The rain begins with dawn, pattering our tent without pause. This is the structure’s first big test. We inspect all parts very closely, especially the base perimeter, but find no leakage whatsoever. The real test will come with time, though….can this tent remain dry under long periods of rain?
Knowing that volunteerism will be low today, I spend two hours sweeping up trash and emptying full garbage cans. Although my boots soaked up a whole container of waterproofing just weeks ago, they quickly feel wet. I tie plastic bags over them but the water still enters. My “water resistant” rain pants are also futile, with the only useful piece of clothing being a thin plastic poncho given to me by the Comfort Tent. MMy boots cost $100, the rainsuit $60, the poncho probably less than one dollar.
Sarah and I head out in search of the nearest library, indicated by Google to exist some ten blocks away on East Broadway in Chinatown. Heavy rain suddenly turns to heavy snow, then back again and again, until finally settling on a near-constant mixture of half rain half snow. With Sarah’s phone dead, we are looking for the library based only on our memory of the Google map, and it doesn’t seem to be where we seem to think it should be. Her hat brim holding a half inch of dripping snow, she turns back.
I head on, trying to find Chinatown residents who speak at the English-level required to understand, “Where is the library?”. Winds gust to 30 miles per hour as the temperature drops to 33 degrees. I find the library only after circling the block. Thinking that the half snow will be only snow by late afternoon, I discard my plastic poncho, expecting my two-piece rainsuit to handle it.
The library is small and crowded with old Chinese men who occasionally burp and grunt loudly to themselves. There are just two small packed-full tables equipped with electrical outlets, next to old windows that constantly stream in a large amount of cold air. The internet does work, however, so I spend the afternoon’s remainder using it.
The half snow is not all snow by the 5PM closing time, although the temperature remains less than it had been upon my entry. To the contrary, it’s now more rain than snow, nearly soaking me during the walk back to Zuccotti Park. The revolution is found to be still in place, although under serious stress. Up to a quarter of the tents have collapsed and at least half seem to be abandoned for the time being. Of the occupiers that remain, a couple dozen are still up and working, focused on placing stryofoam insulation under the tents in use.
In immediate need of warmth and dryness, I head straight for my tent. Sarah is there, warm and dry, making me seem silly for being soaked and freezing. I change into dry clothes and crawl into our plush double-sized sleeping bag. Darkness has fallen. As I regain comfort, my mind stops ignoring the surroundings, noticing that something in Zuccotti Park has changed dramatically. And it’s not the weather……it’s singing, laughing and cheers emanating from the few occupied tents. These must be the people I’ve coming here looking for!
Somebody makes sheep noises and I respond. They ba back. Yes, this is definitely a good sign. A white glaring light fills the tent as a voice speaks outside, “I’m here on location at Occupy Wall Street, where the weather…….”. I yell loudly, “OCCUPY WALL STREET!”. The reporter asks her cameraman, “Tell me you got that?”. He didn’t. She repeats her intro again, pausing where I yelled before. I remain silent and she repeats the intro again and again and again. Feeling sorry for her, I yell once again on que. Now she seems to be flustered by the weather, though, stumbling on the rest of her intro time and time again.
Local residents donate hot food to the kitchen all night long, which is delivered right to each tent by hardcore occupiers who do not sleep. “Coffee”, “Pizza”, “Hot Food”, they say while walking up and down the pathways lined with wet tents. Somebody arrives with foam insulation to slide under our tent, which instantly and dramatically improves our situation. At this point it is obvious to us that the revolution is still alive. If this core group of occupiers can withstand such a storm in such high spirits then they can surely withstand the daily storm of chaos that has enveloped the camp.
Occupy Wall Street will not fade out. But it will temporarily loose a couple members to hypothermia overnight. Flashing police cars remain on all sides of the perimeter overnight, watching for anyone in danger. I awaken twice to ambulances screaming up the street.
The rain ceases at dawn, with 24 hours of it leaving our tent damp but by no means soaked. An accumulation of condensation is the only problem, a minor one that’s unavoidable in any ordinary tent. Sarah exits first to get me plastic bags, needed to line my soaked boots. I walk over to the comfort tent looking for a second sweater layer to wear under my coat. A single young man is operating the service from the base of a haphazard clothing mountain that fills the entire tent. “I’m so overwhelmed”, he replies to my request, “It’s crazy in here and I’m so exhausted. There’s nobody helping me. Can you check back again later?”
“Do you want help?”
He looks off into space for a moment before replying, “OK, sure. Come on it. I’m trying to separate wet clothes and dry clothes into different bags and take the wet bags out.” For two hours I sort through the clothing mountain, much of which was wettened overnight when portions of the collapsible tent failed under the weight of rain and snow. A never-ending line of occupiers continues to be served at the tent entrance, mostly seeking gloves, hats and coats. We distribute these items as dry ones are uncovered from the pile.
Apparently, the comfort tent had been overwhelmed with donations and requests overnight, but underwhelmed with volunteers. In the wet pile I uncover everything from brand new tagged clothing to hygiene products to a ten dollar bill in a zip-lock bag. “Where’s the donation box?”, I ask. “Somewhere under the pile”, the stressed man replies.
The first actual comfort committee volunteer arrives and reacts with horror, shutting down the entire operation immediately. An order is yelled and repeated around the Park in traditional OWS style, “MIKE CHECK”, crowd repeats: “MIKE CHECK”, “The Comfort Station is closed until further notice.”, crowd repeats. The committee member asks me to take down the destroyed tent, but as I’m about to do so another apparent committee member says, “We should wait to take this down until we can vote on it together.”
Immediately retreating from such a situation, I discover the kitchen to be in similar circumstances, with a pile of dirty dishes and garbage piled higher than head level. A number of high-strung, somewhat better-dressed women are distributing donations to a line of occupiers at the counter. One of the women in particular is oppressively sharp and bitter with her tones, driving me away to organize the kitchen perimeters while I wait for hot water to arrive. A lazy pidgeon gets stepped on in the chaos. I place the injured bird into a trash can and ask a passerby to take it to the medical tent. The bird flies away upon arrival there.
Some four hours later the dishes are done and stacked neatly, the “sink” counter clean and organized. I walk around the camp in search of scenes to record. My attention is caught by three Germans in front of McDonalds pushing a massive stone reading “BANK.” Knowing this is going to be a scene to follow, I stalk the procession for the next hour as they wheel the stone through and around the park on a dolly cart.
Weighing some 200 pounds and appearing very old, the stone demands attention as it parts the crowds. The German trio, two men and a woman, claim to have found the stone on a roadside in Pennsylvania. “What is this? What should we do with it?”, the taller of the two men asks everyone who stops, “We heard that its part of some kind of ancient organization where people used to put their money into some kind of an institution. Have you heard of that?”
The overwhelming consensus among polled individuals is that the stone looks like a tombstone so the group decides to place it in the park’s central flower bed. “Has this been authorized?” an occupier standing by the bed asks. “Totally authorized”, I reply.
Perfect. This stone is the best display I have seen here yet. It’s organizers are as interesting as their effort here, all members of an artist squatters’ collective in Hamburg. These are the people that I came here to meet. There are many more of you out there. WE NEED YOU!