“I’m 62. I have arthritis in my knees. It got cold and uncomfortable,” said Crystal Zevon, a writer from Greenfield, Mass., who lent her tent to another protester. She said she is moving indoors to help plan the group’s big spring protests.
“I feel I’m just as much a part of it as I ever was,” she added. “But I’m not a masochist.”
She’s among about half of the protesters who will begin moving indoors in the coming days to expand their efforts. Even though she’s leaving Freedom Plaza, Zevon said, she and fellow protesters are not leaving the occupation.
The dwindling number of residents who stayed behind zipped up their tents, swallowed vitamins and swaddled themselves in clothing to battle the elements. Medics in both camps said Wednesday that they were passing out vitamin C tablets and Theraflu but had no official cases of hypothermia — yet. Good Samaritans streamed by to drop off blankets, and a collection was started to raise money to buy propane for heaters.
Meantime, there were increased sightings of rats nestling under pallets strewn with sleeping bags, and occupiers in McPherson Square voluntarily shuttered their kitchen for 48 hours for what they said was a monthly cleaning. Protesters were eating donated food brought in by supporters.
Mahlori Isaacs, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Health, said health officers had been closely monitoring the camps for health and safety violations throughout the week, passing out literature on hypothermia and tips to avoid the flu and other illnesses.
“Our main concern is the public health and safety of District residents and visitors . . . making sure that people don’t get sick,” Isaacs said.
D.C. health inspectors will be visiting again early next week, she said, but they have little power to correct any problems they observe because the camps are on federal land.
The final call on whether to close the camps over health and sanitation concerns must come from the National Park Service, Isaacs said.
The Park Service has said that the protesters have a First Amendment right to continue their “24-hour vigil” at the two encampments but that the agency will move in to evict protesters if sanitation conditions warrant.
This week, occupiers at Freedom Plaza — whose permit was extended by the Park Service last month through the end of February — began to erect three large canvas tents for the winter, which will be warmed with kerosene heaters and serve as a kitchen and communal gathering space.
Organizer Kevin Zeese said half of the 70 protesters in Freedom Plaza will move to homes owned by supporters in Northwest Washington and Mount Rainier in Prince George’s County to expand their operations and make plans for spring marches and other events.