ELIZABETH GARBITELLI/THE HOYA Occupy D.C. protesters remained in their encampment in McPherson Square Monday past the noon deadline set for their departure by the National Park Service. It remains to be seen whether the camp will be forcibly cleared. See story on A4.
ELIZABETH GARBITELLI/THE HOYA
Occupy D.C. protesters remained in their encampment in McPherson Square Monday past the noon deadline set for their departure by the National Park Service. It remains to be seen whether the camp will be forcibly cleared. See story on A4.

Occupy D.C. protesters remained in McPherson Square Monday night, despite a National Park Service announcement that they would have to leave the park by noon.

The drive to clear the camp began earlier this month when D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray sent a letter to NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis, asking that the McPherson camp be moved due to a rat infestation and other health issues.

Last week, Jarvis was called to testify before a House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee as to why the camp has been allowed to remain in the square since protesters first moved in last October, violating an NPS ban on camping there.

According to the National Park Service, the camp is considered a 24-hour vigil, and therefore exempt from the ban. However, under the guidelines for such vigils, protesters are not allowed to sleep in federal parks, as the Occupiers have been doing.

Speaking to the subcommittee, Jarvis argued that the Occupiers had a First Amendment right to protest in the square in his statement to the subcommittee, but acknowledged the need to address safety and health concerns surrounding the encampment.

Gina Bull (SFS ’12), who has been actively supporting the Occupy movement on campus and visited McPherson Square on Sunday, said that she believed the real impetus for the crackdown is to suppress dissent.

“There were a lot of police around at one point, and it definitely seemed like they were trying to have an intimidating presence,” Bull said. “I think whatever guise they may give for shutting it down, we all know that this is an attempt to suppress dissent and the camps are incredibly powerful symbols for that.”

Samuel-Geaney Moore (SFS ’12) agreed that the District had motives other than health concerns for deciding to close the camp.

“I don’t think it’s an issue of cleanliness. … Camps have been exceptionally organized,” he said. “[The NPS decision] follows that pattern of trying to close the camps across the country.”

Bull added that the camp was likely allowed to remain in place on Monday because the eviction had attracted so much media attention.

“The police didn’t come probably because there were so many news cameras. I don’t think it would be unlikely that they would [take down the camp] during the night instead,” she said.

The camp remained in place at press time, though the possibility that authorities would disband the protesters remained.

Though the McPherson Square camp has been relatively calm compared to other Occupy groups in Oakland and Manhattan, there has been a recent increase in tensions between police and protesters, culminating in the cuffing and tasering of a protester known as “Lash” Sunday.

“Lash … wouldn’t hurt a fly,” American University student and protester Ben Johnson said. “He’s all about having a positive attitude. So the fact that they chose Lash, of all people, to tase … really speaks to the mindset of the cops. They’ll tase somebody who walks around in [pajama] bottoms and spends most of his days playing guitar because he said something they don’t like.”

Johnson claimed that protesters were bracing for more altercations, but stressed that the protesters themselves would not provoke violence.

“If there’s violence here, it’ll be on the part of the cops,” he said.

Supporters of the movement, such as Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) warned against an unruly response to NPS enforcement, saying that such behavior could distract from the protesters’ real message.

“If some resist the enforcement of the camping ban, they could reinforce critics who see them as young people on an adventure and could destroy the unity of their message against income inequality, which has captured the country and changed the conversation in Washington,” Norton wrote on her website Sunday.

If police do remove protesters by force, Bull felt that college campuses will become increasingly important protest sites, adding that Georgetown Occupy, an on-campus group that supports the D.C. Occupy movement, plans to coordinate more discussion events and general assembly meetings on Fridays to increase awareness.

“If camping at Occupy D.C. comes to a close, it only means a transformation for the movement, certainly not an end, and that’s why I think it becomes increasingly important to think of creative ways to keep the Occupy movement going,” she said. “College campuses [will] become more critical sites. Georgetown Occupy intends to increase our presence this semester.”

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