Occupiers quietly fade from McPherson Square

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Local,Virginia,Aubrey Whelan

Occupy DC's base camp in McPherson Square morphed over the past nine months from a few dozen protesters in sleeping bags to a virtual tent city. But over the past few weeks, one of the most enduring encampments of the national anti-Wall Street movement has all but disappeared.

A library tent and a few tarps are all that remain of the ongoing vigil, and Occupiers who once spent their days in McPherson Square at the corner of 15th and K streets are mostly gone. Many of those who remain now meet in the offices that a labor union, the Service Employees International Union, rented for them a few blocks away.

"There's a lot more drunks that hang out there," protester Travis Schoff said of the McPherson campsite. "We don't really go there, especially at night."

Occupy's time in D.C.
2011
Oct. 1 -- Occupy DC sets up camp in McPherson Square.
Oct. 6 -- A second Occupy group sets up camp in Freedom Plaza.
November -- Occupiers launch series of protests around town.
Dec. 4 -- Occupiers erect barn-like structure in McPherson, prompting a daylong standoff with police; 31 arrested
Dec. 7 -- Daylong protest against money in politics leads to 62 arrests.
2012
Jan. 17 -- Thousands join "Occupy Congress" on Capitol Hill; nearly 2,000 storm the Supreme Court.
Jan. 24 -- Congress told National Park Service will begin enforcing camping ban in McPherson.
Feb. 4-5 -- Park Police raid McPherson and Freedom Plaza, confiscating dozens of tents and arresting nearly a dozen protesters.
April 15 -- Freedom Plaza protesters move in with McPherson Square Occupiers.
April 23 -- Park Service begins closing off parts of McPherson Square for grass reseeding.
May 7 -- Occupiers move to offices at 16th and L streets.

Months ago, everyone from local business owners to members of Congress were weighing in on Occupy's presence at McPherson. The District's Chamber of Commerce called for protesters to leave, and area businesses reported complaints from patrons over the growing stink emanating from the park.

"They made a point and a powerful statement, and now it's time to move forward," Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Lang said Monday.

Mayor Vincent Gray and the city Health Department declared the camp a health hazard and blamed it for a rat infestation. Rep. Darrell Issa, R.-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, grilled the National Park Service about whether political considerations were preventing it from enforcing a camping ban against the Occupiers. The Park Service denied there were any such considerations.

Yet, even after Park Police began enforcing a ban on sleeping in McPherson in February -- a change amounting to a de facto eviction -- the Occupiers' tents remained for months as symbols of the occupation.

In the end, the McPherson camp appeared to dwindle on its own.


Occupiers now ensconced in an office suite at 16th and L streets are unsure what will become of their McPherson presence. They're considering launching "one-day occupations," setting up tents and information tables at different parks around the city to continue their protests. They may even re-Occupy another park. On Monday, the Occupiers gathered outside mortgage giant Freddie Mac to support a local woman's fight against foreclosure.

But businesses around McPherson said life near the park is back to normal after the neighborhood's months-long occupation. A Starbucks near the park that for months had been crowded with blogging Occupiers is once again serving local office workers.

"It's quieter now," one Starbucks employee said Monday, adding that the store didn't field too many complaints during Occupy's stay in the park.

Georgia Brown's restaurant General Manager Ayanna Brown is happy patrons don't have to deal with smells from the camp's portable toilets anymore. Across the park, Hershey's Ice Cream employee Lupe Vera is glad she doesn't have to deal with protesters urinating in the park anymore. And Mehdi Dris, owner of the Italian restaurant Siroc, is grateful just to have McPherson back.

"We love our park," he said, "and we're coming back to it again."

awhelan@washingtonexaminer.com

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