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Melissa Rocek

Melissa Rocek expresses her disagreement Wednesday with a resolution by the Missoula County Commission to ban overnight sleeping on county property without a permit. "If we all think that banning camping on Missoula County property is the solution to anything in this whole wide world," she says, "we don't grasp the magnitude of the world's problems.

When will the big green tent on the Missoula County Courthouse lawn, which for the past several months has symbolized the Occupy Missoula encampment, come down?

On Friday, the Missoula County commissioners denied Occupy Missoula's request for a permit to continue camping in the downtown area.

The protesters, however, have indicated they're not going anywhere -- at least not before Sunday's general assembly meeting, said Kim Bostrom, an Occupy Missoula participant.

Earlier this week, the commissioners passed a resolution making it illegal to camp on the courthouse lawn without a permit, citing the lack of infrastructure needed to support camping.

However, people are still allowed to assemble and protest on the lawn, according to a letter distributed to Occupy Missoula campers Friday afternoon.

The commissioners wanted to make that point clear following a heated and controversial public hearing earlier this week.

"The resolution, it's only about camping and structures," said Dale Bickell, Missoula County chief administrative officer. "They don't need a permit to protest."

The resolution adopted Jan. 4 applies to all county-owned property -- not just the courthouse lawn -- and took immediate effect. Anyone who continues to camp on the lawn is in violation of the new law and the ultimate penalty would be criminal trespassing charges.

However, the county wouldn't say at what point Missoula County sheriff's deputies will begin enforcing the resolution. Rather, the county is hopeful that Occupy Missoula will voluntarily comply with the new rule, Bickell said.

"It is our expectation that you will comply promptly with the requirements of the resolution and remove all structures and refrain from camping on county property," according to the commissioners' letter.

Following passage of the resolution, Occupy Missoula released a statement, calling the no-camping rule "arbitrary" and demanded that the commissioners not quash people's constitutional rights.

On Sunday, Occupy Missoula will vote on whether to take down the big tent on the courthouse lawn, Bostrom said. Regardless, some protesters have said they will continue camping on the lawn.

In a press release distributed to media outlets and the county on Wednesday, Occupy Missoula participants indicated that they refuse to comply with the new resolution.

"The (Occupy Missoula) protesters peaceably assembled on the courthouse lawn practicing free speech and seeking redress of grievances from our larger government will disobey this unjust resolution," according to the letter.

While the resolution refers to all county-owned property, permits are already required for camping at the Missoula County Fairgrounds and at Fort Missoula, so the new law won't have any effect on the Western Montana Fair.

 

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