US & Canada

Will Occupy Wall Street withstand the winter cold?

Occupy Wall Street protesters in the comfort station
Image caption Those in position in Zuccotti Park have been trying to plan ahead for winter

A weekend of low temperatures and snow showers in New York offered a taste of what's to come in winter for the Occupy Wall Street protesters in Zuccotti Park.

Seven weeks in, the resourceful protesters at the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Manhattan's Zuccotti Park are trying to stay warm and get their message out.

Chris has found a way to do both - pedalling away on a stationary bike-powered generator.

The New York fire department took away the protest's gas-powered generators on Friday, saying they were a fire risk.

Soon afterwards a local sustainability group came round with bicycle-powered generators. Pedal power is now keeping the laptops, phones and cameras of the protesters' media centre in business.

But even the most productive cyclists can't produce enough energy to power heaters.

Thorin Caristo, a spokesman for the protesters, says they're looking into the legality of small propane heaters, so they can stay warm as the temperature plummets. Solar panels produce only limited energy - the shaded park receives just one full hour of sunlight a day.

Testing the protest

Over at the comfort station protesters sort through the piles of donated clothes and outdoor equipment. Charles is handing out fleeces, hand warmers and brand new scarves.

He's been here since the beginning and doesn't see the dropping temperature as an obstacle to protesters' determination.

"There's something wrong with this nation," says Charles. "Just going online doesn't communicate the frustration.

"When people actually come here, they feel the high degree of anger about what's going on."

Indeed, many protesters see the coming winter as a test of this protest against economic inequality and corporate greed.

"This is when you show how dedicated you are to the movement," says Greg, who started sleeping out back in September.

"Nothing worth anything comes without a struggle. I waited all my life for this and as an African American I know the struggle can take time."

'Stop all the nonsense'

Sleeping in tents on the hard concrete floor of Zuccotti Park will become even more of a challenge in sub-zero temperatures.

Image caption Donations have helped make the camp self-sufficient

The protesters are trying to get cot beds, so they will be off the floor. Plastic pallets are another option, to guard against the rain.

Some sympathisers living nearby are allowing the protesters to use their toilets and showers.

Local businesses have complained vociferously about their bathrooms being used and a community board meeting last week heard complaints of protesters urinating and defecating in the streets.

Mouse, a young woman accustomed to sleeping rough, sits in her sleeping bag cuddling her dog Ruckus.

"Last night was my first time sleeping out down here," she says. "This has gotten people together and given them a space, a forum where they can discuss inequality and injustice."

The number of tents at Zuccotti Park has grown steadily as the weeks have gone on. Now about 200 people are sleeping out, estimates Charles at the comfort station.

In between the tents are sleeping bags, and a man who sleeps on his chair.

Jason, who came here because he was looking for a job, now feels he's fighting back against a system he sees as stacked against him.

"I'll stay here all winter long," says Jason, who sleeps on a chair because he doesn't like to be inside.

"We're getting our point across, soon they'll stop all the nonsense and realise people need jobs and houses."

Rehearsal for winter

The protesters felt the confiscation of their generators by city officials was a tactic to subdue their occupation.

What's next, they wonder - their tents?

Image caption Many are determined to stay in the park as long as possible

Zuccotti Park is a peculiar entity, a privately owned public plaza.

The park's owners, Brookfield Properties, introduced new rules shortly after the protest began, saying tents weren't allowed. But that regulation hasn't been enforced - or not yet.

Thorin Caristo says: "If they try to take our tents down and expose us, that could be a serious human rights violation. Occupy Wall Street has become a presence in the park."

New York City officials won't act until Brookfield Properties makes a formal complaint saying the rules are being broken.

A Brookfield spokeswoman wouldn't comment when approached by the BBC about conditions in the park.

Nearly three weeks ago, Brookfield asked the NYPD to help move the protesters while the park was cleaned - and then backed down as more than 1,000 people gathered at the encampment overnight.

Legal advisers to the protesters say evicting them would be a challenge to their First Amendment right to free speech.

Over at the comfort station, a woman asks where the showers are. "This isn't the Hamptons," snorts a man folding clothes. "Go to a shelter if you want to shower. This is a protest."

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