WASHINGTON, D.C. - The government must give Occupy DC protesters 24-hour notice if it intends to close encampments at two city parks, a federal court ruled today, as pressure mounts on one of the last intact major camps for the Occupy movement in the United States.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg told representatives of Occupy today that the demonstrators would have a chance to contest any order for eviction before it takes effect.
A National Parks Service deadline for the protesters based in Washington's McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza to stop "camping" in the parks passed Monday. Government regulations define camping as using park land for "living accommodation purposes such as sleeping."
The two sites fall under the jurisdiction of the NPS, which was pressed on the subject during a meeting of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week.
Demonstrators can remain on 24-hour vigils at the sites, under the right to assembly given by the First Amendment, but there can be no sleeping. Tents, many of which have slogans of the movement painted on them, are allowed to remain as symbols of political protest, but their flaps must be open allowing clear visibility of the interior. Any equipment seen as evidence of residence - such as sleeping bags, travel-sized toiletries, pillows, etc. - must also go.
In addition, protesters must remove a large tarp erected Monday over a statue of Civil War Gen. James McPherson. The makeshift shelter has been dubbed the "Tent of Dreams."
The park service has retained the right to evict the protesters completely in the event of emergency or urgent health concern.
A number of the parks' inhabitants have complied voluntarily with the order, but some told ABC News they would remain, with or without approval.
"This is not camping," one protester said. "This is free speech. We have no other way to reach our government."
Given the restrictions, Occupy DC protesters are mulling their next move. At an emergency general assembly meeting today the movement decided they would not remove the McPherson statue tarp but would step aside if law enforcement removed it themselves. Some hope the gesture could lead to leniency on the sleeping restrictions.
For two days Park Service Police have led quiet inspections of the camps without incident.
Park Police say enforcement of the regulation is in effect but have declined to discuss a timeline for eviction. Officials told McPherson Square residents today that those who violate the rule will be subject to arrest.
"We are working with you," officers told park inhabitants. "We're trying to work with you. And this will go a long way."
Protesters have expressed fear of a confrontation with police since the camping regulations were first announced Friday.
Occupy DC has inhabited the city for four months on its platform against perceived corporate privilege and government corruption. But their long residence has raised sanitation concerns with some city officials. Washington Mayor Vincent Gray and health inspectors have cited increased rat populations at the movement's primary site of McPherson Square, mere blocks from the White House.
Many in each camp's population are homeless. The majority of middle-class protesters live and sleep elsewhere, coming to the parks on an as-needed basis.
Demonstrators planted a small tree Monday evening in McPherson Square. The "Occutree" is supposed to symbolize their commitment to the environment.