You can’t continue the fight if you get frostbite: how to live at a protest and learn from the Occupy movement

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Occupy Wall Street Chihuahua 2011 Shankbone 3

We live in interesting times — times when thousands of people around the world are claiming their rights to free speech extend to the right to occupy a public place as a statement of protest. Now, there are plenty of people not living at Occupations who are still participating in the movement, but an important part of the movement involves the people camping. Here’s advice from the lines.

Pack wisely

Consider carefully what you really need to take with you. I’m not going to make a list of everything you should pack — I think y’all can handle that. But I do have advice!

  • Opt, wherever possible, to select stuff that multitasks. Tools, toiletry goods, clothes. You won’t have a ton of space and you maybe have to move frequently — many Occupations must move all tents every few days so as not to kill park grasses.
  • When I camp for long periods, I plan to be able to carry everything in two sizeable bags: one for camping equipment, and one for daily use with clothes, toiletries, and tools. Ideally, both are easy to carry.
  • Plan to share. Occupy camps are all about all-for-one-and-one-for-all, so if you forget to bring moleskin for your blisters after a march, hopefully someone else will step in. And later? You might be able to provide someone with a much-needed safety pin or clipboard or pair of gloves. Remember, the movement needs bodies, so even if you can’t get together everything you need, just show up. At our camp? We’ve had some people show up with three tents and others show up without any.

Winterize, winterize, winterize

  • Eschew cotton. It collects moisture instead of wicking it away like synthetics. It’ll make you cold. Maybe even hypothermic.
  • Layers, layers, layers. Layers help trap warm air, adding more insulation, and being able to remove layers can help you avoid breaking a sweat.
  • Don’t break a sweat. It’s dangerous when it’s cold.
  • Improve your tent: put a small tent inside a bigger tent and stuff the intervening layer with leaves. You might also consider laying insulation under your tent, stacking straw bales or bags of leaves around the walls of your tent.
  • Stay hydrated. Getting up to pee will keep blood moving, and being well-watered makes it easier for your body to regular temperatures.

Get along

Day 12 Occupy Wall Street September 28 2011 Shankbone 22There are particular peculiarities in the leaderless commune that is an Occupation. When there’s no leader, people have to navigate society missing an important buffer: someone else to blame things on. Instead, everyone deals with everyone else, and that can make for a prickly atmosphere.

  • Introduce yourself to everyone. This seems super common-sense, but I see lots of people at Occupy Des Moines skip this step.
  • Deal with people directly when you have a problem. This might seem like an overly-obvious tip, but bear with me. Everyone avoids head-on confrontations at least some of the time, but when you’re trying to work in a “leader-FULL” group, you have to let all the buck stop with you because there is no Mommy or Daddy or Teacher or Bigger Badder Best Friend to solve your problems when you can’t or would rather not.
  • Participate in camp goings-on. As conditions change, other campers will share information. I don’t know what other Occupations are like, but I’d bet many are similar to ours — with a stereotypically burly man in plaid who warms everyone’s heart and is the de facto Facilities Committee charman. He’s a nice dude and you should be friends with him — you’ll have the flyest, warmest tent around.

If you need more ideas about how to prepare yourself for winterization, Occupy Together has a good list of tips. If winter isn’t your problem, the Occupy Together manual has loads of useful stuff, too.

If you’ve joined an occupation — or, heck, you’ve spent two weeks camping in the Badlands every summer since high school — share your best tips in the comments.

Comments on You can’t continue the fight if you get frostbite: how to live at a protest and learn from the Occupy movement

  1. To stay warm while sleeping:

    Use a sleeping pad or two! Anything that keeps you off of the ground and provides insulation will help a lot.

    Drink something warm (not too much) or eat before going to bed. The digestion will warm you up.

    Once you get into your sleeping bag, do a few sit-ups to get warmed up. Cinch your bag up around your head if possible. Remember that any empty space in your sleeping bag is just air that your body has to help heat.

    If you can, wear fleece, wool, or synthetic materials (like spandex, etc.). They will keep you comfortable and dry. Cotton = wet and cold. The best thing to wear inside your sleeping bag is long underwear, hat, and socks.

