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Occupy DC protesters mull how to deal with overnight camping ban

By Athena Jones, CNN
updated 7:40 PM EST, Sun January 29, 2012
The National Park Service has told Occupy DC protesters to stop camping overnight at sites near the White House.
The National Park Service has told Occupy DC protesters to stop camping overnight at sites near the White House.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: A protester says, "If we can't sleep here, that does not end the movement"
  • The National Park Service warned protesters they may be arrested for "camping violations"
  • Area churches may house activists overnight, a pastor says
  • Video shows a stun gun used on a man after he took down Park Service notices from tents

Washington (CNN) -- Occupy DC demonstrators spent Sunday afternoon discussing how to respond to a call by the National Park Service to stop camping overnight at sites a few blocks from the White House.

The park service notified protesters on Friday that they "may be subject to arrest and their property subject to seizure as evidence" if there are evident "camping violations" by around noon Monday.

The notice for those in McPherson Square and nearby Freedom Plaza said that to comply with the federal agency's camping regulations, demonstrators must remove all camping material from the sites and leave one side of all temporary structures open at all times. Authorities describe the purpose of the order as necessary to ensure public health and safety.

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Video posted online from early Sunday showed a man appearing to walk away from U.S. Park Police members as he yelled out, "I have done nothing wrong." Two officers tried to grab him before a third officer used a stun gun on the man, who was then handcuffed.

A CNN crew witnessed the arrest, which protesters said came after the man went from tent to tent removing notices posted by the National Park Service. There was no immediate comment from park police on the incident, including whether the man was charged.

Later in the day, a small group of protesters met for about three hours under the statue of Civil War hero Maj. Gen. James McPherson, which is in the middle of the park.

A protester named Eli -- who would only give his first name, and who wasn't participating in the meeting -- said one of the ideas being mulled if Monday's deadline were imposed would be to hold a "sleep strike," in which demonstrators would play board games and do other things throughout the nights to avoid the "sleeping activities" banned by the Park Service.

"I plan on not leaving and not sleeping as long as possible," Eli said.

Pastor Brian Merritt of Washington's Palisades Community Church said area churches have discussed helping house some of the protesters overnight so that they could continue a 24-hour vigil if park police began enforcing the rules against overnight encampments.

Rich Coffman, a Dallas, Texas, resident who has been camping in the Washington park for three weeks, said demonstrators from Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee, and New York are expected to come Monday to show solidarity with the capital demonstrators.

Whatever happens with the camps and police, Caty McClure said it would not alter her and fellow demonstrators' commitment to their cause or their activism.

"The park and the occupation of the park is a tactic, it's not the movement," she said, calling the camps "a really important symbolic statement." "If we can't sleep here, that does not end the movement."

Occupy DC is part of a larger activist surge that began last year in New York and quickly spread. While the protesters have highlighted a number of causes, the overarching theme has remained largely the same: populist anger over what activists portray as an out-of-touch corporate, financial and political elite.

Demonstrators in Washington have been camping out in McPherson Square since the beginning of October. There was a daylong confrontation December 4 when protesters erected a wood structure overnight. It was eventually removed, after being deemed unsafe.

On Saturday, some of them made noise -- and generated headlines -- in Washington outside the 99th annual Alfalfa Club dinner thrown for high-level dignitaries, including President Obama.

As guests arrived, they were forced to pass through Occupy protesters. While police assisted attendees, demonstrators began throwing glitter. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, and other guests accompanying him were among those who were doused with the glitter.

CNN's Courtney Battle contributed to this report.

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