Demonstrators walk through the make-shift tent city as part of the Occupy D.C. demonstration at Freedom Plaza, in Washington on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011. The group began camping in Freedom Plaza on Thursday, coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan on Friday. But individuals passionate about a variety of causes came to camp out with complaints about issues ranging from health care to home foreclosures and education spending. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
While police and neighbors in some cities are losing patience with anti-Wall Street protests, demonstrators in the nation's capital are continuing to expand their tent cities with little interference.
Authorities in several cities have started arresting or threatening to evict demonstrators, in part because of concerns about noise, sanitation and health.
But in Washington, a city accustomed to protests, relations between police and participants in two similar, open-ended demonstrations have been largely peaceful. McPherson Square was packed with more than 100 tents Tuesday, and there were more than 60 tents in Freedom Plaza a few blocks away.
At McPherson Square, Wes Kirkpatrick of the Occupy D.C. movement was hanging leaflets Tuesday afternoon with information about arrests and confrontations between police and protesters in other cities. U.S. Park Police are patrolling the square twice daily but have done little else, and officers have given no indication they plan to start arresting or evicting the protesters, said Kirkpatrick, 27.
Police are arresting protesters “everywhere but here, essentially,” Kirkpatrick said. He said he believed Occupy D.C. was benefiting from its location just blocks from the White House and said he did not expect the federal government to crack down on the demonstration.
Assemblies in McPherson Square don't require permits as long as they don't exceed 500 people, but people are barred from camping or cooking there, and the demonstrators are doing both in plain view of police.
McPherson Square is surrounded by businesses, including banks, restaurants and law firms, but Kirkpatrick said there had been few if any confrontations with local merchants and residents. Bill Line, a National Park Service spokesman, said the park service decided recently to start picking up trash twice a day in the square because of concerns about buildup. He also said police were counting the protesters and would take action if their numbers exceeded 500.
Patrick Segui, who owns a hair salon on McPherson Square, said the demonstration hasn't harmed his business.
“There hasn't been any trouble. As far as protesting, that's the way to do it. They're very clean,” Segui said. “Politically, it's a different story, but we don't need to go there.”
Ayanna Brown, general manager of the popular restaurant Georgia Brown's, said the protesters and the restaurant have coexisted peacefully, and she noted that most of the staff supports them.
“They don't even come in and ask to use the restroom,” Brown said. “We were concerned mostly about trash. We can get rats if we don't maintain a certain level of cleanliness, and they have done that.”
The demonstrators in Freedom Plaza have a permit that runs through Dec. 30, but they are also camping and cooking in defiance of park service rules. Kevin Zeese, an organizer of the October 2011 Stop the Machine demonstration, said officers patrolling the plaza have told him ”they're getting pressure to evict us.” But he said demonstrators would return if they were kicked out.
The park service was planning to hand out leaflets to the Freedom Plaza protesters addressing health and safety matters that they're expected to abide by, Line said.
Freedom Plaza is bordered by local and federal government buildings, the National Theater and a Marriott hotel. Zeese said he hasn't heard any complaints from neighbors.
“I would guess the Marriott's $500-a-night rooms aren't too happy, but they haven't said anything to us,” he said.