Noelle Swan

As Winter Approaches, Occupy Boston Protesters Make Preparations for Battling the Cold

Noelle Swan
New England Post
October 25, 2011
 

Gusts of wind ripped through Occupy Boston‘ s tent city Thursday afternoon, flapping tarps, knocking down dry erase boards, and testing the overall integrity of the settlement. But while this ferocious wind seemed like a stiff jab from the weather, it was nothing compared to the kind of punishment a heavyweight New England winter can bring.

Winters in Boston are long and brutal. Nighttime temperatures can drop below freezing as early as October. In the past, temperatures have fallen as low as -7 degrees Fahrenheit in November according to the National Climatic Data Center. As winter sets in, the cold gets to be outright dangerous. Just ask anyone contending with homelessness, and he or she will tell you how people can lose fingers, come down with illnesses and even die when there is nowhere warm to go.

Officials advise people to limit outdoor exposure to minutes.

So what does this mean for a ragtag group of protesters who plan to camp out 24/7, no matter what the weather does?

The occupiers who have been camping in Dewey Square for the past three weeks in protest of economic injustice and corporate greed show no signs of leaving.

John Ford, an independent bookseller from Plymouth, who runs the Occupy Boston library, said a group of volunteers has begun brainstorming ways to weatherize the campsite. “There has been a lot of interest in this issue,” Ford said. The group is open to suggestions from individuals with experience working in the cold, like bike couriers and members of the military, he said. He plans to solicit donations of polypropylene, thermal, and Gore-Tex clothing.

Chris S., a teacher and graduate student who splits his time between Boston and Providence, declined to give his full name, but had some suggestions for insulating the camp. “I proposed to put everybody up on pallets, insulate underneath, and dome the camp like a giant circus tent.” He added that he was not sure if that would fly with the constant police details surrounding the camp.

The city has made it clear that the occupiers may not erect structures. The mayor had the Public Works Department demolish an information booth built by volunteer architects. Chris said he had heard reports from friends that some police officers were “detaining” protesters trying to carry pallets into the campsite. Chris pointed to the many pallets already employed throughout the camp and suggested, “It appears to be different from shift to shift.”

The fire department will also be keeping a close eye on the occupiers’ preparations for winter. The campsite overflows with tents densely packed in together, an ideal situation for a small fire to become a bigger fire. Adding insulation could add fuel to an already dangerous situation.

Ford said a fire chief contacted him last week with concerns about finding safe ways to keep everyone warm. Ford gave him a tour of the camp on Friday. “We’re working with the fire department to come up with solutions,” he said.

So far, temperatures have been unseasonably warm. Rain has been protesters’ biggest concern.

Frank L., an event manager from Beverly said that warmth has not been much of an issue. Instead, the challenge has been keeping water out, pointing to multiple zippered doorways that had failed to keep out last week’s rains. He has since installed a tarp “awning” that extends over the doorways.

The media tent’s “front porch”—a tarp with several folding chairs underneath a canopy tent—took on the consistency of a waterbed after last week’s rain, with several inches of mud squelching beneath the tarp-floor. The media tent itself was able to narrowly escape this fate because one volunteer had placed pallets and boards underneath the tent. Still, pools of water collected under card tables holding laptops, cell phones, and a nest of chargers.

A few tents away, some protesters set up a pedal powered generator to serve as a charging station. Here, too, water found its way inside the tent. A plastic tub separated the generator housing from water collecting at the edges of the tent.

Protesters will have to address these issues soon if they plan to maintain their occupation much longer. Even the city’s homeless, accustomed to sleeping on the streets, seek out shelters in the wet and cold. One homeless man who pitched a tent on the outskirts of the camp said that he would likely go to a shelter once the snow starts coming down. His tent-mate said he would stay and help shovel.

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