Occupy protesters get outside power—and access

Protesters around the country are cobbling together power sources and Internet access to communicate their cause online.

Mar 3, 2020, 11:11 am*


Lauren Rae Orsini 

Lauren Rae Orsini

“Have you ever seen Survivorman?” asked Chris Goldstein, a member of the Occupy Philly tech team.  “We’re got Survivorman technology out here. It’s the ultimate in tech activism.”

And by Survivorman, the show that features a person surviving on his wits and little else in challenging circumstances, Goldstein describes his 24-7 job of keeping the occupation powered and ready to tweet, update or otherwise communicate with each other or the outside world.

Camped out on the concrete in front of Philadelphia City Hall, the protesters haven’t had an easy time staying online. And they’re not alone. As protests pop up around the world emulating New York City’s Occupy Wall Street, they struggle to bring the Internet outdoors.

“Without a digital component, we would not have the occupation,” added Adrian Parsons, a protester at the Wasthington DC arm of the protest, Occupy DC.

Parsons, who did not want to be identified as a spokesperson or member of a group, said the Washington, D.C. protesters, camped in a park down the block from the White House,  keep their computers online with a generator and two wi-fi hotspots—one purchased and one donated.

“Our outreach has been much more successful on the digital side than the physical side,” Parsons said. “Protests are so common in D.C. I see them all the time and I may stop to look, but not join in. Most of the action is digital. It’s how people find out about us.”

While Parsons updates the movement’s Twitter account from his iPad, he said protesters still have to head inside for better access.

“One of the offices down the street is letting us use their computers and Adobe programs to design our flyers,” he said. “It’s a lot easier than it was doing it from the park.”

Conversely, Occupy Seattle’s Web presence remains a primarily indoor effort.

“We’re not online when we’re outside because we live in Seattle and its always raining,” said Andy Walters, a member of the Occupy Seattle Web team. “We’re running things from our phones when we’re out there,” .

After the protest was denied a permit to put up tents, protesters continued the occupation by living and sleeping underneath umbrellas. They have been occupying Westlake Park for two weeks.

Walters said that all Web presence from the occupation is conducted on the cell phones of protesters.

“The Web people are in and out,” he said. “A Web person shows up, gets the lay of the land and then goes inside to a coffee shop to update the website.”

The most sophisticated of the three is Occupy Philly. Goldstein said that over the past few weeks, volunteers have  set up—or are working on setting up — solar and wind generators to run power to the food, rest and media tents. For now, City Hall has granted them permission to use several outlets to charge laptops.

“We’re inviting as many sustainable energy sources as possible in order to take ourselves off the city’s power grid, but we’re not saying no to any of their accommodations,” he said.

Today, Goldstein said the protest is expecting its first rain, so he is working on waterproofing the technology in the media tent.

“As things evolve and become more permanent, we’re going to have generators to provide light as well,” he said. “It’s a permanent encampment. We plan to stay here pretty much for good.”

Photo of Adrian Parsons by Lauren Rae Orsini

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*First Published: Oct 11, 2011, 5:01 pm