Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray wants one of the city's two Occupy encampments to leave, but while he's got no problem with another nearby, the campers themselves don't really want to mingle. Saying the encampment at McPherson Square had rats and posed a health hazard, Gray sent a letter to the National Park Service, which has jurisdiction over the square, asking it to please remove the encampment, and suggested consolidating it with another at Freedom Plaza. The park service hasn't complied, but if it does (as California rep. Darrell Issa is demanding) it'll have a hell of a fight on its hands.
One might think that asking the Occupiers to simply relocate to another park would salve the raw anger inspired by the crackdown on Zuccotti. But these two encampments don't really want to mix with one another. The situation is reminiscent of the two sides of Zuccotti Park where, as The Daily Show's Samantha Bee hilariously discovered, the east side had the library and laptops and the west side was the ghetto. Similarly, D.C.'s McPherson Square camp sees itself as more "real" than its counterpart at Freedom Plaza.
The McPherson Square encampment actually started first, by about a week, but another encampment at Freedom Plaza had been longer in planning, said Sam Jewler, a 23-year-old D.C. native who told us he'd been camping in McPherson Square for three months. At McPherson Square, Occupy supporters just started sleeping on the sidewalk, and an occupation was born. The Freedom Plaza encampment had been in the planning stages since June 2011, originally as an anti-war protest, but morphed into an Occupy Wall Street encampment as that movement gained steam. "It's a group of long-time activists with much more of a network, people with money behind them, an older crowd. But we're fighting for the same issues," Jewler said. The McPherson occupation started Oct. 1, and Freedom Plaza got underway Oct. 6. Aside from the crowd, the locations of the two encampments made a big difference, Jewler said. McPherson Square has "a lot of symbolic value, being there on K Street between the lobbyists and the White House. Freedom plaza is by City Hall, which isn't really what we're fighting."
In an interview with The Washington Post, Kevin Zeese, an organizer at the Freedom Plaza encampment, said, "The two camps have different personalities and we do not want to lose the personality of Freedom Plaza." He said combining the camps would "present some challenges." Jewler was a little less diplomatic. He said the Freedom Plaza encampment operated under a more heirarchical structure and, "a lot of people at mcpherson square don't feel they can work with that hierarchical model."
But Freedom Plaza's model works for the city. Mohammed Akhter, the city's health director, told the Post there was a "greater attempt being made to adhere to good sanitary practices with waste disposal and food preparation," at Freedom plaza.
The McPherson camp is known as a younger, more rough-and-ready crowd, and more anarchic. That's where they built that prohibited structure that wound up getting 31 people arrested. Unfortunately, as city health director Mohammed Akhtar pointed out in a memo attached to Gray's letter, it's also the site where a guy allegedly abandoned a baby in a tent, and it's "experiencing conditions associated with homeless population ie. increased use of illegal substances and mental health issues." Akhter's report outlined not just a rodent infestation but improper trash disposal, unsafe food preparation, inadequate bathroom facilities, and the fire hazard posed by candles the camp uses for light. Akhter said at the Freedom Plaza site there was a "greater attempt being made to adhere to good sanitary practices with waste disposal and food preparation," the Post reported.
The occupiers have a completely separate, tactical reason for not wanting to move in together: They're planning a huge Occupy Congress rally next Tuesday, and they need the space to house visiting protesters. "Each camp has a limit of 500 people, so if you consolidate into one, you have a total limit of 500, which is going to be taken up by at least 200 250 of us already here," Jewel said. "But if you have two parks you have a limit of 1000 which we'll probably have on J-17."