Occupy DC camps persist as rally planned next week

By Eric Tucker

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 11 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

In this photo taken Friday, Jan. 6, 2102, Paul Joyner, 25, of Silver Spring, Md., a bike messenger who is camping part time with Occupy DC, rests on a park bench near a pirate flag in McPherson Square in Washington. The Occupy Wall Street movement is flickering across the country. In New York, the city removed police barriers from Zuccotti Park, allowing protesters to re-Occupy the space, but they are still not allowed to sleep there. In Seattle, a handful of people were kicked out of a vacant house that had been taken over as part of the movement. Through it all, the demonstration in the nation's capital has remained. The protest in Washington carries on because demonstrators are on federal land in a city that has a tolerant, even celebrated, history of civil disobedience.

Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — They let them back into Zuccotti Park, but kicked them out of a vacant house in Seattle. In other places, Occupy protesters are in courtrooms fighting evictions.

While the movement flickers, the protest in the nation's capital is persisting into the winter, buoyed by demonstrators who stay on federal land in a city with a tolerant, even celebrated, history of civil disobedience. Washington even has two Occupy sites within blocks of each other.

"We didn't initiate it — that was with Occupy Wall Street — but we're carrying it on. And you know what? So are they," said Joseph Bieber, 39, who came to Washington after the Occupy site in Philadelphia was shut down.

Demonstrators like Bieber have found a new home in D.C., where organizers expect a protest Tuesday on Capitol Hill — dubbed Occupy Congress — to draw thousands of people and bring renewed attention to their opposition to corporate greed and income inequality.

"We can't just protest on Wall Street. We must also protest Congress directly if we want to have real change," said Mario Lozada, a protester from Philadelphia.

Though the D.C. protesters have provoked the ire of a Republican congressman, they have been accepted — with some growing signs of exasperation — by a mayor who forged his political identity as an activist and by a National Park Service that says it's determined to protect First Amendment rights. Though they've dwindled considerably in numbers, the demonstrators, and a few homeless people, have remained despite occasionally freezing temperatures, the holidays and, more recently, rat infestations.

Several dozen tents occupy Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square, both just blocks from the White House. The group at McPherson Square was inspired by the protesters in New York, while the Freedom Plaza site — a generally older crowd — had a war protest that morphed into an Occupy encampment.

In New York, protesters have been holding meetings at various indoor spaces after tents and sleeping bags were banned from Zuccotti Park in mid-November. A police raid evicted protesters who had been sleeping there since Sept. 17.

On Tuesday, metal barricades that had surrounded Zuccotti Park were removed, and about 300 demonstrators "re-Occupied" the park. Most left, though, as the night wore on.

Ned Merrill was one of a handful of protesters around a day later.

"We need to have a symbolic presence," said Merrill, 52, a blanket draped over his shoulder.

In Seattle, sheriff's deputies evicted seven people early Wednesday from a vacant house that had been taken over as part of the movement. Deputies said they appeared to be squatters who did not have a political motive. However, the house is covered in graffiti, including "no banks, no landlords" and "capitalism is exploitation."

Other encampments remain, including in Portland, Me., and in Pittsburgh, where attorneys for the protesters argued in court Tuesday against eviction.

The D.C. demonstrators have been permitted to stay despite a string of recent clashes that might have triggered eviction in cities less accustomed to large-scale protests.

More than 30 protesters were arrested last month after refusing to disassemble a makeshift wooden building they had erected in the middle of the night as a shed for the approaching winter. The building was torn down and removed.

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