Occupy DC: Change is in the wind

Gusts of wind blow over a sign at Occupy DC-McPherson Park

The director of the National Park Service said Tuesday at a Congressional Oversight hearing that U.S. Park Police will “very soon” begin enforcing no-camping policy at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza. At the same time he emphasized their First Amendment rights to conduct protest vigils on federal land.

Although the Park Service this week has sought to clarify the meaning of enforcement of no-camping rules, the ramifications for Occupy DC are still uncertain.

Director Jarvis made it clear that he would not order wholesale eviction of Occupy DC at either site short of an emergency situation. But the Park Service’s position has evolved over the week–or at least the clarification of it–and the current form of Occupy DC seems even more threatened.

Sleeping in the park is now a no-no. Go to sleep in your tent and you risk a Park Police officer giving you a citation. The Park Service spokesman encouraged the protesters to sleep elsewhere. Given the number of homeless occupying the parks, this could pose a problem.

On Friday, the National Park Service posted notices at both Freedom Plaza and McPherson Park warning that it would begin enforcing no-camping rules beginning at noon on Monday, January 30.

The Washington Post reports:

To comply with the no-camping rules, protesters must remove all evidence of camping, including bedding, storage containers and anything used to make a fire, the Park Service said. If the protesters don’t comply, they may be arrested and their property seized.

The notice itself states:

While temporary structures or tents are allowed in the park under some circumstances, camping is not permitted…To allow for visual inspection and monitoring, all temporary structures and tents must have at least one open side.

But some Occupiers see no-camping enforcement as just a different method of eviction.

So the question is, will the Park Police enter McPherson Park and Freedom Plaza on Monday with the order to seize sleeping bags and personal belongings? And if so, what will the response by Occupiers be? Given how passionate the inhabitants of Occupy DC are about defending their community, their protest, and for many their only home at the moment, I can guarantee that there will be resistance.

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