The sun isn’t shining on Occupy Wall Street.
As a record October snow fell on New York City today, with over an inch and a half of snow falling in Central Park, a new nemesis for OWS might be taking the place of the NYPD. Ahead of New York’s freezing winter, weather more than anything might be the Occupiers’ undoing, and today was just a taste of things to come. Seeing how the campers at Zuccotti Park deal with deteriorating weather conditions in coming weeks will be testament to the movement’s strength.
Weather could lead the movement towards a climatic confrontation with police, one which has been long-brewing and could add a new dimension to the protests. Mother Nature doesn’t care who is in the 99% or the 1% and will over the next few months spew uncomfortable conditions that will force the movement to seek new solutions to their camping strategy. As the movement seeks to water-proof their camp, they may give authorities the platform they need to evict the protesters from their New York City base.
The movement has been encamped at lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park for almost 50 days, with warm weather and mostly perfect fall days in the early weeks of the movement allowing the protesters to build up a functional community. While it has rained and temperatures have dropped recently into the 40s, the weather has not been too irritable. But more of the snow and sleet which pounded the camp would force protesters to weatherize their position with more than just sleeping bags. Tents and heaters will be necessary, both of which would generate a conundrum for the city’s police and fire departments. A Christian Science Monitor article recently cited one protester as saying the weather will “separate the men from the boys, so to speak.”
Tents aren’t allowed by Zuccotti Park’s private owners, but that has not stopped the protesters from setting up a few canvases (like their medical hut) to shelter themselves. New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and the NYPD have held off on enforcing the no-tent rule, as they have feared a possible violent confrontation with the protesters. Firefighters and police yesterday raided Zuccotti Park, removing generators and gas canisters, citing them as fire hazards.
A full-blown tent city with generators and heaters would be impossible in Zuccotti Park. NYPD – fearing an enclosed encampment and the activities that could be going inside a walled-off Zuccotti Park – would be quick to pull down any concentration of tents. This would lead to escalations between protesters and police in front of the camped-out media, which would broadcast to the world images of a police force tearing down the OWS camp – a PR nightmare for the NYPD. Similarly, watching as protesters fought back would show the world that OWS’ position as peaceful demonstrators is hypocritical. OWS could take on a frightening appearance of anarchy that would stigmatize the movement as a radical and militaristic movement. At least Batman director Chris Nolan would get a few good screen shots for his next movie, The Dark Knight Rises.
The protesters have no legal precedent to pitch tents in Zuccotti Park. A 1980s court case, Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence, found no reason to extend protesters First Amendment rights when concerning their ability to pitch tents in protest. As the protesters camp out encounters these legal barriers, their legitimacy becomes more and more precarious. Suddenly, an action against OWS by NYPD doesn’t look so malicious.
This, though, might be too dramatic. The weather conditions in coming weeks may be too much for the protesters. What's to keep most of them from simply going home?
Weather will only continue to be a stronger adversary for the Occupiers’. Fall rains and winter snows will prove if OWS has the same revolutionary fire which George Washington and his revolutionaries had as they camped out in Valley Forge. Then again, Washington never had NYPD breathing down their necks.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons