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D.C.’s two occupy camps begin to unite

Occupy D.C. protesters at Freedom Plaza have begun shifting camp to McPherson Square and will fully move to the park before their plaza permit expires April 29. Bryan Hoechner | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Brianna Gurciullo.

Occupy D.C.’s two fronts are settling into McPherson Square in time for Monday’s D.C. Emancipation Day festivities.

Occupiers holding ground at Freedom Plaza began moving a few blocks north last Sunday to the McPherson Square site in advance of the first group’s protest permit expiration April 29. Their expedited shift will make way for activities in Freedom Plaza that will mark the 150th anniversary of the end of slavery in the District.

The McPherson occupiers, who do not have a permit, are not required to receive one to protest in the park because the park service only explicitly requires groups of 500 or more protesters to acquire a permit.

Jason Hillman, a 28-year-old from New York who has lived in the District for years, said the unified Occupy front would make the movement more organized and efficient than a divided effort.

“I think it needed to happen,” he said.

Slightly more than a dozen protestors remain of the about 200 who originally forged settlements in Freedom Plaza and will move to the larger McPherson encampment. Both are offshoots of the New York City-based Occupy movement against what demonstrators call corporate greed.

Occupy D.C. demonstrators camping out at McPherson Square, above, will be joined by protesters from a separate Occupy camp at Freedom Plaza. Bryan Hoechner | Hatchet Photographer

“We’re calling it the Occupy marriage made in the park,” John Zangas, who has camped out in McPherson Square since the tent city cropped up in October, said.

He added that the new batch of protesters will join the camp’s nightly general assemblies – or meetings where all protesters gather – to voice their opinions in Occupy D.C. decisions.

While the camp at Freedom Plaza operated under a protest permit from the National Park Service, occupier Sara Shaw said the McPherson demonstrators do not wish to extend that permit to their site.

“We don’t need a permit. The First Amendment is our permit,” Shaw said. “We have a right to be here and hold our space and have a political protest in the heart of D.C. without the ‘OK’ from the government.”

Mayor Vincent Gray suggested last December that the protests join at one camp, in Freedom Plaza, to allow for cleanup at McPherson Square – after the D.C. Department of Health raised concerns regarding a rat infestation and potential for disease.

National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson said the agency has not witnessed any health problems at McPherson in the past three months that would require action.

The park service came under fire from lawmakers at a Congressional hearing in January for allowing the McPherson occupiers to linger since October. Federal regulations outlaw camping in parks not designated for such activities without explicit permission from the National Park Service. Demonstrators have since slept in sleeping bags near K Street as opposed to inside the McPherson tents.

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