Occupy D.C. protesters unfurled a huge blue tarp in McPherson Square on Monday, hoping to provoke mass arrests as a National Park Service deadline to halt camping there came and went. But the police sidestepped confrontation and chose a wait-and-see approach, citing “incremental” progress as demonstrators began hauling bedding and other belongings out of the square.
The Park Service announced Friday that it would begin enforcing its long-standing regulation prohibiting camping on federal parkland Monday at noon. Protesters living at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza were warned to stop camping overnight in the parks and remove all sleeping gear and other equipment — or risk arrest.
As the deadline loomed, many protesters in both camps packed up their belongings and put them in borrowed storage space. The landscape of McPherson Square in particular changed, as the blue tarp dubbed the “Tent of Dreams” flapped in the breeze. The kitchen area was cleared out and other tents were emptied, serving as symbols rather than living spaces.
By midday, U.S. Park Police spokesman David Schlosser said that “voluntary compliance” was underway.
“We’re very pleased our enforcement activities that have begun and will continue are being met with success,” Schlosser said. The “end goal” is that the group can exercise its “constitutionally protected rights,” he said.
The Park Service long supported the protesters’ right to conduct a “24-hour vigil” at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza, where they have been living in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement since October, advocating economic equity. But sleeping in the parks overnight is not considered part of a vigil.
Under pressure from congressional Republicans concerned about health and safety conditions, the Park Service announced last week that it would begin enforcement of the no-camping rules. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House committee that oversees the District, has called the enforcement “appropriate and overdue.”
Meanwhile, supporters of Occupy D.C. were awaiting a court hearing Tuesday morning in which U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg is expected to take up two related cases. Protesters are seeking to restrain the Park Police’s ability to enforce its camping ban.
As Monday noon approached, many protesters said they were girding to be arrested.
“I, personally, am glad that the confrontation is here,” said Phil Maggi, 48, an unemployed administrator living at McPherson. “We either get on with the agenda or get our heads kicked in.”
As a phalanx of media watched, protesters climbed over the fence surrounding the statue of Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson in the square, chanting, “We are unstoppable, another world is possible,” and slowly shrouding the general in a blue tarp decorated with gold stars. Others danced and meditated.