COLUMBIA, SC (WACH, AP) - Occupy Columbia protesters have declared a victory after their post-curfew protest resulted in no arrests, and the director of South Carolina's public safety agency called last week's 6 p.m. order to leave Statehouse grounds a misunderstanding.
Nearly 200 people gathered Monday night at the Statehouse to challenge Gov. Nikki Haley's order to arrest anyone protesting on Statehouse grounds after 6 p.m. Nineteen people were arrested last Wednesday following Haley's announcement.
With officers watching from the sidelines Monday, protesters chanted that Haley's order took away First Amendment rights of free speech. The hour-long rally ended with no arrests.
"The first amendment does not end at 6 p.m. There no time limit on the first amendment," said demonstrator Deborah Adams.
The Midlands grandmother has been protesting with the Occupy group since they first started rallying at the Statehouse on October 15.Related Stories Columbia refused to assist state officers remove Occupiers Occupy demonstrators arrested at State House Occupy Columbia protesters hit the road
"It's very much a victory. But it's not a victory just for us," said protester Bill Kreml, a retired professor. "You have to remember that we're just representing a very large part of the American populace that has really been squeezed these last decades."
South Carolina Department of Public Safety Director Leroy Smith told reporters that protesters can stay as long as they like as long as they don't camp out with 'living gear," like sleeping bags and food tables.
" If they want to come out and voice their concerns we will welcome that," said Smith.
When an Occupy demonstrator asked if the dusk to dawn curfew had been rescinded, Smith responded by saying he believed "there was a misunderstanding about the curfew."
Protesters say officials are clearly backpedaling.
Roughly an hour after their rally ended, the Occupy group announced they would be holding a "sleeping bag protest" Monday night to challenge the state's most recent order banning overnight camping gear on the State House grounds.
"We don't believe that our first amendment rights cease to exist when we enter a sleeping bag. Therefore, we are calling for a SLEEPING BAG PROTEST tonight," said the Occupy group via an emailed press release Monday night.
Shortly after 10 p.m. there were at least two do zen Occupy protesters still on the grounds.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)