MISSOULA -- Brandon Goff's audience with Max Baucus when Congress reconvened on Jan. 17 didn't pan out. Goff was told that Montana's senior senator was otherwise occupied.
But the sights, sounds and conversations of last week's Occupy Congress movement in Washington, D.C., will remain with Goff forever.
A frequent attendee at Occupy Missoula's general assembly, Goff was a primary organizer from his computer keyboard of the daylong event in the nation's capital.
He was checking in on the nationwide Occupy movement in December when he noticed a Facebook post. Andy Kittross of New Jersey was making a plea for help with Occupy Congress, including its crucial online presence. Goff, a Web developer for the past 15 years, eagerly responded. Soon he was teamed up with Kittross and another man who calls himself Tiny Tim to "get the snowball rolling," he said.
A core organizing group of eight developed. Goff created the occupyyourcongress.info website, added a mailing list server, and developed a "wiki" site to marshal ongoing documents and projects related to Occupy Congress.
In the early weeks of January, his communication group's Internet work drew about 10,000 Facebook supporters and close to 150 people on the listserv. As others from all corners of the nation courted donations and planned logistics in daily long-distance meetings, Goff facilitated communications, advertising and the like.
"In three weeks, we were able to throw together something pretty amazing," Goff said about his Occupy Congress experiences.
At first, he intended to pitch in only from home as an organizer. But, two weeks into the process, Goff realized Occupy Congress was something that he couldn't miss. He booked a flight to D.C. to help with the organization, and to represent Missoula's own 3-month-old Occupy movement.
He spent a week there, watching in awe as protesters poured into McPherson Square, one of two parks where he and the others pitched their tents in the nights preceding the Tuesday event.
One D.C.-bound group spent three days on what Goff called an "epic" bus trip from San Diego. Another walked some 80 miles to get there.
"It was pretty exciting to see these people from all across the nation kind of pulling together and figuring out a way to get there - people taking trains, people taking cars," Goff said.
Goff participated in two other rallies during the week -- Occupy the Dream the day before (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) and Occupy the Courts at the U. S. Supreme Court three days later.
Occupy Congress itself was a daylong event that began in a dismal rain. Goff said it grew to include about 3,000 protesters and beautiful sunshine.
The demonstrations started with a rally on the west lawn on front of the Capitol, followed by a friendly invasion of congressional offices nearby. Occupiers then made an unexpected move to the U.S. Supreme Court, where they "took" the hallowed front steps, and finally marched after dark to the White House.
Goff gained immense respect for law enforcement officers in Washington, D.C., and said he overheard a conversation between two police officers. Noting that the demonstration was rallying at all three branches of government, one said, "They're hitting the trifecta."
"The other said, ‘the perfect trifecta,' " Goff said. "It was one of the moments I realized they're part of the 99 percent, too."
The nighttime parade to the White House was a highlight for Goff.
"It's a pretty long march, and voices were echoing off the walls passing by buildings and whatnot," he said. "It was a very empowering moment and a very empowering march."
On their way down Pennsylvania Avenue, the Occupiers passed the Newseum, an interactive museum of news and journalism. An exterior wall displays a seven-story-high inscription of the First Amendment.
Goff said the procession stopped, and someone shined a light on the wall. Together the entire assembly read the 45 words that guarantee that Congress will not pass laws abridging the freedom of speech or prohibit the rights to peaceably assemble and "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
"It was probably one of most stunning moments for me, to have this group marching along and stopping to read that and really respecting the intention of why we were there," he said.
It wasn't all peaceful. Confrontations at the Capitol and the Supreme Court resulted in a handful of arrests. At the White House, a protester threw a smoking bottle over the front fence.
"I saw it happen, and it was completely inconsequential, but Fox News picked up on it as a horrible thing," Goff said. "At that point in time, it got a little intense."
Police donned riot gear helmets and brought out tear gas and guns, he said. But the protest continued for another 45 minutes without violence, and Goff intimated that the culprit was handled by the protesters.
"One of the things that is very much a hallmark of this movement is that we're conscious of making sure that bad things or inappropriate things are taken out or hollered down or pushed away," he said.
Earlier, Goff was one of an estimated 1,000 people who entered Rayburn House, one of three buildings near the Capitol that hold congressional offices.
"I went to have a conversation with Max (Baucus), but he was ‘unavailable.' That's the standard line for that whole thing. Plus, I didn't make an appointment," he said. "But some of the others actually did have conversations, so it was a fairly successful event."
He deems the entire week in D.C. a worthwhile experience, for him and for the Occupy movement.
"The goals weren't just to go there and protest," Goff said. "The goals were to go and bring people from around the nation from all the Occupy groups and get them together and get them to have conversations. From that standpoint, it was a great success."
It was fascinating, he added, to see the "juxtaposition of the occupations, how similar they are and also how different they are."
Upon his return, he found Occupy Missoula "in a little bit of disarray."
"That's unfortunate, but it also is not uncommon," he said. "A lot of the occupations that I talked to in D.C. have had very similar problems."
General assemblies have had "the exact same difficulties dealing with their encampment groups, and the encampment groups have had the exact same difficulties dealing with the GA groups," he said. Working groups seem to have conflicts with other working groups.
"And they've all also had the same or similar successes," Goff said.
"The other part of it is, there's so much information, so much activity, so much work being done online to help bring awareness and understanding of what's going on, and that's something that's impossible to quantify, impossible to see. But it's possible when you see what eight cats were able to produce in three weeks to bring 3,000 people across the nation."