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Occupy DC Defies Deadline For Removal Of Camp

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Protesters have erected a "tent of dreams" over the statue of General McPherson in McPherson Square in defiance of the National Park Police's enforcement of a ban on camping.
Mallory Noe-Payne
Protesters have erected a "tent of dreams" over the statue of General McPherson in McPherson Square in defiance of the National Park Police's enforcement of a ban on camping.

2:30 p.m.: Travis McArthur is one of the Occupy DC spokespersons. He says the group will peacefully resist any attempt to arrest its members. He says the NPS plan was to arrest the protesters one by one, targetting the most vulnerable members first -- so they plan to all be arrested together if the time comes.

"This is our tent of dreams," says McArthur. "We want to be able to sleep here so that we can dream of a better world, where everybody has access to healthcare, education and housing and the rich no longer control our political system."

Before the deadline, some U.S. Park officers made a security sweep of the square. The NPS will not say when they will go back in to the square and enforce the mandate against sleeping, closed tents, and camping gear.

12:30 p.m.: There are about 100 Occupy DC protesters underneath a giant blue tarp that has been draped over the statue of General McPherson at McPherson Square. They're referring to it as the "Tent of Dreams."

They say they will not leave McPherson Square and that they will be arrested en masse if U.S. Park Police come to take them away.

This is their response to the noon deadline set by the National Park Service saying that they were no longer allowed to camp at McPherson Square -- no tents and no sleeping in the square.

Meanwhile, the Freedom Plaza protest that has been in the plaza since October is starting to wane. One community organizer with the movement has brought down a moving truck and has offered to store the belongings of those that remain. He is encouraging them to leave peacefully.

Two Occupy protesters from Atlanta say they plan to take the bus home this evening.

Original Story: Occupy DC protesters and U.S. Park Police officials could be in for a clash later today, as the National Park Service has given the occupiers a deadline of noon to remove all camping equipment from the park.

For the past few days, U.S. Park Police have been handing out flyers to the demonstrators, warning that at noon, officers will begin enforcing a longstanding ban on camping at the federal park sites at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza.

At least 200 tents are still at the Occupy DC encampment, but by noon those tents have to be gone. Tents and other camping equipment, or any gear that can be construed as camping equipment, must also be removed from the Freedom Plaza encampment a few blocks away. 

Any structures that do remain in the park must be open on one side at all times, according to the rule. The Park Service has said that the protesters still have the right to conduct a 24-hour vigil; they just cannot sleep in the park.

The ultimatum wasn't causing much movement early this morning. One occupy protester, who is putting some stakes down this morning, says he plans to just "enjoy freedom" throughout the day today. "When has something such as camping become a crime?" he says. 

Rich Kaufmann, another occupier, says he knew about the no-camping on Park Service property rule, but also believes this should be one of the exceptions.

"It is a longstanding regulation, but they've made special exceptions for other causes, like the civil rights movement," he says. "And I think this should also be of the the situations that they kind of make extra room for."  Kaufmann did say that he would comply with any orders directed at him by U.S. Park Police.

Another camper, Robert Dilly, says he is going to move his belongings off site. "We'll see what happens," he says. "I think that it might be done. I don't think that anything crazy's going to happen." 

For the past four months, the Park Service has maintained a fairly hands-off approach to Occupy DC. But Congressional Republicans have criticized the Park Service's handling of the issue, and at committee hearing last week on Capitol Hill, the head of the National Park Service, Jonathan Jarvis, told federal lawmakers that officers would soon begin enforcing the no-camping regulations.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Park Police officer used an electronic stun gun Sunday on an Occupy DC participant who was tearing down fliers warning protesters about the ban on camping in McPherson Square. Police say the unidentified man was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is asking the demonstrators to show "respect and civility" when park police begin enforcing the rules later today. If the protesters resist, she adds, it will just give ammunition to their critics.

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