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Intro: "The director of the National Park Service said Tuesday that US Park Police will 'very soon' begin enforcing a no-camping law at McPherson Square, but that the Occupy DC movement has a prevailing First Amendment right to continue its vigil there."

National Park Services defended Occupy Protesters rights to camp in McPherson Square but the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee cited health concerns and NPS regulations finding the encampment illegal. (photo: In the Capital)
National Park Services defended Occupy Protesters rights to camp in McPherson Square but the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee cited health concerns and NPS regulations finding the encampment illegal. (photo: In the Capital)



Occupy DC to Face Eviction Soon

By Scott Galindez, Reader Supported News

26 January 12

 

Occupy Wall Street: Take the Bull by the Horns

 

Reader Supported News | Report

 

he director of the National Park Service said Tuesday that US Park Police will "very soon" begin enforcing a no-camping law at McPherson Square, but that the Occupy DC movement has a prevailing First Amendment right to continue its vigil there.

The statement was made during a hearing of a subcommittee meeting of the House Government Reform Committee, which oversees the District of Columbia. Chairman Darryl Issa is on a crusade to end the encampments at both McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza.

The DC government has been pushing for a closing of the McPherson Square encampment based on health concerns, and would like to see the two encampments consolidated into one at Freedom Plaza. The encampment at Freedom Plaza has a permit through February, and has not generated the controversy that the McPherson camp has.

The Occupiers at both camps are willing to work with the Park Service and the District to address all of their concerns, but argue that many concerns are blown out of proportion. One concern that is always raised is rats in the park. The DC Health Department has admitted that the parks had rats before the Occupations began.

For Issa and the other Republicans on the committee, the hearing was a fishing expedition to try to tie President Obama to the Park Service's decision to allow camping in the parks in violation of regulations that outlaw camping. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Il) asked National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis if anyone was telling him not to enforce the statute against "camping," because no person has been cited for "camping" yet. Jarvis said, under oath, that no person is ordering him to not crack down on the "camping." There is no Obama administration policy to permit the Occupiers to engage in lawless behavior, but GOP congressmen believe there is one.

The Democrats on the committee came to the defense of the Occupiers, citing other historic encampments that took place in National Parks in Washington DC. During the hearing, Jarvis remarked there had been two previous instances where there had been long-term protests in DC. In 1968, the Poor People's Campaign set up a shantytown for a month called "Resurrection City," and in 1979, six thousand family farmers drove to DC to protest farm policy and were on the National Mall for seven weeks.

DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton defended the Occupations and pressed District officials to cite escalations on the part of the Occupiers. Neither District officials nor Park Service officials could cite evidence of any escalation by protesters, which had been alleged by others in the hearing.

Norton also blasted Issa for not allowing a single witness from the Occupation to testify in defense of the encampment.

The Occupiers from McPherson Square issued the following statement:

 

The following statement was approved by the Occupy DC (McPherson Square) General Assembly on January 21, 2012, to be read at a hearing regarding McPherson Square this Tuesday in the Subcommittee on Health Care, District of Columbia, Census and the National Archives, part of the Oversight Committee of the US House of Representatives.

 

Like so many Americans whose voices are not heard in the halls of Congress, we have been precluded from speaking today on a matter that directly concerns us. That we have to ask a member of Congress to speak here for us is symbolic of the disenfranchising top-down nature of the government we are fighting to democratize.

Citizens of a free country should not have to ask for permission to occupy public spaces. Our occupation of McPherson Square is an expression of our right to free speech and peaceful assembly. We are maintaining a site of protest - a physical presence that gives visibility and voice to our dissent. We are creating a space in which free speech flourishes - not only the speech of occupiers, but that of the general public, the empowered and the disenfranchised alike.

Like most people, the members of Occupy DC at McPherson Square do not relish being in uncomfortable conditions that humans without housing have endured for millennia. We do so because it has become a necessary tactic to express our concern for the country's direction in a way that will maintain public attention. Two out of every three Americans, incidentally, agree that our country is headed in the wrong direction. A far smaller percentage approves of the job Congress is doing. And while foreclosures have become a hallmark of modern America, the solutions to our country's numerous problems do not include suppressing free speech and evicting peaceful patriots from their tents.

Representative Issa's motivations for this investigation are clearly political. A vote with him is a symbolic vote for the status quo of money in politics over the value of grassroots democratic expression for the betterment of our country.

The very existence of a committee of politicians controlling a city none of them were elected in is offensive. Though McPherson Square happens to have been declared federal land, DC's forced submission to congressional control is the height of hypocrisy for a nation that considers itself the global arbiter of democracy.

The members of Occupy DC at McPherson have worked hard to build, clean and maintain our site of protest since the beginning of October We are happy to work with the National Park Service, Department of Health, and the city of Washington to improve the health and safety of our conditions. Unfavorable conditions in the park are a distraction from Congress getting to work on the many challenges our country faces today. Let's work together to improve the conditions of our site and to make this country a better place."

 

It remains to be seen if the enforcement of the camping regulations will be extended to the Freedom Plaza Occupation, which has been operating with a permit since October 6th. On January 14th, that encampment issued the following statement in response to the mayor's call for an end to the McPherson encampment:

In a letter to the National Park Service, DC Mayor Vincent Gray sought to pressure the service into abandoning its established policy of respect for 1st Amendment free speech rights and for them to forcibly evict a peaceful citizens gathering in McPherson Square. So far, much to their credit, the Park Service has refused to do so.

Many of the rationalizations for such action cited by Mayor Gray have been on going problems in this city for years. Problems which Gray, his administration and those before him have failed to deal with effectively and now wish to lay at the feet of the Occupies. DC has been fighting a growing rat population for over 40 years. They did not arrive in September with the McPherson protesters and they will not be eliminated by steamrollering their Constitutional rights.

Understanding that an injury to one is an injury to all, the General Assembly of Freedom Plaza, our groups recognized decision making authority, has voted by consensus to support McPherson occupiers in whatever non-violent response they decide upon to the Mayor's call and whatever subsequent action it may elicit. Hopefully there will be none.

As always individuals committed to the Occupy movement will be welcome in Freedom Plaza with open arms; whether they come as individuals or refugees from other unconstitutionally evicted Occupy camps. If McPherson should face eviction and choose to resist, Freedom Plaza Occupiers will support them 100% in that decision as well, standing side by side, taking tear gas and facing arrest.

The general assembly rejects any attempt to foster division within the occupy movement or between actual Occupy encampments like Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square. Each camp has different strengths and weaknesses. We are working diligently together to learn from each other and help each other to grow together into stronger, better instruments of social change. In the end, the only thing really separating us is four blocks; and that is pretty small.

At the time of this report the Park Service has not issued any warnings to the Occupiers.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md) summed up the hypocrisy of the hearings, stating, "I wish we had as much concern about the people who have lost their houses." He also said that there have now been 118 hearings with 342 witnesses, and that when a banker is asked to come testify on robo-signing the committee cannot get them to because Chairman Issa doesn't want them to "Come in to explain why they have illegally put people out of their houses."

"I guess people who are protesting and are part of Occupy - they look at a hearing like this and say this is why they are protesting," declared Cummings. "Because they see their government, particularly a committee that is supposed to be standing up for them, not addressing the issues that go to the center of their lives."


Scott Galindez was formerly the co-founder of Truthout, and is now the Political Director of Reader Supported News.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

 

 

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+2 # SouthBrun 2012-01-26 13:35
If all the combined OCCUPY movements were to camp out in Yellowstone National Park, they would find an excuse to evict them. Even in Smokey The Bear was in the group. When will they realize the the occuy movement is not a place.
 

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