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Occupy Iowa City: Protesters install WiFi, solar panel at College Green

BY MATT STARNS | OCTOBER 19, 2011 7:20 AM

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Demonstrators at College Green park are finding new ways to power their electronics and connect with other groups in the now-worldwide movement.

Recently donated additions to the group's infrastructure include a solar panel, materials for tent insulation, and a wireless Internet connection. Demonstrators say these improvements are helping them spend more time at the park, as well as creating a more sustainable mode of occupation.

Doug Chaney, a retiree and PATV volunteer, helped set up the solar panel donated to demonstrators by the Iowa Renewable Energy Association. He said the panel has been in a testing phase since its début at College Green, but the group is making strides toward using it as an alternative to the city's public outlets at the park gazebo.

"I ran a battery test, we powered a radio and a light bulb for more than 72 hours," he said, touting the panel's ability to store electricity in car batteries for later use when the weather isn't at its best.

"The panel still generates electricity when it's not sunny — just not as much."

I-Renew hasn't been the only organization to help demonstrators, said Michael Warfield Tibbetts, a 43-year old who has lived in the park for more than a week. He said a local union member came to the park Monday and conducted a "teach-in" — or educational demonstration — on how to insulate a tent using Tyvek, a water- and air-resistant material used primarily in construction applications.

The union member donated three rolls of Tyvek and insulated Tibbett's tent to provide an example.

"It's made the living conditions remarkably more efficient and more comfortable," Tibbetts said. "It's much better insulated, and the body heat is trapped better now."

He also said he thinks the group will be able to use hot water to heat the tents as temperatures drop.

"This is Iowa, and certainly it's going to get windy and cold," he said. "But standing firm, we will endeavor to persevere."

He also highlighted the importance of using renewable energy to sustain the group.

"We can take the solar panel, charge [batteries], then move those into the gazebo and use those to power other things," he said. "You could even hook up a heater to it and just plug it in."

Occupy Iowa City members have also set up a WiFi network for the park, using bandwidth granted by a nearby homeowner. The signal is bounced wirelessly from the home, across the street, and received by an antenna made from a tin can on a tripod. The can was connected to the WiFi router with a cable.

"It's one more example of the solidarity the community has shown with us, and it's been remarkably useful," Tibbetts said.

Protester Victoria Watson, the manager of a local yoga studio, said she's grateful for the addition of wireless Internet at College Green.

"Being the studio manager, I get a lot of the work done online while also doing research on the Occupy [movement] as well as typing up notes," she said, noting her workload made it hard for her to spend time at the park before the installation of the WiFi router.

Brian Ekdale, a University of Iowa assistant professor of journalism, says the addition of Wi-Fi should help protesters function more efficiently and do outside work without having to leave the park.

"We use the Internet all the time, and having it there allows them to do their regular work as well," he said. "Even if they are in this space symbolically, they can still take care of their business."

Ekdale also said he was impressed with the ingenuity of the group's soup-can antenna.

"That you can have people in a park rigging up a system so they can be using not just their phones but their laptops — it's pretty remarkable," he said.


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