The mettle of “Occupy” protesters in Fairbanks is being tested as the mercury dips well below zero. The temperature dropped to -38 Wednesday morning, but Occupy Fairbanks has not been frozen out.
The extreme cold has not deterred a small group of “Occupy Fairbanks” protestors from maintaining their vigil at a downtown park. Protestor Beth Hughes says she’s outfitted to continue the effort regardless of how cold it gets.
“A down one piece snow machine suit, and my gloves and hand warmers and wolverine mittens, I’m ready,” Hughes said.
Hughes says she’s not about to give up on the Occupy Protest, a movement she says she’s been waiting all her life for.
“I missed out on the 60’s, and with all the people that have been dedicated to this in the Lower 48, we’re small, we’re Fairbanks, Alaska, but I believe this is just a ripe opportunity to really make a statement,” Hughes said.
At least one Occupy protestor has been on hand 24-7 for the last month at Fairbanks Veteran’s Memorial Park. A few days ago as the temperature began to dip, they set up a small canvas tent with a wood stove inside. The tent may violate an agreement with the borough that members of Occupy Fairbanks not camp at the park. University of Alaska student Ethan Sinsabaugh says the tent is necessary to maintain the protest.
“We were told , we’re allowed to stay and peacefully assemble and have our signs up and everything, but if someone leaves, then it all has to go down and we have to take everything away. In order to maintain a presence here and to keep warm especially, it’s not even to sleep, we just need warmth and shelter, and that’s why it’s like to deny us this, you are going to take away our ability to peacefully assemble, and we feel that goes against the Constitution,” Sinsabaugh said.
Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins says he’s weighing protestor’s rights with borough parks and recreation rules.
“We have park regulations that say you can’t camp, no fires, so there’s balancing here between what people can assemble, and they have right to assemble, but then we also have to ensure that park rules are followed and there’s no camping, so are people staying overnight in the tent, are they warming up? And we gotta get that clarified, but a tent sitting there with a wood stove in it, certainly looks like camping,” Hopkins said.
Mayor Hopkins says he believes the borough has some legal ground to challenge Occupy Fairbanks use of the park, if it violates borough regulations.
“People have right to assemble but as decisions have been in the higher court system is that it can be called out time and space specific, so we have to make sure there is a clearer understanding than there is right now I guess on what can occur in the park,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins says he plans to meet with Occupy members to talk about the situation. Sinsabaugh says Occupy Fairbanks is not a recreational activity, but an effort to get out a serious message about corporate influence in our political system. He says he feels solidarity with Lower 48 Occupy protestors who have been subject to government crackdowns.
Sinsabaugh says he’s balancing the protest with a night job and school, and is prepared to delay his graduation a semester to continue the Occupy Fairbanks protest.