The National Park Service blocked off a section of McPherson Square Feb. 4 and discarded the tents and belongings of many Occupy D.C. protesters living in the park.
The clean-up attracted more than a dozen AU students, who watched as the Occupy camp was dismantled.
The mass eviction came as a result of a no-camping ban that went into effect Jan. 30. The Occupy protesters responded by draping a large tent over the statue of McPherson in the center of the park.
AU students congregated with the protesters as they watched the contents of their four-month long encampment being collected in clear, plastic trash bags.
“It’s been pretty tense,” said Jordan Eck, a 20-year-old full-time occupier who had his own tent on the site. While eating a slice of plain cheese pizza an anonymous donor provided for the movement, Eck said the no-sleeping rule had stirred a reactive movement by Occupy DC.
“We’ve made this huge Tent of Dreams, but I don’t think that’s gonna last very long,” he said Jan. 30, referring to the large blue tent painted with stars and hearts. “We’re not supposed to be in that circle at all. At least, that was one of the original National Park Service regulations.”
AU occupier Ben Johnson, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, spends six to seven days a week at the Occupy DC site attending meetings, hanging out with friends and protesting. He was at McPherson Square during the raising of the Tent of Dreams.
“The plan had been to provoke the cops to come in and force a stand-off, instead of trying to remove us one by one from the park,” he said.
But instead, the police watched the tent being draped over the statue without taking action.
“It was a victory in itself that we had an action so big that the cops were nervous to come in,” Johnson said.
The Occupy movement also had a large presence outside the Capitol Hilton Hotel during the Jan. 28 Alfalfa Club dinner, which led to a conflict involving glitter and vocal protests.
“We rallied there outside the barricades and castigated the police a little bit for spending all this time shutting the city down to make a couple of rich [people] safe when there’s crime going on,” said Paige McNamara, a sophomore in CAS.
She stood outside the event as a member of Occupy AU. Event attendees included politicians, members of Congress and President Obama.
Johnson was part of a group that “glitter-bombed” Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., as he entered the hotel.
She said the event was a street party for the 99 percent. They were equipped with a sound system that played songs outside the venue.
But the movement took a turn in the other direction Feb. 4, when the National Park Service swept through the park at dawn and began to raid the tents, discarding everything from clothes to shoes to sleeping bags and mattresses.
Wearing hazmat suits and guarded by police with batons, shields and horses, the Park Service spent the whole day filling up clear, plastic trash bags with occupiers’ belongings and hauling them onto dumping trucks.
Occupy protesters were barricaded from the center of the park, standing at the edges and watching as their movement’s camp was dissected.
“The scene was kind of depressing,” said School of Public Affairs freshman Mana Aliabadi, watching the decampment with tears in her eyes. “They’re just throwing out the places that people had been living in. It had a powerful effect on me.”
More than a dozen AU students stood their ground in McPherson Square, chanting and guarding the “library,” a tent filled with books, from the police raid.
“Compared to other D.C. schools, AU is here in huge numbers,” Aliabadi said, while hugging another AU student. “We have a really strong network and we’re really passionate about this movement.”
Occupiers stood at the edges of the barricades, complying with police boundaries in fear of potential police brutality.
“This [raid] is about crushing free speech and that doesn’t have to be at the end of a baton, although I’m worried that’s gonna happen,” said SPA junior Chris Litchfield. “It could just be by making everyone very cold and hungry.”
Shortly after 4 p.m., it began to rain heavily downtown. Equipped with ponchos, granola bars and a few remaining tents, Occupiers were in no hurry to leave.
“We’re just trying to hold down the fort, because this means something to us,” Aliabadi said. “The people that are part of this movement have spent [every day] for the past four months here.”