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Standing next to a flickering campfire, Occupy Raleigh demonstrator Shawn Ryan pointed out the ways that his group is preparing for the arrival of winter.
A plastic shelf in the kitchen tent is lined with Campbell’s soup, tuna fish and assorted snacks. The library tent offers a covered space to come in from the cold and enjoy a book.
But before you go traipsing around, be sure to take a dollop from the hand sanitizer bottles kept in abundant supply. Anyone is welcome at the Occupy encampment – but keep your germs away from the tents, please.
A month into its existence, the camp on downtown’s Hillsborough Street has taken on the feel of a community – with common areas, tables and even a few pieces of lawn furniture.
Winter brings new challenges
Cold weather will soon test the resolve of demonstrators. But Ryan seemed unfazed as he sipped from a coffee mug.
“We pretty much have all the amenities – besides a shower,” said the 26-year-old, a full-time occupant since the camp opened.
And even that need has been addressed, Ryan and other campers said. A network of friends and supporters has sprung up in support of the Occupy movement, inviting demonstrators into homes for showers and hot meals.
Allies deliver donations of snacks and supplies to the camp. Ginny Going showed up last week with bananas, coffee grounds, peanut butter and batteries for flashlights.
Going attends church a few blocks away at Pullen Baptist, a congregation known for its social activism. At 69, Going said she’s too old to sleep in a tent – but she’d still like to be involved in the movement.
“I think of them as being neighbors,” she said.
These neighbors just got permission to stay. Last week, Raleigh officials said they would allow the camp to remain after a review by the city attorney’s office found that it does not violate zoning restrictions for the site.
The property owner gave permission for the tent village, which sits on a triangular lot where Hillsborough, Edenton and West streets come together four blocks west of the state Capitol.
Some group members, like Ryan, have taken up full-time residence. Others show up once or twice a week to sleep in their tents, which are monitored during the day by fellow members. The site has grown to about a dozen tents.
A mild start to winter has left many feeling confident.
“Raleigh is not that bad,” said Zack, a demonstrator who declined to give his last name. “They have occupiers in Anchorage, and they have an igloo. Talk about cold.”
The Occupy Raleigh demonstrations are among many nationwide held in sympathy with Occupy Wall Street, where people began gathering in September to protest the uneven distribution of wealth and power in the country.
On Saturday, an Occupy group marching from New York to Georgia clashed with police in Raleigh.
Fifty or so protesters attracted police attention as they chanted and wove through several streets. As the group marched west on Hillsborough Street, police told them to stay on the sidewalks.
Police said that despite being ordered several times to disperse, some of the group refused. Police said they warned protesters they would be arrested if they didn’t comply. Six were arrested.
According to police, the six protesters had home addresses in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Illinois and Alaska. One man was from North Carolina, records show.
The arrests brought a moment of turbulence, but the Occupy Raleigh encampment itself has carried on a mostly low-key existence for the past month.
A man staying at the camp last week identified himself as John, an unemployed handyman and furniture maker. The 60-year-old, who lives in Raleigh, said he followed the protests on TV and in the newspaper, and decided to join Occupy Raleigh about a week ago.
He wants to play a part in bringing attention to inequities in the economy, such as excessive CEO pay.
He’s currently reading “Too Big To Fail,” a book about the factors that led to the U.S. financial crisis. In the mornings, he’s part of a breakfast crew that prepares oatmeal, cereal, fruit and coffee for fellow demonstrators.
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” the man said of his decision to join. “I’m not sure if this is a revolution, but this is as close as we’ve come in quite a while.”