The Occupy DC movement that began in early October may be on the cusp of coming into direct confrontation with the federal government and the Obama administration. At a recent House Oversight subcommittee hearing, the encampment at McPherson Square was declared to be operating illegally as well as being a public health risk.
The National Parks Service (NPS) has jurisdiction over the parks that Occupy DC has taken over, so ultimately it is the Obama administration that will have the final say in whether or not the occupants are evicted.
At the hearing, Republicans questioned NPS Chairman Jonathan Jarvis over his decision to leave the Occupy DC protesters in the parks without legal permits.
“It’s not your job to determine which protest group, how to treat protest groups differently. They are breaking the law. Why aren’t you enforcing the law?” said Rep. Joe Walsh (R.-IL) to Jarvis.
The people of Occupy DC released a statement to be read at the hearing. In the statement they said, “Citizens of a free country should not have to ask for permission to occupy public spaces. Our occupation of the McPherson Square is an expression of our right to free speech and peaceful assembly.”
While there are calls by Occupy DC for protection of their rights, the safety and rights of other citizens in a public place have been put in jeopardy. Besides being a general nuisance to people trying to enjoy the parks, there is serious concern that the fetid camps are breeding grounds for rats, vermin and disease.
“Camping is not a First Amendment activity. It is a violation of law. Sleeping (in a national park) is not a First Amendment activity, it is a violation of law,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R.-CA) said.
A statement was released by the DC Department of Health about all the risks to the public being caused by Occupy DC.
On the list was the improper disposal of garbage, which is strewn all over the campsites. This has caused a large infestation of rats which can be seen even in daylight. Inspectors discovered rat nests all over the camp, including in the kitchen areas. Those kitchen areas are unkempt, with scattered, decaying food. This is clearly increasing the risk for communicable disease, especially with the large homeless population that dwells in and around the camp.
Occupiers have overloaded the two public toilets at McPherson Square and routinely pour fluids down the street drains, which is illegal. Lastly, the DC Department of Health explained that crimes have been committed in the camp, including a case of child abandonment in winter weather.
Washington D.C.’s Democrat mayor, Vincent Gray, has also voiced concerns about the camps, calling on the NPS to do something about the situation.
Gray said in a statement to the Oversight Committee:
Since both DC locations are under federal control, it falls on you to take immediate steps to remedy this dangerous situation. At a minimum, the Occupy DC sites at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza must be consolidated at Freedom Plaza to allow for the elimination of the rat infestation, clean up, and restoration of McPherson Square.
Beyond the health risks, the Occupy DC crowd has become hostile and aggressive, at one point barricading in attendees at an Americans for Prosperity event because it was funded by the Koch brothers. At the event an old woman was knocked down and had to go to a hospital. Occupiers also tried to stop cars on the road, which led to one being hit by a car.
If the decision is made to at least move the Occupiers from McPherson Square to Freedom Plaza, there could be a major confrontation.
Washington D.C. has had a few major confrontations with protesters in the past, including the famous clash in 1932 between federal troops under Chief of Staff General Douglas and retired WWI veterans, called the “Bonus Army”. The removal was handled as a political weapon against the Herbert Hoover administration. That confrontation was much larger as there were tens of thousands of veterans, but given the chaos and violence which occurred in the eviction of the Occupy Oakland protesters there is no telling what will transpire.
Even though President Obama appealed to the left in his State of the Union Address, the Occupy DC people still crafted an even more left-wing response to it. If there is a confrontation it will occur within just a few blocks of the White House and could cause friction between the president and his base.