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The House Oversight Committee‘s D.C. subcommittee held a hearing today on the legality of Occupy D.C.’s presence in McPherson Square. Let’s set aside, for a moment, the absurdity of spending significant time on a protest that isn’t impacting the lives of most D.C. residents in any measurable way—despite the assertion that Occupy has brought the city to its “breaking point”—and not say, high levels of black unemployment.
The hearing featured a pretty predictable set of questioning, falling along partisan lines, with GOP Reps. Darrell Issa, of California, and Joe Walsh, of Illinois, asking the National Park Service to define “camping” and insisting that the department has been derelict in its duty by letting the Occupiers remain. (Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier, deputy mayor for public safety Paul Quander, and D.C. Department of Health director Mohammed Akhter also testified, though the District doesn’t have jurisdiction over the park.)
Though Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis said the group is holding a 24-hour vigil—not camping—committee chair Trey Gowdy of South Carolina defined “camping” as “sleeping or preparing to sleep.” He asked Jarvis, “Is there sleeping going on in McPherson Square?” (The answer was yes, obviously.)
If one thing is clear, it’s that politics have something to do with the interest from Issa and his Republican colleagues in Occupy D.C. It’s difficult to believe that they’d be quite so concerned if Tea Partiers or even this week’s March For Life protesters claimed they were setting up a 24-hour vigil.
Meanwhile, Democrats Elijah Cummings of Maryland and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton lobbed softballs at the Park Service and drew analogies to the evolution of protest action from the civil rights movement. The Park Service largely stepped around the question of why they allowed the Occupiers to stay, chalking it up to “discretion.” And at the conclusion of the hearing, Gowdy made one demand of the Park Service: “Enforce the regulation or change it.”
Legally, of course, the Republicans are well within their rights to ask that Occupy get the boot (and sooner or later, they likely will). The regulations aren’t being followed. But all the same, it’s hard to muster up much sympathy for the Republicans on the committee, who spent time bashing one hundred or so people—none of whom were called to testify—in the name of concern for the wellbeing of the city. D.C. has its fair share of problems, maybe even more; Occupy D.C. isn’t one.