Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has fired the first shot in what looks to be a public battle between city hall and the Occupy D.C. protest crowd.
Gray wrote a letter to the National Parks Service recently requesting that they remove Occupy protesters from the city’s McPherson Square park and Freedom Plaza. Both areas are only blocks away from the White House and have served as central protest points of the city’s Occupy movement.
With that letter, Gray touched a few nerves, even though the mayor wrote it with the safety of protesters in mind. Or, did he? Considering the shroud of scandal that’s been around his administration since day one, some observers view it as a way to win favor with disgruntled constituents. Still, the letter seemed like common sense as he went into detail about the potential impact on the larger community from the unsanitary conditions at the Occupy sites.
“The most serious of these concerns include dangerous rat infestation as well as the serious potential for communicable disease, hypothermia, and food borne illness,” wrote Gray. He cited findings from the D.C. Department of Health after they conducted inspection of the park.
Most people would agree that those are sobering enough reasons to force people out.
City leadership clashing with protesters is not unfamiliar to the Occupy movement. Gray’s letter, however, is tame compared to rowdier responses in cities such as Oakland, New York and Atlanta where authorities removed the protesters by force. In those cases, the cities took damning hits in the court of public opinion because the riot gear, tear gas, and paddy wagons used seemed a bit over the top.
But, in Gray’s case, the protesters aren’t just messing with city property. The federal government controls both parks through the National Parks Service. Gray wants to make sure that the feds pick up the tab for the ongoing campsites since they allowed the protesters to stay for an indefinite amount of time. And, this way, the White House doesn’t have to step in. Gray does a little of the dirty work.
Depending on the viewpoint, Mayor Gray’s move to oust the Occupy protesters from McPherson Square can be taken a few different ways.
Of course, there is the legal aspect of protesters turning a public park into their revolution headquarters. Occupy’s continual protest is not fair to others in the city who may want to use the space for recreation and leisure as it was intended – although McPherson Square is notorious for its usage as a rest area for some of the city’s homeless. Even if the park is cleared, it’s still going to take awhile to bring it back as a usable space.
One of those more forgotten points is the sanitation issue Gray raised that comes from people living in an outdoor space over a period of time. It is nasty, to say the least. Think of all the personal tasks that someone would do, including eating, inside of a normal home. Well, a lot of those activities have taken place outside. Clearly, that’s a health risk the city cannot afford to take, even when the people choose to protest publicly.
It boggles the mind that he had to “tell” people to leave because of a rat infestation. This should be reason enough for anyone to, at least, carry their cause elsewhere. What part of the cause called for protesters to purposely live in filth?
By now, the Occupy movement would have stronger core messaging and tangible action items for its protesters. Instead of worrying about permanent protest locations, its members still need to figure out how to turn their frustration into real systemic change. How many days and nights of sleeping in bitter cold will it take for protesters to “work smarter, not harder?”
In the meantime, Occupy D.C. protesters are getting the hint that they don’t have to go home. But, they are being told to get the heck out of the public parks.