OccupyDC confronts Issa’s crackdown

Infuriated by the movement's message, the multimillionaire congressman forces showdown in the capital

Topics: Occupy Wall Street, OccupyDC, Darrell Issa,

OccupyDC confronts Issa's crackdown Darrell Issa and the Occupy DC camp at McPherson Square (Credit: AP)

The two OccupyDC camps in downtown Washington are mobilizing today for possible police action resulting from Republican Rep. Darrel Issa’s long-running campaign to shut down the camps, holding a midday rally and sponsoring an online petition that already claims 15,000 signatures.

On Friday, the National Park Police began posting notices on tents in the sites that the police would begin to enforce regulations banning 24-hour camping on Monday. The sites are under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, which has tolerated the overnight presence at the two sites since last October on the grounds the protesters are engaged in 24-hour vigil, not camping.

The Occupy movement has injected a new voice in the politics of the capital since October with a mixture of protest marchesteach-ins and civil disobedience aimed at bringing their message about inequality and corporate domination to  lobbyists, bankers, members of Congress and the White House. Last Friday demonstrators confronted guests, including President Obama, who gathered at the exclusive Alfalfa Club and glitter-bombed Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman. Earlier this month, the Occupy Congress action brought protesters from across the nation to swarm Capitol Hill visiting their congressmen.

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The success of the occupation has infuriated Issa, the wealthiest member of Congress, worth at least $195 million, especially as its message about the plight of the 99 percent has found favorable reception in public opinion polls.  In a hearing last week, Issa grilled Park Service officials about conditions in the camp and ignored the district’s non-voting representative in Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who expressed support for the demonstrators and the Park Service. Three days later, the Park Service succumbed to Issa’s pressure and said for the first time that Park Police would enforce the camping ban.

In response, the OccupyDC movement, based in McPherson Square two blocks north of the White House, posted a statement saying that Issa and the 1 percent had

“launched an attack upon the free speech of those of us who disagree with the direction in which our country is going but cannot afford to give unlimited contributions to Super PACs or have lobbyists write legislation for us. In occupying public spaces we act as an ongoing challenge to the K Street lobbyists and elected officials undermining our democracy through the corrosive influence of money in politics.”

Demonstrators in both camps prepared for the worst while expressing hope that the enforcement of the camping ban would not force eviction of the protesters.

“We’re preparing for police to come and removing valuables, but I think they may allow the tents to stay and let the occupation continue as a 24-hour vigil,” said Kevin Zeese, a founder of the occupation camp in Freedom Plaza, located three blocks east of the White House. “In any case, we’re not going away. They can’t snuff out the Occupy movement. They may be able to move the tents, but that’s about it.”

Zeese said the organizers of the Freedom Plaza camp were focusing on a National Occupation of Washington planned for March 30.

In McPherson Square, Lisa McCracken, a volunteer presiding over the camp’s 1,000-volume tent library, said she thought the collection would not be removed as nobody slept in the library. But McCracken said she and her fellow librarians were prepared to remove the library’s most valuable holdings, including an archive of Occupy pamphlets, fliers and manifestoes, on short notice.

In a statement, Issa said the Park Service action was “appropriate and overdue.” He insisted the action was intended to support the First Amendment.

I’m pleased that concerns of D.C. officials, who have warned against waiting for a health or safety ‘emergency,’ are finally being heeded. The laws on camping were carefully crafted to meet with Supreme Court jurisprudence, and a continued failure to enforce them would have undermined the First Amendment.”

Since his election in 2000 Issa has received more than $5 million in campaign contributions.

Jefferson Morley

Jefferson Morley is a staff writer for Salon in Washington and author of the forthcoming book, Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 (Nan Talese/Doubleday).

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