If last weekend's snowstorm downed 1,000 trees in Central Park and left 3 million without power, you can easily imagine that the protesters at Occupy Wall Street are a little worse for the wear. On Saturday, The Guardian's Ryan Devereaux talked to one protester who said, "We're in the Valley Forge stage now." After the New York officials snatched up generators and fuel just a few hours before snowflakes started falling, it's not just the snowstorm that's left the protesters at Occupy Wall Street scrambling for solutions, however, and other camps around the country are doing the same. From in-fighting over valuable resources to a hovering sense of ennui, the movement appears to be facing some tough logistical challenges and we doubt UPS is going to fix them.
Elsewhere on the East Coast, Occupy camps are facing their own challenges, and by working more closely with local officials, they've worked towards different solutions. In Philadelphia, the storm hit just as hard as it did in New York, but thanks to a permit that provides access to the power grid (for a fee) from nearby City Hall, the camps kept their tents heated and computers on. Julia Alford-Fowler, a member of the Occupy Philadelphia Legal Collective and organizer for the movement, says the the bad weather did chase a number of people away, but their increasingly productive relationship with City Hall is providing much appreciated amenities that they hope will attract them back.
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"[The mayor's office] said, 'Look we want to support you guys. We see Philadelphia as the cradle of liberty. We just request 2 things: get a permit and create a group of people who we can liaise with,'" Alford-Fowler told The Atlantic Wire, adding that the heaters actually blew the power at one point but the city got them back online without too much delay. "I think we're kind of the only one that's actually working with the city at a sustainable level. We have a unique kind of thing here."
In Washington, the movement has been slow to take off. Police have been especially accommodating, and Dustin Slaughter, a blogger and documentary filmmaker who's visited several of the protest sites along the East Coast, says that Occupy DC is starting to gain momentum. "The police down there are extremely accommodating because they're used to protests," Slaughter told us. "I witnessed a couple of times when the police would come into the park around 3 a.m. and wake people up because there's an ordinance that you can't sleep in the park after that. So they'd wake people up instead of kicking them out."
The current situation in New York is mixed. Devereaux paints a grim picture of the camp over the weekend, calling the once teeming space "barren" in the bad weather. It's unclear how many participants the slushy conditions chased away, but by Sunday, resilient protesters emerged with some creative solution to their power problem. Because the Fire Department cited the potential dangers of generators and the explosive fuel they require, Occupy Wall Street's organizers found a safer (and greener) solution source of power with custom made bicycle generators that charge batteries. The New York Times explains how the machine works:
[Bicycling human power plant Keegan Stephan] went on to explain that the bronze Schwinn he was pedaling was connected to a flywheel that was, in turn, connected to a dynamo. Energy created by the dynamo flowed through a motor and a one-way diode to charge a bulky black marine battery that sat on the ground next to the bike. … He estimated that it might take six hours of pedaling to charge a battery that would then provide 100 hours of use.
Other logistical issues have proved to be more problematic, however. The New York Daily News reports that the cold weather is also bringing in a new crowd that's causing trouble and pitting one side of the park against the other:
The number of non-participants taking advantage of the resources that the activists have provided — free food, clothing, tarps and sleeping bags, hand-rolled smokes and even books, not to mention a sense of protection from the police, who have increasingly left the park to protect itself — has exploded over the past week, and is threatening to define the occupation itself and overshadow its political and social ambitions. Despite those resources, "spanging" (spare-changing, or panhandling) at Zuccotti has become commonplace, as have fights, near-fights and open-air drug sales.
Having spent time in Zuccotti Park, however, Slaughter denies the Daily News's report. "I never really noticed any contention," he says. "People have always been really open about letting people who are less fortunate into the camps."
Inevitably, it would seem that Occupy the East Coast — which is a term we definitely just made up — won't be scared off by the many Nor'easters to come. The movement in general has been nothing but agile and resourceful since the beginning. Robert Grodt who hitchhiked across the country to participate in the Occupy Wall Street movement maintains that organizers ought not let the logistical challenges distract from the ultimate mission. "If you look on the internet, they're talking about principles of solidarity or they're talking about these little tiny squabbling sort of issues," Grodt told The Guardian. "They have to remember that the reason that we have this sort of voice, the reason that we have that large forum, are the occupations themselves. That is our appeal."
- Politics & Government