Thirteen members of the New York City Council on Thursday urged Mayor Michael Bloomberg to allow the "Occupy Wall Street" protesters to remain camped out at Zuccotti Park.
"We are writing to appeal to your not to enforce new rules at Liberty Plaza that would effectively evict the Occupy Wall Street protest," they wrote in a letter. "Please respect the deep traditions of free speech and right of assembly that make this a great, free, diverse, and opinionated city and nation."
Bloomberg went to the protest site on Wednesday, where several hundred people are camped out, to explain the move, which would be the first time the demonstrators are asked to leave, the mayor’s office said. Bloomberg claimed the owners of the plaza wanted to exercise their duty in cleaning it — and that this was their right, although protestors would be allowed back immediately.
But the protesters would not be allowed to bring their sleeping bags, coolers and gear back into the park following the cleanup.
In their letter, the councilmembers said Bloomberg was abridging the protesters' rights of assembly and free speech by imposing the new rules.
"Whether you agree or disagree with what they are saying -- and we are mixed in our opinions -- we believe that it would be a harmful disservice to these democratic traditions to evict them."
In a general assembly vote on Thursday, the protesters decided they would remain at the park and it themselves, setting the stage for a major confrontation with police.
“If the city is drawing a line in the sand over cleaning the park and refuses to accept the reasonable offers by protesters to do a clean up, then the recent statements by the mayor and police commissioner about protecting the right to protest were disingenuous," New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said.
"The city must not use the clean up as a pretext for mass arrests. To do so would be a violation of the spirit of the First Amendment and the spirit of dissent.”