As expected, members of the Freedom Plaza Occupy camp began packing up their tents this week to move north to the encampment in McPherson Square, after the two long-separate groups agreed last week to unify.
“It’s a thrilling moment for us,” said Tighe Barry, 50, a D.C. activist associated with the Freedom Plaza group. “We’ve been trying to combine the two camps for a long time, and I think we’re better off together than apart.”
The neighbors, however, are not thrilled that more bodies and tents will be descending on McPherson just as Park Service has begun its spring spruce-up of the park, where $8,000 worth of sod was ruined by the long protest.
They were also dismayed to learn that Freedom Plaza Occupiers plan on bringing their two large canvas military tents with them, including the one that can operate as a full-service kitchen. During the four months that Occupiers lived at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement, neighbors complained for weeks about noise, trash and rats.
The federally-owned parks were cleared of overnight campers in early February, although the protesters were allowed to keep some symbolic “vigil” tents. In recent days, the McPherson Square protesters have taken to sleeping on the sidewalks outside Bank of America and other bank branches downtown, what they’ve dubbed a “sleepful” protest.
“McPherson Square was neither designed nor intended for such long term protest purposes,” Richard H. Bradley, the executive director of the DowntownDC business improvement district, wrote in an e-mail. Allowing services that are “inconsistent with park use . . . is problematic both for other park users and for the businesses in the area,” Bradley said.
Carol B. Johnson, the spokeswoman for the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said that Park Service officials are discussing with Freedom Plaza protesters the possibility of transferring their current permit — that allows an ongoing protest to “advocate for economic and social justice” on the plaza near the White House — to McPherson Square.
However, the protesters at McPherson Square expressed opposition in a vote Tuesday night to plans for them to have a permit.