"Can't you remove them, like the squirrels?"

Lafayette Park Dispute Continues

June 8, 1982

As reported in the last newsletter (February 1982), the U.S. District Court and the Court of Appeals, in Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Watt, upheld the right of demonstrators to establish a symbolic campsite in Lafayette Park and to sleep there overnight as part of their demonstration activities. Thanks to this ruling, the residents of the "Reaganville" tent city, which received nation-wide media attention, were allowed to remain the entire winter.

CCNV v. Watt involved a group of homeless and destitute persons who wished to maintain their continuing presence in Lafayette park across from the White House. To demonstrate their plight - and their very existence - to those in power, they requested a permit to set up a "symbolic campsite" in the park, and to remain there overnight. Their new home was dubbed "Reaganville", in reference to the "Hooverville" shanties during the depression.

Although the U.S. Department of the Interior decided not to appeal the case to the Supreme Court, it did not give up the fight to ban such demonstration from all federal park land in Washington, D.C. The Court decisions sanctioning "Reaganville" were based on existing departmental regulations permitting symbolic camping regulations that had been agreed upon in negotiations between the Department and the ACLU in settling a previous case concerning demonstrations around the White House. The Department has now proposed new regulations that would completely ban sleeping in the parks.

ACLU/NCA has submitted comments to the Interior Department's National Park Service presenting the view that demonstration activity such as "Reaganville" is protected by the First Amendment, even if the participants sometimes fall asleep during their round the clock vigil. One citizen, who had read The Washington Post's account of the proposed new regulations, submitted comments expressing a view shared by the ACLU: "It seems clear that this proposed rule is designed to prevent embarrassment of having any more "Reaganvilles" spring up in Lafayette Square or any other downtown areas, where their presence makes an effective political statement."

In contrast, a number of people submitted comments to the Park Service supporting its proposed regulations. A sampling of these views included: "The street people types are a little unbalanced in the first place, and they have no business being that close to the president"; "I don't consider their complaints worthy of consideration-anyone who insists the government owed them (sic) housing is whacko!"; "It sure destroys the atmosphere(of the park) to have those degenerates cluttering up the area and destroying the grass"; and "can't you remove them, like the squirrels, and release them in Rock Creek Park?"

At press time, the Interior Department had not yet adopted the proposed regulations. The Community for Creative Non-Violence has already applied for a permit for another "Reaganville" next winter.

Ellen Thomas
PO Box 27217, Washington, DC 20038 USA