Rain On Occupy Wall Street Foreshadows Coming Winter Challenges

Rain On Occupy Wall Street Foreshadows Coming Winter Challenges

On Thursday morning, a steady cold drizzle thinned the crowd in Zuccotti Park to the bare bones: full time occupiers, a handful of dedicated supporters and a couple of rain-gear protected Swedish tourists. The usually packed walkways between encampments were mostly empty as people stayed in their tents or huddled under the tarps set up over various work stations.

As the Occupy Wall Street protesters enter their 41st day in Zuccotti Park, the damp and chilly weather is a strong reminder of an upcoming critical challenge to sustaining the movement's momentum: Winter is coming. Whether sufficient preparations are underway remains an open question.

Since the movement's inception, 70 or so working groups have sprung up to deal with needs from the philosophical -- such as "no representation," a group devoted to opposing any proposals that "would reduce our horizontal, direct-consensus democracy" -- to the extremely practical, like those for "comfort," "the people's kitchen" and "sanitation."

While many of the working groups had tarps strung up to provide full cover over their stations, the comfort working group -- which encompasses clothes, laundry, sleeping supplies and other protections from the elements -- did not. They ran out of tarps after using one to protect a pile of still-dry clothing.

They are also out of lip balm and are running low on ponchos, dry pants and warm hats.

"We can't control the weather, but we can prepare for it it," said Joseph Midgley, 46, a volunteer for Picture the Homeless. Picture the Homeless has a spot in the park, and volunteers rotate to keep it staffed.

Midgley spends two nights a week in the tent. So far, in terms of preparation for winter, his group has a been collecting thermal blankets, sleeping bags and warm hats. At the moment, heaters are not part of the plan for winter, as far as Midgley knows.

"This, right now, is not cold," Midgley said, gesturing into the rain. "But I've been living in New York City for 30 years and it will get cold. It's just a part of life here."

The occupiers surveyed this morning did not appear to know of a plan in place to deal with increasingly cold and bitter days. On the comfort working group forum, only a handful of posts are related to winter preparation. A nearly two-day-old post titled "winter is coming" urges action: "After each conversation [about preparations for winter,] it has been suggested that 'comfort' is the right group to spear head these initiatives." So far, only one post has appeared in response.

According to one member of the finance working group, no winter spending proposals have thus far been put forth to the General Assembly, the daily meeting where all decisions are currently voted on by attendees. The Occupy Wall Street movement currently has over $300,000 in donations in the bank -- a significant drop from Monday's communal spending count of over $400,000.

In the meantime, a steady stream of soaking occupiers approached a table surrounded by boxes of wet sleeping bags, presided over by Raphael Rosario, a 47-year-old computer technician who has been occupying the park for three weeks and is a member of the comfort group.

A young, dark-haired, rail-thin man grabbed a garbage bag to the side of the comfort station. "Can I use this for a poncho?" he asked Rosario.

Rosario shook his head, "You need a poncho? I got one right here." He tossed it over and then turned to a shirtless man to his left, "You could cut diamonds with those, man," he laughed. "Take a poncho, please. Take some hand-warmers, too."

A man with an umbrella and an SEIU local 1199 jacket walked up. "Hey comfort, how's it going? What do you need?" Jesse, the SEIU organizer asked.

"We've been making the rounds, asking people what they need," he explained, adding that they have already brought down hundreds of ponchos and woolen hats. "We're here to help. This is our fight too," he said.

But none of those in the park appeared to be too concerned about the present, or approaching, chill. Rosario, in a soggy woolen jacket and a wool hat, said that, yes, it was cold, and yes, he had been busy, but no, he wasn't worried about the coming winter. He is here, he says, because he believes in the movement.

"It's just been such a pleasurable experience to be able to help people," he said, brushing the rain off his face. "This is the thing, okay, that people don't understand yet: This movement is like a palm tree rooted in the ground in a storm. It doesn't matter how much the world shakes us -- the cops all around us, the rain, the coming winter -- we're here. None of it makes a difference, the only difference is if the system changes."

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