"Occupy Wall Street" protestors cleaned Manhattan's Zuccotti Park on Thursday, ahead of Friday's scheduled clean-up by the private space's owners, and the AFL-CIO called on its members to stand guard by the space overnight to prevent eviction of the demonstrators.
The AFL-CIO sent out a mass email to its members Thursday night, capping an uncertain day that began with the park's owners, Brookfield Properties, giving out notices to protesters Thursday morning telling them to clear out by Friday morning.
The cleaning is set to begin at 7 a.m. Friday and will take place in stages, with each part estimated to take around four hours to complete.
Protestors who are objecting to corporate greed and the economic gap between rich and poor have camped in the privately owned park for more than four weeks. They have brought tents, tarps, sleeping bags, couches and even a communal kitchen, all of which are banned by the company's park rules.
During a surprise visit to Zuccotti Park on Wednesday night, Mayor Michael Bloomberg assured protestors that they could return after the park is cleaned. However, the notices include new rules for protestors once they return.
The statement says demonstrators are no longer allowed to use tarps, lay on the ground or on benches, or use sleeping bags. The protesters will also be screened to make sure they are not carrying those forbidden items.
The mayor's office issued a statement Thursday saying in part, "We will continue to defend and guarantee their free speech rights, but those rights do not include the ability to infringe on the rights of others, which is why the rules governing the park will be enforced.”
Throughout Thursday, protesters said they feared the scheduled cleaning will be the first step in trying to get rid of their movement, so they spent the day emptying the park of trash. Protesters and sympathizers were asked on Facebook to use their own cleaning supplies on the plaza.
"I feel an energy and I feel a worry in me that something bad is going to happen," said a protester late Thursday.
A protest against the cleaning efforts is set to start at 6 a.m. Friday, and some demonstrators said if officials try to remove them from the park, they would form a human chain surrounding their camp.
"Sometimes freedom smells a little bit, get used to it. We're cleaning ourselves, there's nothing wrong with this park. We've been cleaning it as we go along. Also, from the city, hasn't come down here and put porta-potties up," said one protestor.
"I don't think he will be able to clean this place up. Even if he does, I think the peace that will be lifted up will be planted somewhere else," said another.
"I'm going to stay here as long as possible," said a third. "I'm not going to be punching police and stuff, that's out of control, you know? It's all peaceful, but if I have to be dragged, I have to be dragged."
Elected leaders joined political and community groups to march on City Hall with a petition reportedly containing hundreds of thousands of signatures to stop the eviction.
"I say to the mayor, this is not the right way to proceed," said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.
"Issues of cleanliness, I believe, are a ruse, a disguise and nothing more than an excuse to end Occupy Wall Street," said Brooklyn Councilwoman Letitia James.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said on Thursday that officers will be on hand to make sure the cleanup goes smoothly.
"They now have decided that they want to clean the area and they're going to do that. We'll stand by to make sure the peace is maintained," Kelly said.
Zuccotti Park is privately owned but zoning regulations require the public have 24-hour access.
Kelly said Brookfield Properties will likely screen the protesters before they are allowed back on the lawn to make sure they are not carrying any prohibited items.