Occupy D.C. protesters spent Monday night huddled under the celestial sweep of a blue tarp they had erected in McPherson Square, talking, singing and, yes, sleeping — in defiance of rules that prohibit overnight camping in the park.
As morning dawned Tuesday, a contingent of Park Police arrived to ask the protesters to remove the “Tent of Dreams” they had draped over the park’s statue of Civil War Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson in an act of civil disobedience, marking their displeasure over the National Park Service’s new crackdown against camping on federal land.
By late Tuesday, the Tent of Dreams had ripped and slipped in the wind but remained mostly in place. The protesters spent hours debating whether to take it down and finally told police they would — if officers allowed them to continue sleeping in the park.
As dusk arrived, both sides were at a peaceful standoff, and no camping arrests had been made.
At a court hearing Tuesday morning, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg said he would issue a ruling in the next two days saying the National Park Service must notify the protesters before moving in to clear the encampment in McPherson Square, except in the case of an emergency.
Boasberg noted that a 1984 Supreme Court ruling allows protesters to set up tents in federal parks as part of a vigil as long as they don’t sleep in them. His ruling means that if the Park Service decides to clear the encampment of these legal “vigil” tents, the agency must provide a written notice with justification first and give the protesters a chance to respond.
“The main thing I was concerned about was them coming in and shutting the place down and kicking everybody out,” Jeffrey Light, a lawyer for two of the protesters, said after the hearing. “That’s not going to happen now without notice.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Marina U. Braswell, representing the Park Service, said the agency has no plan to close down the camp. Protesters have been living there since October, seeking economic justice in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The Park Service has long supported the protesters’ right to conduct a 24-hour vigil in McPherson Square and at a similar encampment at Freedom Plaza. But last week, officials said that camping — which had raised health, sanitation and safety concerns — had to stop. Many protesters scrambled to remove their bedding and personal belongings before Monday’s noon deadline and found other places to sleep.
But others handled the crackdown differently. Two McPherson Square protesters began a “sleep strike,” vowing to stay awake until the Park Service backs off.
Another, Camilo Brokaw, a 24-year-old former coffee-shop barista from Albuquerque, said he slept in the park Monday night in defiance of the ban and will continue to do so, even if he risks arrest.
“Sleeping is a right,” he said. “We’re trying to stand up for what we believe in.”
Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.
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