Not my precious children! Occupy movement challenges helicopter parents

By Petula Dvorak, The Washington Post
Posted Jan. 12, 2012, at 8:48 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Your precious children? The ones who had violin lessons and SAT tutors and years of orthodontia and organic lunches?

They are now sleeping under tarps, in the mud, rain and frigid temperatures, in an encampment that is home to an epic urban rat infestation. And their new neighbors are a sizable portion of the nation’s hard-core homeless population. Next week hordes of them plan to Occupy Congress, a protest that could spark confrontations with the U.S. Capitol Police and lead to arrests.

They eat donated or dumpster-scavenged food — peanut butter, bread and doughnuts (sorry, Hostess, no Twinkies) were lunch the other day — or they may even go on a hunger strike.

Take that, helicopter parents.

These are the mothers and fathers who demanded laws for bike helmets, car seats and warning labels on every plastic bag and bucket in the universe. They had the home number of every teacher from preschool to college. And they’ve even been known to call up their grown kids’ new bosses after junior didn’t get a promotion.

But what happens when these highly groomed offspring go off and join the hundreds living in the Occupy movements camps? To whom do you file a complaint? Who gets the irate phone call?

“She still keeps asking me to come home. I get the calls. And the texts. Everyday,” answered one 18-year-old Occupier in Washington’s McPherson Square.

The camps are full of a wide range of ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, sure. But the movement’s biggest population and primary strategists are the twentysomething Millennials forever burdened with their parents’ insistence on participation trophies for every team member.

So now the Occuparents find themselves struggling with whether to support their child’s participation in a sweeping, political protest movement and the fact that their cul-de-sac kids are living in total squalor.

Sam Jewler, one of the four protesters who staged a dramatic hunger strike in the name of D.C. voting rights, fasted for 11 days — until his parents nagged him into eating.

His dad, Bethesda resident Leonard Jewler, was featured in a Marc Fisher blog post years ago when he tried to answer parental school angst with a data analysis of whether kids from D.C. public schools ascend to the same caliber of colleges as kids who went to private schools.

After enough carping from the ‘rents, young Jewler said he broke his fast last month with a glass of coconut juice and a bowl of miso broth.

“I was feeling pretty much the same way I was the last week, but my parents were becoming increasingly distressed,” Jewler told The Post’s Tim Craig. “I didn’t feel like it was fair anymore to put that burden on them.”

Eat. EAT!

Sure, there are some protesters whose parents are closing the door on them over this. One said his folks made it clear he doesn’t have a home to come back to. Or there are guys like Chris, 18, who left his home in Maine “pretty much because of my dad.”

But for the most part, Occuparents aren’t philosophically opposed to protesting. It’s not the pearl-clutching that the hippies’ parents did in the 1960s.

But it’s just so, ick, out there.

“My mom thinks I’m insane. She keeps hoping I’ll wake up someday. She’s the one who needs to wake up!” said Rooj Alwazir, 23, who grew up in the Tysons Corner area and has to explain the Occupy movement almost daily to her 63-year-old mother.

The other day, she posted online that she’s about to go “Dumpster Diving for Occupy D.C.!”

Her sister shot back, asking her why she had to go dumpster diving when she has a home and food and family so close by.

“They just don’t get it,” said Alwazir, who was laid off from a marketing job and hasn’t been able to find work since.

Alwazir’s 71-year-old father, a historian and poet, is down with the cause, she said. But he largely stays away from the tent city his daughter now calls home.

Annie Storr, however, has taken a full-immersion approach.

I met her the night that police encircled the camp last month and tore down a barn protesters built at one of the Washington camps. She was running along the line of the police barricade, trying to keep tabs on her son, Eli, and the other protesters being flex-cuffed.

“Eli has been arrested,” announced Storr, who stood out in the crowd like an L.L. Bean model at an Amsterdam body piercing convention.

At that point, her 20-year-old son had been at McPherson Square for just over two months. And she had visited him at least 45 of those days. She’d volunteered in the camp kitchen. And she’d spent one night in the camps. “Just one,” she explained, grabbing her back.

Logistically, the visits were easy, since she works just a few blocks away, at the Corcoran College of Art + Design.

Extreme helicopter parenting? Maybe.

But Storr is also a Quaker, so peaceful protest jibes with her beliefs. And she decided to immerse herself in the protests after getting to know the folks there and deciding most of them are righteous.

Yes, she is proud of him, she told me. But no, it’s not easy to see your kid live in a tent, and even harder to see him hauled off to jail.

She walked over to the police officers to tell them her son had been arrested and “Hi, I’m Annie” and to just thank them — ahead of time — for treating the arrestees well.

All she got was a stone face from the cops. Deadpan.

That’s okay. Any parent is used to that face, right?

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