Occupy Fairbanks erects warming tent; city objects

Mary Pemberton

Occupy Fairbanks protesters have defied regulations by setting up a small canvas tent with a wood stove for staying warm in a move that drew heat Tuesday from officials.

The protesters said the tent and stove are crucial for them to keep exercising their constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.

The protesters set up the canvas wall tent in Veterans Memorial Park.

Winter is upon Alaska's second-largest city, where overnight temperatures were expected to plummet to minus 35 degrees.

"We decided to go against the regulations," said Forrest Andresen, an Occupy Fairbanks protester and linguistics student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. "We believe the regulations are infringing upon our First Amendment rights."

North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins said Occupy Fairbanks had vowed not to camp in the downtown park with a gazebo. Borough rules prohibit camping, open flames and sleeping in the park.

Hopkins said in an email to The Associated Press that he was disappointed to hear about the tent. He said when he met with three Occupy Fairbanks representatives they said they wanted to follow the rules.

"Bur now setting up a tent w/ a wood stove goes beyond the understanding we had," the email said.

The mayor added, "Staying warm with personal winter gear -- boots, multiple clothing layers -- is exclusive of a tent and stove in this park space."

Hopkins said he wants to meet as soon as possible with Occupy Fairbanks representatives to get the problem resolved. Between two and five protesters have occupied the park's gazebo since Oct. 18.

Andresen said the tent is too small and the group was talking about getting a bigger tent.

"It only fits one person with the stove in there," he said. "It is more for the purposes of warming up than it is sleeping in it."

The group hopes to work something out with Hopkins.

On Tuesday morning, temperatures in Fairbanks were between 15 and 25 degrees below zero -- well below normal -- and were expected to stay that way for the remainder of the week as a mass of cold air descended from the Arctic.

At the urging of borough officials, protesters cleaned up the gazebo last week and removed their personal belongings ahead of Veterans Day observances.

Associated Press