Occupy bracing for winter

Occupiers to draw up plan today for colder weather

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Dropping temperatures and other factors have caused the number of people camping with Occupy Pittsburgh to fall in recent weeks.

But those charged with ensuring the physical survival of the group hope a change in the camp's layout and the construction of some temporary shelters, as well as a chance to refine the group's goals, will reverse that trend.

Occupy Pittsburgh will hold meetings today and Sunday to discuss the possibility of adding mulch, building warmer shelters, called yurts, and adding a mess hall that could double as a conference room.

Members of the group's winterization committee, which is charged with making sure protesters survive the coldest months, are dubbing the proposal Occupy 2.0.

"We're hoping that the winterization and more intentional 2.0 effort is going to get people more interested ... in staying," said Bram Reichbaum, part of the winterization committee.

When occupiers first arrived at Mellon Green at Sixth Avenue and Grant Street following a kick-off march and rallies Oct. 15, "We had tents on our backs, we laid them down and we started living," Mr. Reichbaum said from the warmth of his Deutchtown apartment Friday evening.

He described the establishment of the camp, which currently consists of clusters of tents amid make-shift walkways, as "ad hoc."

A few weeks ago, occupiers estimated that 50 to 60 people camped on Mellon Green on an average night. This week, they estimated the number at closer to 20 or 30. About a dozen people mulled around the camp at about 7 p.m. Friday.

As the weeks have passed and the temperatures have dropped, some protesters, including Mr. Reichbaum, have chosen to spend more nights in the warmth of their nearby homes.

Others have left as the group has protested additional causes or debated the merits of some proposed policies -- such as one that would automatically prohibit people from participating in Occupy activities if they are caught bringing drugs or alcohol onto the camp site.

Today's meeting, scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. in the United Steelworkers building, Downtown, will include a discussion on the group's goals, possibly raising questions such as, "Why is occupying Mellon Green still significant?"

The rest of the discussion, which will continue Sunday evening before a 7 p.m. benefit at the Shadow Lounge in East Liberty, will focus on the creation of temporary, physical structures.

The camp has one partially completed yurt and will discuss the idea of building nine more -- six for sleeping and three for other purposes.

A yurt has a wooden floor. A tarp is placed under that floor and wraps up the sides of walls made out of insulated boards, blocking out the elements.

For hundreds, if not thousands, of years, some nomadic groups have built their own forms of yurt-like structures as shelter. About a dozen Pennsylvania state parks rent out yurts, which sometimes include kitchens and bunk-beds, for $216 to $350 a week depending on the number of people they hold and the time of year.

Mr. Reichbaum said Occupy Pittsburgh protesters approved a $13,000 budget to cover the cost of the yurts, as well as some additional tents, sleeping bags and other materials.

But the group doesn't have all that money yet. Mr. Reichbaum estimated that the group had a couple hundred dollars in its newly established bank account this week and said it will rely on donations to cover the rest. Some donations are expected to come from local unions and others the group plans to receive from individuals after it places a donation button on its website, he said. If they don't receive that money, they'll scale back their plans, he said.

"Most of the Occupy movements, the concern on their mind is 'Ouch, there's pepper spray in my face,' " Mr. Reichbaum said.

Because Occupy Pittsburgh has had a peaceful relationship with police and other officials so far, the occupiers have the luxury of focusing on other issues -- such as survival, he said.

"We're preferring to think of winterization as getting ready for spring," he said. "That's what it's about, making sure this movement can stay strong."

Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1438. First Published December 3, 2011 5:00 AM


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