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Fairbanks Occupiers preparing for the long haul

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Posted: Thursday, November 10, 2011 11:48 pm | Updated: 1:30 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Downtown Fairbanks’ Veterans Memorial Park’s gazebo got a small makeover Thursday as Occupy Fairbanks members cleaned up the area to comply with a request from Fairbanks North Star Borough officials.

The borough’s Parks and Recreation department officials stopped by the park after sending a letter to the group earlier this week. The letter stated Occupy Fairbanks members were not allowed to have any signs attached to structure and could not turn it into a shelter for exclusive use. They were asked to clean up the gazebo and remove personal items by Thursday at noon.

About a dozen people showed up to help clean up the gazebo under the borough’s supervision. Occupy Fairbanks members said they didn’t want to cause any problems with the borough, which has allowed them to maintain a vigil at the gazebo since mid-October.

“We hope to maintain that relationship,” said Chris White, a member who helped sweep and shovel snow from the gazebo area.

Others helped to remove extra cardboard from the gazebo’s interior and move sleeping bags out of the way. Signs that were connected with surveyor’s tape were detached and placed around the gazebo’s ground perimeter.

Occupy member Dave Matheny has been at the park since the beginning. He has spent up to five straight days at the gazebo, braving the cold with help from supporters. He said many people visit the park and drop off food or provide a heated car for a bit of warmth.

“We see new faces every day,” he said. On Thursday, Matheny wore six layers of clothing to ward off the 16-degree chill.

Matheny’s inspiration for keeping the vigil going has been a homeless man, who he said comes to the gazebo to protect his First Amendment rights. Matheny said the man has been homeless for seven years and is an example of why discussion of socio-economic issues is needed.

For many Occupy Fairbanks members, though, maintaining the vigil and jobs is a hardship.

“A lot of people who are trying to show solidarity with the group are working,” member Robert Shields said.

Those who can attend meetings gather at 1 p.m. Sundays or at 7 p.m. Wednesdays at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Wood Center. At upcoming meetings, the group will discuss plans for a celebration of its first 30 days.

Today, the group will ring bells for peace with Veterans of Peace at 11:11 a.m. in the park.

Contact staff writer Reba Lean at 459-7523.

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