Cracking Down on Occupy D.C. Will Be a Huge Headache for the Parks Service
National Park Service director John Jarvis said the protesters could keep their encampment in place as a 24-hour vigil, but they won't be allowed to sleep, and the Washington Post reported that park police will start arresting those who do. An Occupy D.C. organizer said protesters would resist a crackdown on the encampment "en masse," and thanks to a ruling requiring park officials to give 24 hours' notice before they start enforcing the camping rules, which would allow Occupiers to organize and drum up numbers.
"I think it's pretty clear people will resist en masse," said Legba Carrefour, a 29-year-old organizer who's been at the encampment since it started on Oct. 1. "Honestly, I think the Park Service is in a problematic position because at the moment they’re required to give us 24 hours' notice before they evict us, so when they do we’ll be able to pull in 1,000 people at once, which will make their lives absolutely miserable."
Jarvis told The Atlantic Wire via a spokesman that the protesters would be welcome to keep their presence at McPherson Square, including their tents, but they wouldn't be allowed to sleep there. "Enforcement of the camping regulations does not require that they leave the site. It just requires that they not camp. So we’re going to encourage them to sleep elsewhere," the director said, according to chief N.P.S. spokesman David Barna. The 24-hour notice requirement does apply in this case, he said.
Even if the service plans to hold off from a wholesale crackdown on the vigil, Carrefour said individual sleeping arrests would be enough to provoke a large-scale resistance action. "In terms of resistance I do think if they did start arresting people there’d be a huge influx of people back into the park pretty rapidly to stop that kind of thing," he said.
The poor Park Service is stuck between two powerful entities here: Members of a subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees the District, were pretty clearly annoyed at Jarvis's insistence that the protesters have a right to be there, regardless of a recently publicized rat problem. California Rep. Darrell Issa has made Occupy D.C. a pet issue, pressuring the Park Service and President Barack Obama to crack down on the encampment. Rep. Joe Walsh has also been asking the service to get rid of the protesters. He had a staffer make this video, which he showed at Tuesday's hearing, in which occupiers talk about how many people are camping at the park (about 100).
On the other side, the courts have made it clear that the Park Service doesn't have the authority to stop expressions of free speech on its land, even if they go on for years. Jarvis gave the example of Conception Piccioto (pictured) who's kept a one-person anti-nuclear vigil going for about 30 years, and Vietnam veterans vigils, which have been ongoing at the Lincoln Memorial Plaza since 1958.
"Typically at these vigil sites, the protesters use rotational shifts such that someone is always on site and awake. They cannot abandon the site and keep the vigil going," Jarvis told The Atlantic Wire, via Barna.
But the thing is, even if Occupy D.C. complies with the letter of the law and its participants stop sleeping there, it's going to look pretty much the same: A collection of tents spread out over a public lawn on K Street, surrounded by signs railing against the 1 percent. The tents, kitchen facilities, and portable bathrooms can all stay, Jarvis's office said. And Carrefour said most occupiers spend their days their tents anyway. "Any time you’re there, because it’s so cold, everybody hangs out in their tents."
[Inset photo of Occupy D.C. courtesy of Corey Denis via Flickr]