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Preparing For Cold In Zuccotti Park

   /   Oct 27th, 2011National, New York City, News

The Comfort Station offers blankets, sleeping bags, body care, and more to the occupiers of Zuccotti Park

“Next week it’s gonna be very, very cold here. Temperatures at night are gonna be in the low forties, upper thirties – and with wind it’s gonna feel like it’s in the upper twenties,” said Nicholas Isabella, the self-appointed weatherman at Occupy Wall Street, on Monday night. He was stationed in front of his computer, where he was using meteorological software to predict upcoming weather patterns.

Isabella joined the Occupy Wall Street movement on its third day, after a friend insisted that he check it out. “I grew up in a family that was mostly Republican. My friend said to me, ‘Nick, I want you to see it for ten minutes and if you don’t like it you can go home.’ And it totally turned my mind around.” Isabella said that his entire family consisted of Republicans, but visiting Occupy Wall Street made him realize that he didn’t need to comfort to their political beliefs. “I’m twenty-four-years-old and it took me a while to realize that – but this made me realize that,” he said.

Meteorology was Isabella’s major at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, NY, and it occurred to him that Occupy Wall Street might benefit from his skills after he experienced chilly rain in Zuccotti Park last week. “It’s gonna rain tonight and it’s rained here before. It doesn’t really stop the morale of us. You’ll find people singing in the rain,” he said on Monday. Then Isabella excused himself to work on draping an enormous tarp over the Info table.

Around 10pm on Monday, the whole park was busy getting its rain gear on, as a stormy night sky loomed ominously overhead. Thanks to an incident last week in which Jesse Jackson helped protesters deter the NYPD from dismantling a First Aid tent, occupiers in Zuccotti Park have stopped respecting the law against erecting structures there. Tents have sprung up everywhere, lending a triumphant sense of semi-permanence to the encampment.

Clean-up time in Zuccotti Park - and on Wall Street.

On Wednesday, however, problems were emerging in the encampment, due to people using drugs – pot, and reports of heroin– in the tents. The OWS Sanitation Crew was going through each area and trying to clean up, and tensions were running high because people felt that their private space was being violated. A growing divide between the occupiers of Zuccotti Park, who increasingly consist of homeless and the itinerant, and the political activists who first occupied the part on September 17th, may cause problems within the movement moving forward.

For the time being, it looks like the tents will stay – especially since OWS received the approval of the Wall Street Community Board. But winter weather is going to be much more challenging for the occupiers than chilly fall rain– and it’s almost here.

Homeless people who sleep on the streets in New York City start going into shelters in the first week of November, according to Georgianna Glose, the executive director of Brooklyn’s Fort Greene SNAP, which provides social services to local homeless populations. She said that many believe they can stay out in the cold but are on the brink of becoming ill when police finally have to drag them into shelters.

Rumors are flying around Zuccotti Park about what will happen when it gets cold in New York City. And Wall Street, which lacks insulating green space and is windier than other parts of Manhattan, thanks to skyscrapers, will be even colder than other parts of the city. Many occupiers seem determined to stick it out through the tough winter.

“Yeah, it’s gonna get cold,” said Walter DeForest, a forty-year-old Harlem resident who began sleeping in the park on Sunday night. “So you put a couple pairs of socks on. You put a plastic bag over your foot before you put it in your boot – it keeps the heat in. You get gloves, heat warmers. There will always be people here until we get what we need.” What they needed, he said, was economic justice.

On Monday night the OWS weatherman was working on a document that advised occupiers on how to dress in cold weather. “It involves more than just throwing up layers – there’s certain materials you can get so your body doesn’t get sweat,” said Isabella. He had other tips that he’d learned while studying the weather in college. “Even simple things, like if you’ve got a stack of snow this high and you dig out the middle f it, and you sleep in it, you can make yourself dry and it’ll block the wind.” Isabella also said that he had heard of a Winterizing Working Group forming, but he wasn’t sure if it was functioning yet. In the meantime, he was passing on his cold-weather tips to the Comfort Working Group.

The Comfort Group has been stock-piling sleeping bags designed for freezing weather. Hamber Heffner, who came in from Wichita, Kansas for the weekend to glean organizational tips from the original Occupy movement for her hometown’s own occupation, was working the Comfort Station on Monday. “We had this guy, yesterday, come up early in the morning and he was like, ‘I’m part of the one percent and I want to help’. He ended up getting complete camping gear for ten people. Air mattresses, tents, sleeping bags, the whole works. Thermals, nail clippers, deodorants. He just came up and asked, ‘What do you need?’ and we just listed off – and he got it all,” she said.

But some protesters aren’t so sure about staying outside. “The rain is devastating. The snow, it’s gonna be cold, wet. It is life threatening. I’ve been talking to some people and we have a couple of ideas. We could occupy subways, we could occupy a warehouse,” said twenty-five-year-old Embi Weitzel, who has been staying in Zuccotti Park since she arrived from Colorado on October 12th.

Her neighbor, twenty-three-year-old Rudy Smith, suggested that staying in the park all winter might not be so important to the movement. “I guess the energy and the life of this movement have spread out further and, though Zuccotti Park – or Liberty Park I guess we’re calling it now – has been such a central point, this nexus of all this rebellious, revolutionary energy, it needs to spread out,” he said.

From Monday to Wednesday nights, there was nothing on the General Assembly’s agendas regarding winter plans. As the Occupy Wall Street movement has gained respect in the mainstream media over the course of its first month, its assembly meetings have attracted massive crowds of tourists and voyeurs who are curious about the consensus-building process. The result has been that assembly meetings are no longer suitable for getting anything done.

“As cool as the idea of the General Assembly is, I feel like it’s slightly flawed,” said Weitzel. “The way it’s structured sometimes, it doesn’t allow democracy.” The process takes too long and inevitably excludes some important ideas, she elaborated.

Last Friday night, a proposal for the creation of a new system, in which decisions were made in smaller groups called “Spokes,” was blocked after hours of intense debate. But many protesters in Zuccotti Park say that decentralization is the only way to decide anything.

“The general assembly, I’ve been one time and I went with someone who’s been involved since the beginning, and he was like, ‘Wow I don’t recognize a single person,’” said Heffner. She added that working groups were taking it upon themselves to make and enact plans.

It seems that most of the occupiers will tough out November, using a variety of strategies. But the ice and snow of December is a different level of cold. The physicality of the park space has, for many who are tired of social media and the rhetoric of online connectivity, been the key factor in the movement’s attractiveness. If energy levels can remain high and people can find ways to sustain a serious conversation about economic justice in the U.S. and worldwide, the movement may not freeze over. At least, that’s the tentative weather prediction.

2 Responses

  1. [...] are running high in activist communities and city boards alike across the nation, as the Occupy Wall Street movement and its sister occupations have begun encountering roadblocks. The Chicago movement has had trouble [...]

  2. [...] The conversation was eventually tabled for another night, since it was going on and on. This is clearly only the beginning of Occupy Wall Street forming anything resembling a platform – and it may never happen through the official channel of the General Assembly. The same heterogeneity that makes OWS strong and beautiful also prevents it from getting behind a specific demand. Instead, the movement is focused on its own self-organization, and lately, staying warm. [...]