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Occupy Central Park: One Group Dreams Of A Three-Day Festival To Rival Woodstock

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Frustrated by the limiting confines of Zuccotti Park and the constant police presence that surrounds it, a small group of Occupy Wall Street supporters are in the initial stages of planning to take to Central Park for three days starting on November 11 as part of a "global day of solidarity."

Their effort, which they have dubbed Occupy Central Park, has not received an official statement of approval from Occupy Wall Street's General Assembly. It would also directly contravene Central Park's prohibition against camping.

Organizers are hopeful, however, that a groundswell of public support could help convince Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Central Park Conservancy to bend the rules for the festival, which they emphasize would be not a protest but a celebration. They do not intend to seek a permit for their event.

"We're very confident that by 11/11 we will have gotten enough support, that hopefully Bloomberg will make the right decision and not bring cops to cause chaos in the park," said Itamar Lilienthal, a 19-year-old New York University student who is a driving force behind the event.

Lilienthal told HuffPost that he chose Central Park because it is "the only place left in the city" to hold a gathering on the scale they are proposing. "The problem down in Liberty Park is that it's reached capacity."

Lilienthal and his fellow organizers, a handful of people who form one small group out of many in Occupy Wall Street, hope to bring thousands of people to Central Park for "a three-day cultural fest that will basically work on spreading awareness of the importance of unity," he said.

So far Lilienthal is not revealing where exactly in the park the group would like to settle. Aside from camping, Occupy Central Park would also feature yoga classes, speeches from famous academics and filmmakers, and classes in capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that combines sport and dance. In the park's famous Strawberry Fields, Lilienthal hopes, musicians could perform a "Strawberry jam."

"If Bob Dylan comes, he can play with the random person who comes and just jam," Lilienthal said.

"We already have a lot of musicians that want to play. They're not famous, but we want to get in touch with some big name acts because some people told us this could be the Woodstock of our generation," he added.

Whereas Occupy Wall Street has thus far focused on issues like income inequality and rampant unemployment, Lilienthal said he would like to move beyond divisive rhetoric about the problems plaguing the 99 percent towards offering solutions from a standpoint of global unity.

"There's not a 99 percent thing, there's not a 1 percent thing, there's a 100 percent thing," he said.

But aside from clashing with Occupy Wall Street's oft-repeated slogan, that idealistic sentiment might run up against legal hurdles.

"The park, according to city regulations, closes at 1 AM. The public should not be in the park past that hour," said Dena Libner, public relations manager for the Central Park Conservancy.

The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, which enforces park regulations, stipulates on its website that "No person shall engage in camping, or erect or maintain a tent, shelter, or camp in any park without a permit."

Historically, however, Central Park has been the site of many protests and at least one encampment, according to Elizabeth Blackmar, a professor of history at Columbia University who co-authored "The Park and the People: A History of Central Park."

During the 1930s, Blackmar said, homeless men constructed an encampment -- complete with stone houses -- on the site of what is now the Great Lawn.

"One of the city's most visible Hoovervilles was set up there," Blackmar said. "So you could say that the unemployed occupied Central Park."

Intriguingly, one of the reasons the city turned against the Central Park Hooverville was very similar to objections lobbed against the camp in Zuccotti Park. A deputy parks commissioner explained to The New York Times in September 1932 that "although the men had maintained good order, had built comfortable shacks and furnished them as commodiously as they could, there were no water or sanitary facilities near the settlement."

Blackmar said that Central Park offered an opportunity for plenty of TV news cameras.

"It certainly has a media visibility at least equal to that of Wall Street, if one just thinks of Woody Allen's movies alone," she said. "It is nationally visible as a public gathering space."

At the same time, she noted, unlike Zuccotti Park, which has a somewhat murky legal status because it is a privately-owned public space, "Central Park is under the government and the Central Park Conservancy, and has quite clear rules that have been held up in court about uses."