OWS: 'Occupy' protesters prepare for winter
"Occupy" protesters endured their first major snowstorm over the weekend. Will potentially dangerous winter weather hamper the movement?
Winter is not a good season for an outdoor protest. Just ask any union member who has picketed in Minneapolis in, say, January. So when the cold began to descend on the Occupy Wall Street protesters gathered in cities around the United States, conventional wisdom had it that their movement would wither.Skip to next paragraph
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But if this past weekend's early snowstorm is any indication, the Occupiers have other ideas.
When the storm hit here in Boston on Saturday, for example, the local movement's "winterization" working group was ready. It employed a $1,500 emergency fund to buy tarps, snow boots, fleece blankets, wool socks, a special Gortex spray to waterproof boots and outerwear, and shovels and brooms for snow removal. For the most part, protesters living at Occupy Boston's Dewey Square encampment successfully weathered the storm.
“This was the best possible weather, because it gave people a taste [of the cold] without being dangerous,” said one winterization committee member. “It lets people know that they have to take care of this.”
“We got through it pretty well,” said Eric Martin, an Occupier and graduate student studying physics at Harvard, who has been living at the Dewey Square encampment since the second day of the Boston protests. “My tent was actually hot last night.”
With the full brunt of winter still several weeks away, the winterization group’s long-term efforts are still in the planning stages. But if the scope, organization, and level of detail in the Occupy Boston preparations are a barometer for the mood of “Occupy” movements around the country, one thing seems clear: the protesters have no intention of going anywhere anytime soon.
The group’s most immediate priority is educating residents on how to keep their living spaces warm and dry. “It’s going to be far easier if everyone knows something about winter camping,” said a committee member named Sam, who didn’t give his last name. “Training people will be more effective than us going around and winterizing the whole camp.”
To that end, Occupy Boston has its “winterization” Wikipedia page up and running.
The group also has winter camping training sessions scheduled throughout the week, which will put members of the small Dewey Square tent city through the basics: Always have a pair of dry socks on hand; use a zero-degree sleeping bag; never put a heating source inside a tent; don’t use air mattresses (any cold air circulating under a body can be dangerous); and always sleep two people to a tent. Someone suggested reaching out to local Boy Scout organizations to help with the training, or having the Red Cross come through and inspect the campsite.
The camp has long encouraged its members to use a buddy system to keep track of one another, a precaution that the committee thinks will only become more critical as the weather turns cold. Partners can watch for any signs of illness in one another. The winterization group is also working on making it a requirement that Occupiers use two-person residential tents, which are easier to keep warm than the larger ones.
The buddy system is important, too, in identifying residents who are particularly vulnerable to the cold, and encouraging them to seek shelter indoors.
“There are some people who just aren’t going to be able to stay there,” said Sam, the committee member.
Other immediate preparations include distributing fliers detailing the warning signs of hypothermia, inspecting the encampment and “citing” tents that aren’t fit for the cold, and setting up an “example tent” for residents to use as a guide.