Occupy Philly finds a new way to weather the winter

An Occupy Philly member has created a heated, weatherproof temporary structure that he hopes will provide a blueprint for Occupy Philly – and other occupations around the country – to weather the coming cold. The inexpensive, durable “warming station” could be a game-changer for Occupiers looking to ride out the winter.

Fernando Salguero, a volunteer firefighter in Montgomery County and Occupy Philly fixture, said that the idea dawned on him last Saturday, when sleet and freezing rain pelted the encampment and eight people, including an Occupy medic, succumbed to hypothermia. “I realized that we needed to get serious about buckling down for the winter,” he said.

In a week, about 30 volunteers from Truth, Freedom and Prosperity, a grassroots group that counts many members in Occupy Philly, raised $800, purchased supplies and built the eight-foot by sixteen-foot structure off-site in a Northern Liberties warehouse, then assembled it near the camp on Saturday.

The warming station is made of 16 interchangeable plywood panels layered with thermo-insulated boards and wrapped in black plastic. Its floor is composed of tight-fitting wood pallets covered in carpet. The structure can be removed or assembled in less than three hours, according to Salguero. “I wanted to create a template, a model to allow other Occupiers around the region to survive,” he said.

The station features a propane heater, ethanol-burning lamp, smoke detector, carbon monoxide alarm and fire extinguisher, providing both heat and safety. “The deputy fire marshal was sent out here to investigate this morning and confirmed that we are in accordance with fire code,” Salguero said. A captain with the fire marshal’s office is looking into his claims. “Because of the off-site assembly, this is a structure that is temporary, thus being exempt from Philadelphia building code,” Salguero added.

Salguero has made the design open source and hopes other Occupiers will follow suit and build similar structures. “There’s sufficient money in the Occupy Philly coffers to do this – we are hoping to lead by example,” he said. “We hope to see it replicated again and again and again, for the safety committee, the medic committee, the donation committee … the list goes on.”

Truth, Freedom and Prosperity

Salguero said that members from Truth, Freedom and Prosperity, a grassroots organization emphasizing natural rights and individual sovereignty that started as a Meetup.com group, have been at Occupy Philly “24/7 since day one,” and have provided over 500 hot cups of tea to campers. “We are one of the strongest and most consistent individual camps within Occupy Philadelphia that supports Occupy Philadelphia as a whole,” he said.

But Occupiers’ reactions to the group have been mixed. “Many of us are Ron Paul supporters, or at least the message of Ron Paul. We don’t always see eye to eye with different ideas,” Salguero said, giving abortion as an example – he is pro-choice, while Paul and many of his supporters are pro-life. “But we’re all working toward the same goal,” which include ending wars, respecting constitutional rights and abolishing drug laws.

“We get support from a number of other Occupiers, but we’ve also gotten a tremendous amount of resistance,” he said. “There’s a lot of misconceptions about what Ron Paul stands for, including racism.” Salguero said that about a week ago, someone stole all of the group’s printed campaign materials, two-thirds of their food, blankets and water and defecated on the ground in the middle of their tent.

“That really mobilized more Truth, Freedom and Prosperity members to get involved,” he said. “To take a hot, steaming dump in the center of our canopy was the best thing they could have done.”

Jumping the gun

Volunteers originally assembled the warming station at the Municipal Services Plaza Saturday afternoon, where Salguero believes the encampment will move when construction of Dilworth Plaza begins in mid-November.

“Managing Director Richard Negrin has repeatedly, publicly invited Occupy Philly to relocate from Dilworth Plaza to Thomas Paine Plaza,” he said. “Given the amount of time and effort taken to construct the station, it seemed silly to do it here, when we’ll be over there in a week or less … We went ahead and assumed that support after speaking with many of the central committees that include medic, safety, tech, media, comfort and donations,” he said. “There is definitely a pro-move sentiment to go over to Thomas Paine Plaza.”

But Sunday afternoon around 3 p.m., word came down from Negrin’s office that the station’s presence was unacceptable and former Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison dropped by, according to Salguero. “He pointed out three Department of Sanitation Trash Trucks and said they were here to remove the structure,” he said.

About 100 volunteers encircled the station to prevent its destruction. “We have been working to maintain the peaceful example Occupy Philadelphia has demonstrated to the country, so we wanted to avoid violence,” Salguero said. “After a few hours, I made the decision to relocate the temporary structure back over to Dilworth Plaza, where we will be until we get the appropriate permit.”

Despite the issues of contention surrounding politics and logistics, Salguero said that he has had positive conversations with many Occupy committees about replicating his warming station design. “Sure they’re receptive,” he said. “They’ve been sleeping out here – it’s cold!”

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