet show left McPherson Square, another march departed for the Egyptian Embassy in solidarity with hard-pressed democracy activists in Egypt. Most of the police followed that march, so by the time the puppet show arrived at Franklin there was exactly ONE cop at the scene. The whole riot squad would have made no difference, though, as the occupation team was already inside the building.

It took the police several attempts to evict “Free Franklin” from Franklin School, ultimately leading to 11 arrests as reported by the Washington Post. The first two attempts tried to use a fire department ladder truck to reach the windows of Franklin School, but unlike in the 2002 and 2003 occupations, police did not have reliable control of the streets in which the fire trucks would have to work. The ladder truck was twice turned away by protesters, in one case I saw by protesters blocking the road directly in front of it.

With the ladder truck out of the picture, police fell back to attempting to enter the building from the alley between 13th st and 12th st. Apparently police did not have an easy time of it, taking until about 7PM to gain entry into the building. At that point,protesters set sit-in blockades closing both ends of the alley, blocking in the cops. Police lingered inside the building for a while with their arrestees, finally pushing their way through the 13th st blockade.

When the first of the two police vans attempted to leave the area, protesters blocked the escape route-and the van surged forward anyway, running over one person’s foot as police tackled at least two more protesters. I do not know if there were any further arrests, but at least the woman whose foot was run over by the van was no arrested and seemed to be able to walk on it OK.

By the time the last arrestees were removed from the area, it was around 8PM, 7 hours after the Cabaret March hit the road and nearly 4 hours after the occupation of Franklin School had been revealed with the banner drop.

Background on prior occupations of Franklin School and its use as a homeless shelter

The history of occupations and uses of this school as a shelter started with the eviction of the Olive Branch in 2002. That was in response to Olive branch demands that the Reeves Center be used as a hypothermia shelter. The eviction gave rise to MAYDAY DC, which stayed in 1006 M st until the US marshalls evicted them at gunpoint. Two days later, with cops expecting a reoccupation of 1006 M st., MAYDAY DC occupied the abandoned Franklin School instead. The demand was that since Mayor Williams would not use Reeves for a hypothermia shelter, why not Franklin?

Franklin opened as a shelter shortly thereafter, with former Mayor Williams desperate to put an end to MAYDAY DC disrupting his campaign fundraisers. The following year, 2003, it was closed at the request of local businesses. MAYDAY DC intelligence sources found the McDonalds at 13th and NY Ave, had done the complaining, so after three weeks of marches to Franklin from the Wilson Building, the McDonald’s roof was occupied. Two days later Franklin School was retaken. That time around, the police decided NOT to arrest the occupiers, as many of them were elders from the Gray Panthers. Franklin Shelter was reopened.

In September 2008, former Mayor Fenty closed Franklin shelter with the intention of transferring the building to a developer. This was one of many things that made him a one-term mayor. In 2010, during the current administration of Mayor Gray, a hearing was held on declaring Franklin “surplus” with no further public use. Community activists packed the hearing-and I warned in person that any developer buying the building risked reoccupation.

On the 19th of November, 2011, that prediction came to pass, with Occupy DC or activists working with Occupy DC seizing the building. A community hearing has been set for Monday, November 21, (details TBA when I can play my video clips!,) to solicit community input as to the future of the building.

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