The owner of the private park where Wall Street protesters are camped out gave them notice Thursday that after it power-washes the space it will begin enforcing regulations, which prohibit everything from lying down on benches to storing personal property on the ground.
The protesters' response was to plan a demonstration for an hour before they are supposed to evacuate Zuccotti Park while it is cleaned with power washers Friday morning. They believe the effort is an attempt to end the protest, which triggered a movement against unequal distribution of wealth that has spread across the globe.
Protest spokesman Patrick Bruner sent an email to supporters Thursday asking them to join the protesters at 6 a.m. Friday to "defend the occupation from eviction."
The owner, Brookfield Properties, earlier handed out a notice to protesters saying they would be allowed back in the park after the cleanup if they abide by park regulations.
The notice lists regulations including no tents, no tarps or sleeping bags on the ground, no lying on benches and no storage of personal property on the ground. All those practices have been common at the park, where protesters have lived, slept and eaten for nearly a month.
"They're going to use the cleanup to get us out of here," said Justin Wedes, 25, a part-time public high school science teacher from Brooklyn. "It's a de facto eviction notice."
Police officers escorted representatives of the company as the notices were passed out to demonstrators.
The notice from Brookfield Properties stated that the 12-hour, section-by-section cleaning is slated to begin at 7 a.m. and is part of daily upkeep, and that conditions have deteriorated in recent weeks because that upkeep was put on hold by the protesters.
There was a scramble of activity Thursday afternoon as demonstrators began cleaning the park themselves. Part of the plaza was blocked off with red tape. Within that area, protesters scrubbed benches and mopped stone flooring. Some people even replanted flower beds.
The self-organized sanitation team even hired a private garbage truck to pick up discarded curbside garbage and announced a storage area at the corner of the park.
Protester Dylan O'Keefe, an unemployed 19-year-old from Northampton, Mass., was tying red tape marked with the word "danger" around trees.
"We're trying to clean the entire park, mobilizing everyone," O'Keefe said. "We don't want anyone to get hurt."
The regulations are not new — they existed prior to the occupation — but they have not been enforced until now. Because the park is private property, police will not make arrests unless Brookfield requests assistance and laws are broken.
Brookfield confirmed Thursday that the notices were passed out to demonstrators, but spokeswoman Melissa Coley would not comment on how the regulations would be enforced.
"As sections of the park are cleaned, they will reopen to the public," Brookfield said in an emailed statement. "All are welcome to enjoy the park for its intended purpose as an open neighborhood plaza, in compliance with posted rules."
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said police will stand by during the cleaning and ensure it proceeds peacefully.
"After it's cleaned, they'll be able to come back, but they won't be able to bring back the gear, the equipment, sleeping bags," Kelly said. "That sort of thing will not be able to be brought back into the park."
Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway said in a statement Wednesday that the protest has "created unsanitary conditions and considerable wear and tear on the park." He said Brookfield sent a letter to police asking for help to clear the park.
The protest, known as Occupy Wall Street, has sympathetic groups in other cities which each stage their own local rallies and demonstrations: Occupy Boston, Occupy Cincinnati, Occupy Houston, Occupy Los Angeles, Occupy Philadelphia, Occupy Providence, Occupy Salt Lake, and Occupy Seattle, among them.
Several protests are planned this weekend across the U.S. and Canada, and European activists are also organizing.