After nearly three months on the sidewalk at the corner of Ward and Beretania, Occupy Honolulu protesters now have just hours left before they’re forced to give up their belongings or find a new home.

City officials this morning roused campers and posted 24-hour removal notices on everything from tents to bikes to tables and chairs and even the signs that the group uses to share its anti-corporation and anti-capitalist message.

The officials insisted they were merely enforcing what they’ve termed the “stored property ordinance,” passed last year by the Honolulu City Council and signed into law by Mayor Peter Carlisle. The new law has been used in recent weeks to clear homeless people from public sidewalks in Moiliili and Iwilei.

(Civil Beat visited Moiliili Baseball Field and Old Stadium Park Wednesday and found the sidewalks were largely clear of homeless campers. Read more and see pictures in Inside Honolulu.

“This is definitely about stored property, it’s not about people,” said Trish Morikawa from the Office of Housing at an impromptu press conference at Thomas Square as the notice operation got started around 9 a.m. “We’ve actually explained to a lot of the people that are here that they have the right to stand here with their signs and have their First Amendment rights. It’s just the property that’s being stored here cannot be here. So that’s all it is.”

Morikawa said the city received more than 30 complaints from businesses, neighbors, park users, passing motorists and anonymous residents who wanted the city to evict the campers.

“If they’re holding their signs, or if they have signs, or if they’re saying that those signs are with them, then we’re definitely not going to be issuing notices for those,” she said. “We are very much trying to be aware of people’s First Amendment rights and want to make sure that they have that opportunity to be standing here, to be protesting, to do what they want to do. So we are being very cognizant of that.”

Morikawa said the city would not prevent protesters from making their voices heard. She said workers would not confiscate attended chairs or signs, an accommodation not afforded to the homeless people at other parks.

But protesters say their mere presence at Thomas Square is a form of speech, and complained that the eviction is an invasion of their First Amendment rights.

“We can hold signs until the cows come home, but unless we are at one location where the public knows we are, and they can come and talk and have their questions and dispel myths, I think that’s what this was about,” one of the protesters, 24-year-old Jamie Baldwin, told Civil Beat. “It’s about having a centralized location for community-building, and that’s being taken away.”

Baldwin was among eight protesters arrested in November for staying inside the park after it was closed. She said that camping is an important part of the Occupy movement because sleeping next to strangers helps build relationships that can’t be forged in a normal 9-to-5 setting.

Baldwin said Occupy protesters have been treated better in Hawaii than they have elsewhere.

“Here, I think we’ve been pretty lucky. We’re actually one of the last encampments nationally. There’s not very many left,” she said.

Despite that comparatively good treatment from officials and the fact that protesters had been warned in a meeting with Carlisle that they would not be able to stay long, Baldwin said she’s still frustrated and sad. She and an associate said the group has contingency plans in place, but declined to tip their hand in advance of what might become a confrontation with workers Thursday.

When the bill passed, protesters chanted their displeasure at Honolulu Hale. They’ve specifically targeted Council member Tulsi Gabbard, who introduced the measure and pressed for its passage. Gabbard is in Washington D.C. this week, working Capitol Hill as she runs for Congress.

The official Occupy Honolulu Twitter account wrote Wednesday that Gabbard and “her stormtroopers” were at the park enforcing the law. The tweet included a photo of Baldwin and two other protesters holding a profanity-laden sign:

Source: @OccupyHonolulu

Officials said police would be back with regular workers Thursday at 9 a.m. in case the situation got out of hand.

Not everyone at Thomas Square Wednesday was unhappy with the city’s action.

Josiah Bray, an 88-year-old neighbor, came down to thank city officials for clearing the area. He said he complained after finding half-eaten food along the side of the road near his home.

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