Occupiers attempt Central Park
Winter causes group to dig in heels
At 11:11 p.m. on Nov. 11, Wall Street occupiers prepared for their next big move: an all night prayer circle in the most famous and protected public space in New York City, Central Park.
It was part of an essential step to prepare for the coming winter. Zuccotti Park, a concrete slab, poses a huge challenge to occupiers preparing for the long haul. Central Park is being considered as an alternate location as the movement progresses.
The strategy was for a group of Zuccotti Park residents to organize a prayer circle under the ‘Freedom Tree’ of Central Park. The curfew for Central Park is 1 a.m. As 11:30 p.m. neared, the candlelit prayer circle began to flood with the light—the headlights of cop cars lining the street preparing to make arrests.
“We’re going to petition the government in public, or we’re going to be on film while the NYPD drags us away,” said Wes Trexler earlier in the day.
He and two other Occupy members involved in the prayer circle were later arrested when they refused to leave Central Park. They were later released on no bail with a trial date set.
“We are a social movement. We need to be in the public parks,” said Wes early in the day on Nov. 11. “All over the U.S.A they are in the public parks. This here is the centre of this movement and we’re stuck in granite—we can’t even set up our tents right. Come winter we need a place to build our igloos and dig in.”
Trexler says the plan is for Zuccotti Park to become an administrative centre for the movement while protesters find public spaces to pitch tents properly as the temperature drops.
The close quarters of Zuccotti Park residents also poses huge health risks. Sherman Jackson, a former NYC city official and Occupy media representative says that if too many people get sick, the group is at risk of eviction due to the risk of epidemic the group poses.
“We want to get change happening so we can go back to our jobs and our homes,” says Trexler. “No one really wants to camp out in the winter in New York City.”
Gail Swithenbank has been volunteering in the Zuccotti Park kitchen for five weeks. She believes protesters have what it takes to last through the winter. “We had a huge snowstorm a few weeks ago and it was good because I think everybody who was dreading the winter found that it wasn’t as bad as they thought,” she says.
She says the community came together, providing hundreds of sleeping bags, hot beverages, and food and tent pallets to get people off the cold cement. There was even a massive donation of mitts, scarves and hats from a local knitting group.
“These people are pretty hearty, and they’re determined. Remember, some of these people live on the street anyways. They know how to survive.”
Jason Holmsea is one of those determined individuals. He and his wife plan to do whatever it takes to last through the winter, with or without Central Park. Holmsea also runs an animal centre in Zuccotti Park, looking after as many as 20 dogs at a time, not too mention a few cats, and, as always in NYC, rats.
“Some people are definitely going to leave. That’s for sure. A lot of people just see this as a cool place to chill and party, and winter’s going to cut down that a lot.”
He says that at the minimum, the group needs to keep their numbers up enough so that eviction remains difficult. Wrapped in sweaters, blankets and a blue tarp, Holmsea says he’s ready to take on that challenge. “Winter’s coming so we’ll soon see. We can speculate all we want but we’re not going to know until winter is here and real cold begins.”