The National Park Service said Friday that it will begin enforcing its long-standing regulation prohibiting camping on federal parkland at the Occupy sites at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza at noon Monday.
To comply with the no-camping rules, protesters must remove all evidence of camping, including bedding, storage containers and anything used to make a fire, the Park Service said. If the protesters don’t comply, they may be arrested and their property seized.
Occupy protesters debated Friday how to respond, and some said they were willing to risk arrest.
“Many of us will be likely to defend the park with the passion anyone would show defending their home,” Sam Jewler, who has been protesting at McPherson Square, said. “We are fighting for the betterment of D.C., America and the world, and we intend to continue using our First Amendment rights to do so.”
The Park Service distributed
fliers outlining the regulations and noted that it had “repeatedly advised participants” of the rules and had sought “voluntary compliance.”
Three protesters were arrested at McPherson Square early Friday, but Carol Johnson, spokeswoman for the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said they were not charged with camping. Two of the protesters were charged with disorderly conduct, and one had an outstanding warrant for another offense.
The Park Service has long supported protesters’ right to conduct a “24-hour vigil” in the camps, where protesters have been living in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement since October and have installed portable toilets and, in the case of Freedom Plaza, a nearly full-service kitchen. The camps have come under fire because of health and safety concerns .
The Park Service on Friday cited 24-hour vigils at Lafayette Square and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial over the years as examples of “compliant” demonstrations. But overnight camping is a no-no.
“The National Park Service takes very seriously its tradition of providing opportunities for First Amendment activities,” Bob Vogel, superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said in a statement.
Congressional Republicans, who have been critical of the Park Service’s handling of the encampments, applauded the move.
“Late is better than never,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that oversees the District. “I continue to wonder whether others who are ‘camping’ in national parks would have been afforded a 100-day grace period before the law was enforced.”