The Occupy movement has a lot riding on the Occupy D.C. encampments. As we mentioned, the two sites represent some of the last major encampments standing. And because they're in the nation's capital, they carry a lot of symbolism for the movement as a presence near the halls of power. But beyond the symbolic importance. The Occupy D.C. sites also serve a practical function by providing places for visiting protesters to eat and sleep as they did during the Occupy Congress rally. With another big rally planned for March 30, Occupy's organizers had been counting on the two D.C. camps for lodging.
The regulations posted Friday are a lot more strict than those indicated by National Park Service director Jon Jarvis on Tuesday. That's when a parks spokesman said the protesters would be allowed to stay, and to keep their tents in place, provided they didn't sleep. But on Friday, the posted rules clearly stated the occupiers couldn't use their tents -- or at least not in the way they are now:
1.CAMPING, defined as the use of park land for living accommodation purposes such as sleeping activities, or making preparations to sleep (including the laying down of bedding for the purpose of sleeping) or storing personal belongings, or making any fire, or using any tents or shelter or other structure or vehicle for sleeping or doing any digging or earth breaking
Park service officials we've spoken to have refused to say whether the park police would conduct mass arrests should the occupiers fail to comply. Park police already arrested two people overnight so it's clear they're not shy about it. Park police spokesman Sgt. David Schlosser said cops had taken the two occupiers into custody for disorderly conduct sometime late Thursday or early Friday. Legba Carrefour, an Occupy D.C. organizer who's been camped at McPherson Square since the occupation started on Oct. 1, said the arrests came when police came into the camp checking to see if people had arrest warrants. When they searched somebody's tent, a couple people confronted them about it and were arrested, he said.
Up until now, the park service has been lax about enforcing its camping rules. Jarvis argued in front of two separate House hearings this week that they had a First Amendment right to be there, and even though they've been sleeping in the parks since Oct. 1, park police haven't arrested them for camping violations. Last week, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray tried to persuade the occupiers to consolidate their camps into one, but they refused. Now they face wholesale enforcement of the camping rules, which means no more sleeping at either park.
"I would definitely expect resistance to this, especially because they’ve given significant notice," Carrefour said via telephone on Friday. "We’re going to try to marshal a lot of people to come out." Organizers have all weekend to do so, and based on the crowds that showed up in December when park police clashed with protesters over some illegal structures, there are plenty out there willing to come defend the camps.
But park service spokesman Bill Line wouldn't say Friday whether police would definitely start arresting people on Monday. That's just the court-ordered deadline they've set for the occupiers to comply. After that, police will have a free hand to enforce. And one odd thing Carrefour pointed out was the fact that the deadline came at noon, a time most people wouldn't be sleeping. "I think we sort of assumed eviction would be some big apocalyptic moment, not death by a thousand bureaucratic cuts," he said.
[Photo inset courtesy Sara_Jeans / Yfrog]