Three weeks after it began, Occupy Wall Street is getting its second wind. While the much-ballyhooed Radiohead concert turned out to be a hoax, the group is riding a wave of celebrity support, and the growth of linked protests in other cities suggest that the movement is gaining momentum. Even this past weekend's 700 Brooklyn Bridge arrests have worked to OWS' advantage, yielding a fresh influx of media attention. But even with that new burst of energy and the regular arrival of additional protesters, the question remains: How long can Occupy Wall Street continue to occupy Wall Street?
Zuccotti Park is the key: New York City parks are closed at night, making it impossible for OWS to legally set up headquarters on public property. Zuccotti, on the other hand, is privately-owned, but available to the public, making it a sort of legal gray area that has made it possible for OWS to set up shop there. However, many protesters are worried that the park could be seized by the police, effectively leaving the protest without a home. As one protester, Eli, told DailyFinance, "We need to have a strong presence here at all time. If we all leave the park, we could be locked out."
Foraging in the Financial District
But while the 33,000 square foot park has plenty of space, and is conveniently located a few blocks from Wall Street, it doesn't offer many amenities. Granite-lined, with a collection of stone planters and uncomfortable benches, Zuccotti doesn't have bathrooms, cooking facilities, or other necessities.
When it comes to food, many protesters are providing for themselves. Adam, a Philadelphia-based protester, said that he buys many of his own meals, although he admits that "I have dipped into community food." Similarly, Dave, a Bronx-based protester who has moved into Zuccotti, buys meals at local fast-food restaurants and food carts located in the area, while Jesse, a Washington, D.C.-based participant, brought "a crap-ton of granola" to keep his belly full during the long nights in the park.
Most protesters, however, have taken advantage of the impressive food offerings provided by Occupy Wall Street. Locally, the protesters have accepted food donations from numerous sources, and have encouraged supporters to order food from nearby restaurants. They have also solicited donations through their website. In fact, OWS has generated enough money that it recently decided to convert its food fund into a general infrastructure fund, using excess cash to buy other necessities.
Several protesters lauded the food selection, pointing out that there were options for vegetarians, vegans, and other people with restricted diets. Overall, however, most agreed that they have largely subsisted on one of New York's signature foods. As Ricky, an unemployed, homeless man who has joined the protests, noted, "I've had a lotta slices of pizza ... six or seven in the past two days."
Finding a Soft Bed in the Hard City
With its hard stone surface, Zuccotti Park is hardly an inviting place to lay one's head. Adam, the Philadelphia protester, ruefully noted that he had spent one night on the stone ground, a sleeping situation that he wasn't eager to repeat. Most protesters, however, brought blankets and sleeping bags, while those who found themselves without bedding were able to get some help from organizers. When Kenaska, a Canadian protester, lost her blanket, she got "some blankets from Comfort."
As for shelter, that could be more of a problem. Protesters aren't allowed to erect tents; in fact, an NYPD demand that they take down tents and tarpaulins on Sept. 20 led to seven arrests and some of the protest's first claims of police brutality. Many protesters still sleep under tarps, which help keep the rain out. But with New York's biting autumn coming into full swing, the lack of shelter is likely to become a serious problem.
Staying Clean While Cleaning Up Wall Street
According to some protesters, OWS organizers are working to set up cleaning stations near Zuccotti. Eventually, everyone will -- hopefully! -- be able to take showers in nearby apartments of Manhattanites sympathetic to the cause. For the time being, however, the protesters are on their own. Those who live in the area -- like the Bronx-based Dave -- have used facilities at their workplaces or homes. Others, like Dylan, a protester who lives in Northampton, Mass., have dropped in on friends in the city. The Canada-based Kenaska contracted for a short-term rental in Brooklyn, and continues to use the facilities in the building.
For many protesters, however, the shower problem is still an issue. Some, like D.C.-based Jesse and Philadelphia-based Adam, have foregone showers for the time being. However, they're only staying for a short while. Others, like Ricky, are using washcloths and public restrooms to keep themselves clean.
The Wall Street protests seem to be gaining momentum, but they are also working against a clock: If they hope to induce real change, the protesters will need to maintain a presence in lower Manhattan for several months. While the lack of community hygiene resources can be finessed, winter is looming on the horizon, bringing an opponent more implacable than even the NYPD. Unless Occupy Wall Street can find a way to protect its participants from the elements, the revolution may have to be put on hold.
Also See: Viewpoint: Where's Housing in the 'Occupy' Protests?
Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.