At eight in the morning, solidarity is more than just a word. In the cold, it's a necessity. Scianda Long's thermal blanket looks like a giant Hershey bar wrapper, but inside a sleeping bag and a Batman blanket, it is how she slept through the night. The next morning, there's a good deal of eye rubbing, but absolutely no complaint about the weather, before she evacuates her nest to get a piece of bread.
The truth is, there's not a lot to say about the cold, particularly when you know the temperatures will only drop lower. Long describes herself and her boyfriend as "traveler street people," which means that she spends her outdoors time wisely. Below her nest of blankets is cardboard, and the only uncovered section of her body is her face. As she shares the story of how she ended up on the sidewalk in front of Civic Center Park, it gradually looks less tired.
"We got here by accident," Long says. "My boyfriend Zach and I didn't really know what was going on when we came down here on the first day, and there were just four people milling about holding signs. We said, 'We'd love to support you, but this is kind of sad.'"
It wasn't until the movement's fourth day in Denver that Long changed her opinion. On a particularly chilly night, she woke up on the street and noticed her boyfriend had wandered away. When she found him, he was talking to (kitchen volunteer) Crunchy, who asked them to stay. "He said, 'We need people,' and we stayed," Long says. "We never really left. Today, even more so than back then, the hardest part is just being here."
When Long references her life before the occupation, it usually begins with a connection to Alaska. The 24-year-old was born and raised in a Mormon household in Kodiak, an island the now atheist left in mid-August to travel to Denver. Two months later, she is sitting between a row of still-sleeping occupiers and a broken plastic spoon on one half of a cardboard box.
She has no phone and communicates with anyone she needs to via e-mail every couple days or so. She has not spoken to Zach in about a week, which means he is likely still in the Florida jail he fell into after he left Denver. Last weekend, their time in holding cells was synchronized when Long was arrested in the first protest to save the group's tents. Her fingernails are a little dirty, and the effect is somehow charming. She is content.
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"I think that today I'm less cynical about humanity in general and more cynical about the system," she says. This even includes the general assembly system, the 3 and 7 p.m. meetings that serve as the occupation's democratic process. "It gets really frustrating to watch how painstakingly any progress is made," she says. "But that kind of thing is all they know."
Long's blonde hair is long in the center and shaved close on the sides, and it slides across her forehead when she grows animated. So far, the most rewarding part of the almost four weeks she has spent on sidewalks downtown for the occupation has been the realization that she is joined by people she never expected to care about.
"There are so many different types of people -- hippies, homeless, anarchists, middle-aged yuppies -- and they all talk to each other in order to keep this country from falling like Rome," Long says. Her hair now rests across her eyes like overgrown bangs. "If nothing else comes out of this, at least people will talk. That's enough for me."
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver Facebook page claims city turned sprinklers on overnight protesters."