A rare October snowstorm tested the resolve of anti-Wall Street protesters camped out in a New York park on Saturday, as police arrested demonstrators in Denver and evicted others from a Nashville plaza.
Buffeted by strong winds, protesters hunkered down in snow-covered tents in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, where the Occupy Wall Street movement against economic inequality first set up camp, sparking dozens of similar occupations in city parks across the United States.
A day after New York authorities confiscated their generators, hundreds of protesters struggled to stay warm and dry after more than an inch (2.5 cm) of snow fell in the city with temperatures forecast to drop to freezing overnight.
“Snow, what snow? I've got a country to worry about,” read a sign as snow and sleet pelted downtown Manhattan, where demonstrators have gathered to protest and call for financial reform since September 17.
The rare early snowfall in New York – only the fourth time in 135 years that flakes fell in the city in October, according to the National Weather Service – did not appear to dissuade the protesters living in tents.
“We knew this would be tough. We didn't start this as a sort of summer of love, it's the winter of discontent,” said Alan Collinge, 41, from Seattle, poking his head out a tent.
He estimated one in five protesters in the park had left due to the unusually early storm, but added, “They'll be back, we’re not going anywhere.”
On Friday, the New York Fire Department took away six generators and fuel that had been powering heat, computers and a kitchen at the camp because they were considered a safety hazard, a move that Mayor Michael Bloomberg said was not a bid to remove the protesters.
The busy kitchen at the Zuccotti Park camp churned out steaming soup and hot drinks for shivering residents.
“We will put some salt. There are people giving information about low temperatures and camping,” protester Brian Majdanik, 27, told AFP.
But recent evictions of demonstrators in places like Oakland, California, where police used tear gas and stun grenades, and Atlanta, have the protest movement on edge.
In Nashville, state troopers swept through a makeshift camp in Legislative Plaza for a second night on Saturday to enforce a curfew and 26 people were taken into custody for refusing to leave. They were given misdemeanor citations for trespassing.
"We're cold, we're wet – cancel the debt!" they chanted. “Heal America, tax Wall Street!”
Judicial authorities have told police there are no grounds to charge the protesters and have also questioned the legality of the 10 p.m curfew used to clear the plaza.
In Denver, 20 economic protesters were arrested trying to occupy the steps of the state capitol building, police said.
About 2,000 demonstrators marched peacefully through Denver as they have for the past several Saturdays, but the situation heated up when some of them entered the capitol grounds and riot police fired pepper balls and mace into the crowd.
In the U.S. capital, about 50 persons marched from the protesters’ camp at downtown McPherson Square to the nearby Treasury building and the White House, as sleet fell.
Protesters say they are upset that the billions of dollars in bank bailouts doled out during the recession allowed banks to resume earning huge profits while average Americans have had no relief from high unemployment and job insecurity.
They also believe the richest 1 percent of Americans do not pay their fair share in taxes.
Occupy Arrests, a Twitter feed compiling arrests related to Occupy Wall Street, said about 2,800 people have been arrested worldwide, including about 1,000 in New York City, since the movement began five weeks ago.
The demonstrations have been largely peaceful, but turned violent on Tuesday in Oakland, where former U.S. Marine Scott Olsen was badly injured in clashes with police who fired tear gas canisters at demonstrators.
Unlike protesters elsewhere, who rallied in city parks which typically have a curfew at night, those in New York set up camp in a privately-owned park open to the public 24 hours a day and cannot be removed unless the owner, Brookfield Office Properties, officially complains to the city.
Justin Stone-Diaz, 38, a spokesman for the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York, which prides itself on not having a leader, said that up to 3,000 people visited the camp during the day and up to 400 people were sleeping there at night.
“Once the real snow begins in a few weeks you will see we will contract a bit but we're prepared to stay here for the full winter,” he said.
A small brass band marched through the New York park playing music as protesters covered their shoes with plastic bags, wrapped themselves in space blankets and huddled together in mainly donated tents.
“There's a lot of people out there with no roof over their heads, nowhere to sleep, the constant fear of getting sick or hurt because you will go bankrupt, and then there are other people with multiple houses, multiples cars and it just doesn't work,” said Eric Larson, an electronics assembler who walked through the park handing out hats, gloves and ponchos.
“Having people here is a reminder that there's a big disparity in this country,” he said.