11/01/2011 12:58 pm ET Updated Jan 01, 2012

Occupy DC: McPherson Square Protesters Can't Camp. Or Can They?

WASHINGTON -- A month into their protest in McPherson Square in downtown D.C., Occupy DC protesters don't know whether the National Park Service thinks they are breaking park rules or not.

Last week after Park Police took down an Occupy DC flag from the park's statue of Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson, the park service then distributed a flier in McPherson Square with some park rules, including a note that sugary drinks not be consumed near the McPherson statue.

One key rule the flier outlines that could be hard to follow: "Camping is not permitted."

But the handout, which is also posted around the park, has some other statements that seem to contradict that no-camping rule.

One says: "To allow for visual inspection and monitoring, all temporary structures and tents must have at least one open side."

Another reads: "To help allow the turf to get the sunlight and water needed to survive, we recommend that any temporary structures or tents with attached flooring placed on grass should be relocated every four days."

And generators, says the flier, should be "surrounded by a fence at least three feet in height" and "placed on matting."

Jeff Light, an attorney advising Occupy DC, says since receiving the flier, the group has put up a fence around the generator, and put the generator on some wooden pallets. Other than that, the members of Occupy DC haven't decided how -- or if -- they will respond to the flier, or if they will specifically ask for clarification on the camping issue.

"This is not issued like an order," Light said. "It's a flier that they gave us."

Carol Johnson, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service, tells The Huffington Post that NPS is not expecting a response to the flier.

"We wanted to provide education to the protesters about the kinds of things that would make it a better experience, and would help them keep within the regulations," Johnson said.

But under the regulations, camping is not permitted in McPherson Square. So has the park service changed its camping policy?

"Camping is making preparations for sleeping, sleeping, setting up housekeeping," said Johnson. "But, all that said, tents are allowed there. And a 24-hour vigil is allowed there."

But she acknowledged that sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between a vigil and camping.

"We have to use discernment," Johnson said. "The Park Police are monitoring the situation, and are going in to make sure that people are safe. We'll continue to monitor."

Johnson says that Occupy DC isn't being given special treatment, pointing toward the Stop the Machine protest that has been camping out in Freedom Plaza since Oct. 6, and Concepcion Picciotto who has been camped out in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, protesting nuclear weapons since 1981. (Picciotto's advice to the Occupy protesters was to "just be peaceful and stay the course.")

"We're trying to balance the needs of the First Amendment and the needs of protecting cultural resources," Johnson said, adding that the Park Service is also responding to the concerns of local businesses. For instance, they've increased the number of trash pickups at the park to three per day.

Light said that he expects the protesters to decide if they will respond to the flier later this week. He also expects that regardless of their response, the McPherson Square demonstrators' relationship with law enforcement will stay friendly and flexible.

"We haven't had a single arrest. We're trying to make sure that everybody there is safe, and not causing any problems," Light said. "Some of the things they are saying in the flier are not based in any regulations, but they nevertheless may be a good idea to follow anyway."

Flickr photo by tedeytan

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