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Dispatches from Dewey Square: Winterizing Dewey

Posted by Alex Pearlman  November 8, 2011 06:07 PM

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bostowintersnow.jpgBy Max Chalkin

The Occupy Boston Winterization and Fire Safety Working Group has brought together some of the best minds of the OB movement, and possibly in all of New England, to work as a single, well-oiled machine.

Sage Radachowsky, one of the group’s vital members, is a molecular biologist and engineer who’s worked for both Harvard and MIT labs. “We’re consulting with people who know a lot about a lot of different things,” he said. “There are some really good ideas in the works, and we’ve got a lot of great partners.”

According to Radachowsky, the group’s goals include “energy solutions, specifically renewable ways to provide electricity and heat…ground solutions to get people’s bodies and feet off of the cold ground…[and] solutions for structures, within the constraints that we have....We’re not allowed to bring in any wood...and anything that’s too rigid is not a good idea.”

Drawing from his engineering background, Radachowsky has ideas for “a translucent, teepee-like structure that is inflatable and sort of like a greenhouse” and is constructing a smaller, quarter-sized prototype. “It would be a nice, central, common room for people to gather.”

The structure is designed to avoid several winter weather complications all at once. “It’s steep, so it sheds the snow really well,” Radachowsky said. “If there’s high wind, it’ll give and then come back up.”

At this stage, the W&FSWG has moved past concerns about basic items like boots and blankets. They claim to have those items accounted for and have moved on to exploring more out-of-the-box solutions, from solar panels to stronger army surplus tents to keep occupiers warm, healthy, and safe during the colder months. The group is also creating an information campaign to teach campers the ways to dress and eat in colder weather and how to recognize the symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia.

Brian Brown, a hairstylist who spends most of his free time these days volunteering at Dewey Square, is another member of the W&FSWG. He comes down to camp “after work or after picking up my kids, just so I can share my ideas.”

“The most pressing issue is to stay through the winter,” Brown said. “New England winters are unpredictable; we could get three feet of snow tomorrow. But the physical presence [of campers] through the winter is what’s really important. It will prove that people are invested.”

Brown agrees with Radachowsky on the strength of the Winterization Working Group and its resources. “We have some really ground-breaking designs coming in.”

He, too, has a prototype for a winterized structure, which he calls a “tetra axis”: Composed of three axes with an adjustable point of intersection and covered with a “skin,” it becomes a stable shelter that can withstand the weight of snow. Because it can change shape so radically, becoming wider and shorter or taller and narrower with only a minor adjustment, it’s highly versatile, modular, and portable.

Despite all the innovative solutions, Brown is careful to keep the conversation grounded. “We have the best minds in the world working on this, but the number-one thing is to keep everyone warm and dry,” he said. “It’s not rocket science.”

When asked how he thought the camp would fare through the winter months, Radachowsky went much further than merely predicting its survival. “The camp may become smaller, and so the environment might become more intimate -- think of people getting together in common space and talking and playing cards and things,” he said, “[but] the vibrancy, the culture, is going to continue. We are the seed of a new society that is going into the dormant season. And when spring comes along, we’ll see what flowers.”

“This is an opportunity for people to do something that is somewhat brave. It’s a struggle and something you might not [ordinarily] choose to do -- sleep in the middle of a city with no house for an entire winter,” Radachowsky said. “But there’s something kind of poetic about it. I feel very fortunate to finally have something challenging in my life that I feel is worth fighting for. This is a nonviolent army, and we’re winter soldiers.”

“A lot of people are going to learn a lot of different things that will be useful to them for the rest of their lives,” he said, and it’s going to bring out the best in them.

“I just bought an American flag for the first time in my life,” said Radachowsky. “I went to Lowe’s yesterday and bought a bunch of flags, and I hung them up around [camp], and I put a big one in my wagon. It’s the first time in my life that I ever hung up a flag because I thought, ‘There’s something to be proud of, and there’s some hope.’”

“Until now, I’ve never felt completely proud of this country, and now I finally do,” he said. “[This movement] is something that I’m so, totally, proud of.”

You’ve heard all the predictions: “The cold is gonna kill Occupy Boston,” and “They’re not making it through the winter!” But the alarmists predicting a cold collapse at Dewey Square are ignorant of the hard work, resources, and passionate dedication of the soldiers on the ground.

This winter, I predict a different forecast for Dewey Square: cold and blustery, but warm and flourishing -- a festival-like winter wonderland of community and culture for people who believe they can send a message to the world simply by hanging out in a park.

Max Chalkin is spending time "in the trenches" at Occupy Boston, speaking with occupiers, attending general assemblies and marches, and learning what camp life is like. His thoughts and observations will be published twice each week as TNGG Boston's “Dispatches from Dewey Square” series.

Photo by rcolonna (Flickr)

About Max -- Max Chalkin is a recent graduate of Tufts University and is currently working in biotech marketing. His interests include entrepreneurship, technology, politics, food, and nightlife. He is an avid photographer, cook, and scuba diver.

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