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Occupy Wall Street braces for winter

With a snowstorm predicted for New York this weekend, organizers at the outdoor encampment are stocking up on outdoor gear. But the city has made clear it doesn't want them getting too comfortable.

October 28, 2011|By Geraldine Baum, Los Angeles Times
  • Christopher Guerra, 27, of New Jersey has been part of the protest for nearly a month but says he does not sleep in the park every night.
Christopher Guerra, 27, of New Jersey has been part of the protest for nearly… (Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles…)

Reporting from New York — "Is it time to Occupy Miami Beach?" a shivering Max Richmond asked another New York protester as she waited to get Vitamin C near the makeshift medical tent.

They laughed and hugged for warmth.

Since hundreds of anti-greed protesters descended on a park a block from Wall Street this fall, they have faced arrest, sleep deprivation, no bathrooms and rainy weather. They've had their backpacks and iPods stolen and their food tent invaded by freeloaders and tourists. But a downpour Thursday night followed by frost Friday was a reminder to even the most dedicated occupiers of what many have said will be their greatest test — a New York winter.

Organizers have predicted the freezing temperatures and snow would reduce the Lower Manhattan encampment to a small assemblage through winter.

"But that's OK with us," said Richmond, 26, a carpenter from upstate New York. "The hardy will stay. The junkies will go. And in the spring all somebody has to do is declare Occupy Central Park or Occupy Union Square and everyone will return. This was just practice."

With a snowstorm predicted this weekend, the Occupy Wall Street protesters are already huddling at night under tents and tarps, layering on as much clothing as they can, ducking frequently into fast-food restaurants to get warm and occasionally sleeping in subway stations. A 19-year-old from Florida wrote to his mother asking for cold-weather gear. She sent a winter coat (and tucked his retainer in the package).

Even before the temperature had dropped, organizers were preparing for winter by stocking a nearby storage space with hats, gloves, coats, blankets, sleeping bags, food and other supplies. Donations were pouring in from around the country. An organic farmer from Hawaii sent macadamia nuts and bananas.

Mostly the donations have served the group's basic needs, although a few items are in short supply.

"We need shoes like crazy," said Michael Glaser, a young actor from Chicago who has been manning the "comfort station" handing out warm clothes. Wet feet have led to several cases of hypothermia, as well as athlete's and trench foot.

Several protesters were walking around barefoot Friday morning because their shoes had been stolen overnight, Glaser said, and he had nothing to give them.

Since Glaser found wet clothes and blankets on the ground that he had given out only hours before, he has been concerned that supplies are being wasted. He hoped protest coordinators would come up with a solution — fast.

When a rumor spread Thursday night that 250 tents would be handed out, people waited in line for hours. "There was a near riot when we ran out," said Glaser, noting they only had 36.

The large, rectangular park has become a hodgepodge of tarps and tents. Although the owner of Zuccotti Park had invoked a no-tent rule, so far authorities are letting most of them stay up.

It's also clear they don't want the demonstrators to get too comfortable.

City fire and police officials on Friday confiscated gas tanks and half a dozen generators being used for electricity in the makeshift kitchen and for media equipment. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg had declared them a safety hazard. Organizers were baffled; they said fire marshals had inspected the park the day before and hadn't mentioned any violations.

"It's strange that this happens on the first really cold morning," said Bill Dobbs, a volunteer with the press operation. But rather than prompt calls for further rebellion — plans already were underway Friday for an action targeting Midtown banks — organizers said they would ask for the generators back. Several protesters said cooperating with the city at this point in the season seemed important.

"We don't want anyone coming through at night pulling us out of our tents and leaving us out in the cold altogether," said Ray Kachel, 53, an out-of-work videographer from Seattle.

For the last three weeks Kachel has slept on a step in a sleeping bag. He said he hoped that once the weather cleared out more protesters, he'd be able to find a spot in a tent.

"Whether I can sustain a cold, wet winter — well, I'm not certain," Kachel said. "But I'm going to try."

geraldine.baum@latimes.com

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