    • I have to respectfully disagree with the digestion thing. I always get really cold after eating, especially in the evenings. I think ’cause all my blood is going to my stomach to help it digest!

      I am going to second the wool suggestion. 100% wool will keep you warm even when it’s wet. Just ask sailors and fishermen.

  2. Insulate with cardboard! Go to a store and ask for boxes- whole or broken down and put them (flattened) under your sleeping bag or tent to insulate yourself from the ground. There’s a reason the homeless do this!

    If you’re putting new clothes on the next day keep them in your sleeping bag so they’re warm when you change.
    Keep an eye out for holiday sales on fleece or fleece blankets at the fabric store. Check their remnant bins for discount fabric you can make impromptu scarves with.

    If you can sew bring a small sewing kit and offer to do small repairs for people- this is an important skill and people will need you! Also consider using fabric scraps to make mittens, which are more effective than gloves.

  3. When it’s cold it super important to waer socks that fit closely to your feet while you are sleeping and they need to not be the sweaty socks you were wearing all day. Alos wear a hat or hoodie to bed to keep your head warm. I always liked to have a fleece throw on my pillow so I could roll over and warm my face up.

  4. “If you’re putting new clothes on the next day keep them in your sleeping bag so they’re warm when you change.”

    This isn’t necessarily a good idea. When you keep clothes with you in your sleeping bag, you have to spend energy warming them up and keeping them warm. That’s energy that could have gone into making you warm.
    If you want warm clothes in the morning, it might be a better idea to just take them into your sleeping bag a little while before you get up. And like Colleen said, sleep in long underwear, hat, and socks.

    • “This isn’t necessarily a good idea. When you keep clothes with you in your sleeping bag, you have to spend energy warming them up and keeping them warm. That’s energy that could have gone into making you warm.”

      But if you use them as part of the layers that keep you off the ground and insulated doesn’t that make up for the fact that you’re using energy to heat them?
      When I was a sea scout I kept the clothes I was going to wear in my pillow case instead of a pillow. One less thing to bring and it made it warmer than just leaving in my bag

  5. An urban camping tip of another kind: Keep any valuables at the bottom of your (zipped up) sleeping bag at night and with you during the day.

    I’d like to believe this isn’t an issue at Occupy but I feel that would be naive and it’s definately an issue at music festivals where I’ve camped most often.

    Friends and family have had things stolen from all kinds of places, including inside their pillow case, but I’ve never yet heard of a thief who could reach past you into the bottom of your sleeping bag without waking you up.

    (And of course the essential first step is to take only the valuables you need. Bring a phone but maybe leave the iPad at home.)

  6. As close as I’ve gotten to the Occupy movement is donating some blankets to our city’s demonstrators when it started getting frosty here, but I’ve put in time with backpacking. When I was in Outward Bound, we used to travel with a cotton fitted sheet. You could do all sorts of things with that bad boy, and not just use it for a toasty, breathable layer between you and your sleeping bag. Once we staked sticks to the ground and made a tiny personal tent inside the communal tent with it. Also, while clean underwear is important, it can be turned inside out (always use cotton against your nethers). If you want to bring something important to take up space in your pack, bring clean socks. Your feet will sweat, and being an extremity, will get frost bitten/fungusy sooner. I also like to layer my socks with cheap, thin cotton socks under my wools for extra toasty foot action.

    • Ah, another benefit of wool: it doesn’t get smelly nearly as quickly as cotton or synthetics. Wool socks or wool long underwear (which is expensive) can be worn multiple times without washing, no problem.

  7. This is brilliant, thank you! The only thing I’d add is that synthetics should be the bottom layer, followed by whatever an animal wears. A sheep doesn’t sweat, so while wool works great for him, we will get it wet pretty quickly. Wool is also good in light snow or rain because it will repel small amounts of water. Again, think of why it works so well for Mr Sheep! This is a good time to be a craftivist with all the much needed hats, mittens, and scarves!

  8. fleece (the polyester blend kind) wicks water! use it as a top blanket, overcoat OR as a cape and keep water off yourself.
    As far as winterizing signs goes…..a simple varnish/finish over the sign makes it last for weeks. (tested on the back of my son’s tricycle)

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