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Winterizing the occupation

Protest shifts gears as colder weather arrives

BRATTLEBORO—Since the Occupy Wall Street movement took hold in New York City’s Zuccotti Park nearly three months ago, many people have asked this question: What will the protesters do come winter?

Anthony Gilbert, originally from Ann Arbor, Mich., has stood steady at the center of the Occupy movement in Brattleboro.

Gilbert, 37, who set up his tent on the Brattleboro Common Oct. 7, has stayed despite early requests of local police and town officials to leave the property.

He thinks the reason thus far for not his not being forcefully removed by the town is because of his discovery that the land belonged, not to the town, but to the Centre Congregational Church.

Gilbert, who said he studied for 1½ years at the University of Michigan Law School, uncovered the ownership surprise while doing a title search.

He found no record that the church, which once used the land for its first meetinghouse, ever deeded the property to the town.

At a special meeting on Nov. 6, the congregation unanimously voted on a measure to authorize the Church Council “to execute a quitclaim deed on behalf of Centre Congregational Church to relinquish any and all claims the church may have on the property.”

Gilbert said town officials are likely waiting to sort out the 169-year-old land ownership question before they evict him. He said he feels the entire process around the congregation’s vote has been “fishy.”

In the meantime, Gilbert said that St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, located just north of the common, has offered Gilbert a six-person tent to use for the winter.

Gilbert said he had hoped for a military surplus tent that came rigged with a potbelly-type stove, but he’s glad for the church’s donation.

He said he has not seen any town ordinances prohibiting fires outside or on public land. The only rules call for requiring a permit to burn debris.

Since the Brattleboro Overflow Shelter opened for the season, Gilbert said, the other people who had joined him in the encampment have decided to stay at the shelter instead, leaving him to sleep on the common alone as the temperatures have started dropping.

A young couple did arrive for one very rainy night, he said, but the rain drove them to shelter at a friend’s house, and he has not seen them since.

According to Gilbert, locals have told him that if they had a heating source and could sleep on cots rather than the ground, they would spend a few nights with him in “solidarity” for the movement.

Gilbert said he expects any time the police will arrive to evict and possibly arrest him.

He said people have to do what they have to do, like getting arrested, to help the protest.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #131 (Wednesday, December 14, 2011).

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