Life in an 'Occupy Wall Street' camp: thermal undies and Porta-Potty please

Even revolutions have more mundane needs, like food and shelter. The folks in 'Occupy Wall Street' camps are quickly becoming experts at how to keep protesters happy (and sanitary).

By , Staff writer

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    A man walks through a make-shift tent city in the Financial District in Boston, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011. Protesters from the Occupy Boston movement vowed to continue their demonstration indefinitely despite the arrests of 129 people who police say refused to leave a plot of downtown land.
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It takes more than clever placards and rousing chants to foment revolution. Sometimes, it takes a clean Porta-Potty.

It may be the more prosaic needs that keep the "Occupy Wall Street" movement afloat. After all, everyone needs to eat and sleep – even while changing the world.

Whether it's beans in Boston or birthday cake in Los Angeles, Occupy Wall Street activists, currently in more than 1,300 cities worldwide according to OccupyTogether.org, are learning what takes day by day.

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How are they doing it? From the start, the media-savvy cohort manning this movement has harnessed the digisphere to organize daily logistics for the occupiers, tweeting requests for everything from black pepper and recyclable soup cups, to solar panels, thermal underwear, and tents.

In Los Angeles, a recent list of needed items reads like a supply list for an invading army: tents, LED flashlights, solar lights for tents and Porta-Potties at night, hanging storage units, blankets, sleeping bags, laptops, gas cans, generators, power tools, screw drivers, and saws.

Instructions for newcomers to Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Ala., say to “come with a poncho and a backpack with ready-to-eat food, water and appropriate clothing."

The instructions continue: "If you cook, the police may stop you and you can't build a campfire in the middle of a national monument. Please be able to keep from starving to death. Bring whatever light you can and some trash bags and a sign. Keep in mind anything you bring may be taken by police or someone else.”

In Boston, weather is big on the organizers' minds as cooler nights loom. Sleeping bags and blankets are high on their lists of requested items, as are small space heaters and generators. Warm clothes are happily accepted, although after a tweet requesting socks generated an outpouring of warm footwear, they rescinded the request. They are also looking for more power. They have a few generators and are looking at alternative energy sources.

“We have some pedal power,” says Stephen Squibb, referring to teams of volunteers on specially fitted bikes to generate electricity. “We welcome anyone who wants to donate any clean, green, sources of alternative power,” he says, adding that they already have a few solar panels. “We’re still figuring out how to use them,” he says.

As for food, lots of cooking is being done onsite, says Mr. Squibb. “We eat lots of burritos, quesadillas, rice and beans,” he says, “mostly for ease of preparation.” A lot of local restaurants donate food, too, he adds.

Back in Los Angeles, on the other hand, “much food is cooked offsite and brought in by supporters,” says 29-year-old film student Joe Briones. “People stop by and bring itmes for us every day,” he says. Cars pull up in front of City Hall, beep their horn, and “we come empty their trunk." This is how a birthday cake arrived one day, he notes. “We’re feeding anywhere from 600 to 800 people every day,” Mr. Briones says.

Trash removal is happening on an ad hoc basis in many Occupy camps. In some cases, teams are charged with removing waste to dumpsters at friendly restaurants or individually packing out one's own trash to their homes.

Not every group has an answer to the most basic question, however.

Los Angeles has brought in portable toilets for the encampment and set up organized lists of nearby homes where protesters are welcome to shower. On the other coast, the activists in Boston have to make do with trips to local restaurants and friends' homes.

Former US marine, Bretton Holmes, who does not consider himself a participant in the movement, has watched the local protesters organize in front of the city hall in Austin, Texas, where he lives. No stranger to setting camp, Mr. Holmes ticks off a few essentials he would recommend to them. “Porta-Potties are critical. Food and water are critical. Sign-making stations are critical. First aid stations are critical,” he says via email.

“The drain that a large number of people can have on the local resources is enormous,” he points out, adding that a small platoon of Marines requires an enormous amount of resources to keep going, and by his estimation, “When there isn't a bona fide disciplined structure in place and the 'force' is amorphous, it can have a devastating effect on the area.” He adds, “Somebody's gonna eventually start clamoring for Porta-Potties and if those aren't forthcoming, it will get nasty in more ways than one.”

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