The Washington Post

Council members see no reason to break up Occupy DC camps

A sign made to look like the D.C. car license plate is seen Oct. 23, 2011 in McPherson Square, site of the Occupy DC camp in Washington, D.C. (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

Since early October, Occupy DC protesters have been camping in McPherson Square while an affiliate group, Stop the Machine, have erected tents in Freedom Plaza to protest what they perceive as corporate greed. Both camps are on National Park Service property, but federal officials say they are in constant contact with District officials about the future of the camps.

But even though Mayor Michael Bloomberg had New York police move in on the main Occupy Wall Street camp in lower Manhattan early Tuesday, District officials said they hope to head off a similar showdown locally.

“I think they have been unobtrusive,” said Council member David A. Catania (I-At large), chairman of the Committee on Health. “Thus far, I have heard no complaints and people usually aren’t shy about sharing their point of view.”

Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At large), chairman of Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, said he thinks the Park Service and city “need to be patient.”

“There are apparently public health concerns with these encampments in other cities and I have been told there are also concerns here,” Mendelson said. “But to the extent these protests remain peaceful, we don’t want to overreact and thereby cause a negative reaction from the public.”

Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), chairwoman of the Committee on the Public Works, Transportation and the Environment, said she hopes the protesters voluntarily decide to suspend overnight camping when the weather turns colder.

“I think we should continue to monitor the situation and once circumstances become such that health, sanitation or safety become an issue, we are going to have to ask them to leave as overnight guests,” said Cheh, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University. “But we will continue to hear the message and there is nothing in their message that we object to.”

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) also embraced the protesters’ message.

“A lot of these issues they raise, affect our community,” said Barry.

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), chairman of the Human Services Committee, was even more blunt. In a brief interview, Graham said he’s thankful Bloomberg doesn’t govern the District.

“We are not subject to Mayor Bloomberg, I’m happy to say,” Graham said. “We make our own decisions, and it’s all dependent on the continued orderly nature of the protests.”

Council members Vincent B. Orange (D-At large) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) also said in recent days they had no reason to urge the Park Service to break up the camps.

Follow Post blogger Elizabeth Flock as she travels with the Occupiers from New York to D.C.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.


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