"Reaganville," a short-lived tent village erected Thanksgiving Day near the White House as a protest against the administration's reductions in social programs, was dismantled by U.S. Park Police at dawn yesterday and its last six residents arrested.
The four men and two women, members and supporters of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, were charged with unlawful entry when they refused to leave the settlement in Lafayette Square, along with three other persons who had been sleeping on the sidewalk in front of the White House.
Later in the day, they were arraigned in D.C. Superior Court and released on personal recognizance, pending a Jan. 5 trial.
The camp of 10 tents -- complete with a sign that read "Welcome to Reaganville. Population growing daily. Reaganomics at Work" -- was set up despite the group's unsuccessful attempts to secure Interior Department approval or a federal court order to stay in the park throughout the winter.
CCNV activists began hoisting tents during a Thanksgiving dinner, for which they had obtained a government permit, and at which they served several hundred hot meals to street people. But only about 20 men and women who had lined up for the free food chose to stay overnight, and most of those left when police issued a 15-minute warning about 6:30 yesterday morning.
National Park Service spokeswoman Sandra Alley said the woman and two men arrested on the White House sidewalk had been sleeping there since last July and that all told police they had no fixed address. CCNV activist Mary Ellen Hombs described them as homeless people who slept near the White House for safety and "to protest their homeless situation."
Mitch Snyder, another CCNV member, said the encampment was "purely a symbolic thing," fashioned after the hobo villages and so-called "Hoovervilles" of the Great Depression half a century ago. "Right now we're acting as advocates. When we provide meals and housing and clothing for the poor , we are providing service, but this is advocacy -- to drive home to the legislature that 'Hey, what you're doing is hurting people . . . . You're creating a substratum of pariahs.'
"We're not encouraging people to face arrest, but some people are willing to go to jail because they know their survival is at stake," Snyder said.
Camping is prohibited on all federal parkland in the District of Columbia. Park police said they moved to arrest the protesters in Lafayette Square only after determining that their actions -- political protest in the form of "symbolic camping" -- had become actual camping with participants sleeping and using the tents as shelters.
It was the latest of CCNV's numerous attempts over the last few years to dramatize the plight of the homeless in Washington. Among other tactics on behalf of the homeless, the group's often-arrested members commandeered a abandoned city-owned house in 1977, occupied the National Visitor Center in 1978, and tried unsuccessfully in 1979 to persuade Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown to divert its building fund to the poor with a showdown that ended in a 12 day hunger strike by Snyder.