Occupy DC protesters brace for the cold as best they can
Snow could arrive at the Occupy DC demonstration a little sooner than protesters had expected, with forecasts warning of a 90% chance of precipitation Saturday that could include snow by the afternoon.
On Friday, protesters were scrambling to find more tents, tarps, sleeping bags, long johns and coats.
But the site’s resident handyman, who wanted to be identified only as Eric, knows it’s going to take a lot more than $1,200 worth of tarps -- bought with donations gathered throughout the month -- and extra layers to keep people occupied and healthy through the winter.
The Occupy DC group of about 100 demonstrators camped in McPherson Square is part of a larger Occupy Wall Street movement that has led to similar encampments around the nation-- and now similar efforts to prepare for the cold. Another protest, known as Stop the Machine, is camped in D.C.'s Freedom Plaza.
“I’ve been going around tents today trying to weatherize them,” said Eric, 50, a carpenter who has been out of work since last year. “But we’ve been talking about maybe building a pavilion out of large tents with outdoor heaters in it so people can come in and get warm when they need to.”
If the Occupy DC group could scrounge the resources and build the shelter without police interruption, Eric said, it could be built in the next week or two. How likely that is remains to be seen; the current encampment -- sans pavilion and heaters -- is itself illegal.
On Thursday night, when the upcoming forecast was first widely reported, protesters held their first meeting to discuss plans for a winter occupation.
Eric said he's slept at the site -- already muddy from frequent rain this fall -- all but two nights since Oct. 8. Then, he said, he was running a high fever after one of the rains. He doesn’t have health insurance and, though determined to stay occupied, is concerned about his health as the barometer drops.
“This cold weather has already gotten in my joints and made me half-way arthritic,” Eric said.
In the meantime, there will be no bonfires with which to keep warm, says Brian Grimes, 34, who has been sleeping on site since Oct. 3; such fires are illegal. Grimes says the prohibition against them might strain the thus-far peaceful relationship with local law enforcement.
For now, he’s donned thick black winter boots, a few sweaters and a coat with “I am the 99%” stenciled on the back. He also sports a thick, red beard that he’ll let grow. But, he points out, he’s a Washington native -- and says the Northeastern cold front sweeping in this weekend won’t phase him.
“There are a lot of people out here saying, ‘It’s cold!’ And then I say, ‘Yeah, but what are you going to do when it’s cold?' " Grimes said.
Washington occupier Lacy MacAuley is confident the group's members will figure something out on the fly, just as they’ve been doing. The winter is when Occupy Wall Street protesters will get to prove just how much more stubborn they can get, she says.
“The 1% doesn’t stop when it gets cold, so I don’t think the 99% can afford to either.”
-- Alexa Vaughn in Washington, D.C.
Photo: At the Occupy DC encampment at McPherson Square in Washington on Friday, even the dog is braced for cold weather. Credit: Nicholas Kamm / AFP/Getty Images