NY winter to test Occupy Wall St protest momentum

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 20, 2011 2:43 PM
NY winter to test Occupy Wall St protest momentum

By Ben Berkowitz and Chris Francescani

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Occupy Wall Street movement is ending its fifth week, and despite its successes so far, people are starting to ask what comes next.

After sparking protests nationwide and globally on October 15 and garnering massive media coverage, the movement now faces fresh challenges. How will it combat media fatigue, cold weather, and how will it focus its demands?

"At some point, as with any tactic, one has to find a second act. That's true with any movement," said Michael Kazin, a professor of social movements at Georgetown University and co-editor of the magazine Dissent.

"I hope that the protesters are flexible enough to be talking about what the next step will be once most of them leave the park," said Kazin. "I don't think the media's going to be writing about so many people sitting in the park if they're still there in December."

Going into last week, the Occupy movement had a target, in the form of the global October 15 protests. It provided a date, a place, even a convenient Twitter hashtag to mobilize allies.

With that achieved, though, there is less of a sense of the next big thing. Organizers are starting to talk about Bank Transfer Day, a November 5 action for supporters to withdraw funds from big banks in favor of credit unions, but that is still more than two weeks hence.

Momentum may be flagging. Twitter activity around the core "OccupyWallSt" hashtag has steadily declined since the October 15 events, according to Trendistic. Meanwhile, heavy rains Wednesday drove about half the protesters out of lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park.

But veteran New York protesters say that as the movement evolves, staying out in the park will become less important.

"There's going to be a challenge in maintaining the same scale of a presence in the plaza in New York City in winter time but I think the movement is becoming more mobile," said Louis Guida, a union organizer and protest veteran. "There may not be a thousand people camping out in the park all winter long, but it's not a camping trip, it's a protest movement."


The protesters of Occupy Wall Street have faced down the police and the city but perhaps its biggest challenger will be the bitter New York winter. Daytime temperatures are dropping into the upper 50s this week and overnight is heading to the freezing point -- two months before winter's official start in December.

"Temp(eratures) will be colder starting this weekend, dropping each night during the next two weeks leading up to temps in the 30s," Nicholas Isabella, the protesters' meteorologist, told Reuters via Twitter.

Isabella, a trained forecaster who now finds himself working on a dinner boat around Manhattan, said he stressed to his compatriots the need to prepare for winter. Huddled over a laptop in the center of the park, he has been something of a lone voice among the more immediate needs of food and shelter.

The occupation's first cold-weather committee met Wednesday night, following a day of pouring rain.

"People sometimes don't realize that the only thing keeping you warm is your own body, so it's not (about) keeping the cold out, it's keeping the warmth inside your body," said Robert Burke of Outward Bound in the borough of Queens who teaches urban-based courses for New York City schools.

Some of protesters already have thermal blankets and there is talk of building snow berms to shelter from wind.

Medical professionals say protesters will run the same risks many of the city's homeless face in winter.

"What we wind up seeing with the homeless in particular is injuries to their feet and hands," said Lisandro Irizarry, the chairman of the emergency medicine department at Brooklyn Hospital Center.

He said people usually manage to keep their hands warm but that feet, particularly when wet, cause significant loss of heat, leading to injuries.

Other cold-weather experts offered some sage advice that most New Yorkers already know, but some tend to forget.

"Your head does not have a lot of fat," said Amy Saxton, a former winter dog sledding course instructor in northern Minnesota who also works for Outward Bound. "It's your body's chimney. The heat flows right up and out of your head. It's the most critical piece of clothing. Hat before gloves, hat before coat. Hat, hat, hat."

(Editing by Mark Egan and Philip Barbara)