ICE protesters outside City Hall battle heat, loss of electricity

Former Firefighter, Nick Reed, right, disinfects a wound for Emily Reed at the sanitation tent in the ICE camp at City Hall, Philadelphia.

With electricity cut off and another heatwave coming, the ICE protesters who have taken up residence under tarps in front of City Hall are searching for ways to safely sustain their occupation.

More than two dozen sat in a circle for their Monday morning meeting, passing a bullhorn clockwise and discussing ways of securing food, water, and first aid, as well as plans for deescalation, self-defense, and first-aid training.

The east side of City Hall has been occupied since Friday, following a bike-dozing by Philadelphia police that forced protesters from their original camps on Eighth and Cherry Streets, outside the local office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

>> READ MORE: ‘Occupy ICE’ protesters set up new camp at Philadelphia City Hall; Mayor Kenney says they can stay

The promise of a sheltered place with food, water, and medical supplies has attracted activists and homeless people alike. Nicholas Reed, 28, is both.

A military veteran and volunteer firefighter, he has been at the camp since Thursday as one of seven people providing on-site medical care. Before moving to the camps, where he has been sleeping on mats surrounded by anti-Trump, pro-“sanctuary city” signs, he was sleeping on the street.

“The homeless come to participate and hang out,” Reed said. “They have a voice.”

Camera icon JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
A sleeping schedule sign at the ICE camp at City Hall.

The protesters say they operate without hierarchy and believe that everyone deserves a role in decision-making. Sleep shifts are scheduled on a piece of cardboard hung from a pole. They also take turns handing out fliers to passers-by.

The citizen-medics also work in shifts, mainly treating blisters, cuts, and heat-related issues. A few registered nurses from local hospitals also volunteer at the camp between their work shifts. No major injuries have occurred at the City Hall camp, although some injuries were reported following the forced eviction at Eighth and Cherry.

Reed said City Hall’s decision to stop supplying power to the protesters won’t affect medical care.

“No medical equipment was powered by electricity,” he said. “It will affect our ability to network.”

The group has been reaching out to sympathetic restaurants and soliciting donations of food, water, and other supplies via social media. As they pass by City Hall, many cars honk in solidarity. Others stop to drop off supplies.

Doughnuts arrived in the morning. A SEPTA worker brought coffee. Sliced cantaloupe and strawberries showed up just after noon. The protesters often don’t know who is bearing the gifts.

“It’s important to have people on the ground, but there are so many things people can do other than just being there,” Dolores Garcia, 25, said. Garcia spent three nights in front of the ICE office and visits the new camp when she can – today, on a coffee break from work.

The number of protesters fluctuates throughout the day, with some staying overnight under shelters made from tarps, umbrellas, and other DIY materials. Tents are barred by city officials. The occupiers sort their trash, recycling, and compost and deposit it in nearby city receptacles. Once per day, sanitation workers also roll garbage bins through to collect any extra waste.

Relations with City Hall employees, said the campers, are friendly. The protesters respect the space and are working to keep it peaceful, even with the occasional heckler and the near-constant police presence.

Heather Murphy, director of the City Hall visitor center, gift shop and tours, said the encampment “has affected tours, but it’s not an inconvenience.” All tours were rerouted to avoid sidewalk congestion. On Monday, a broken elevator — not the protesters — sent a group of tourists back to the visitor center for a refund.

Rest was harder to come by outside the ICE offices, Garcia said. Floodlights illuminated the protesters’ tents all night. Police in tactical gear showed up once for no apparent reason.

“It was psychological torture,” Garcia said.

Following the eviction, the stores of food, water, medical supplies, and tents were discarded. In front of City Hall, the group had to start from scratch.

Having sufficient food and water has not been a problem. At least 25 cases of bottled water, several of which were chilled in coolers, are available for anyone to take. Peanut butter, chips, and fresh vegetables were arranged on folding tables in the shade. Sanitizing wipes, sunscreen, and bandages sat nearby.

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“There are things naturally against people being here,” Garcia said, “like the heat.”

Garcia, who has a bladder condition, was unable to spend more than three nights at the camp last week but she hopes to return one night this week.

The protesters take makeshift showers with baby wipes, deodorant, and dry shampoo available at the camp, Garcia said. They have been using restrooms in nearby businesses and in Suburban Station because of its late hours.

“In a way, I see it as worker solidarity,” Garcia said. “People support the mission and want to help in whatever small ways they can, even if it’s just turning a blind eye to their ‘customers only’ policies and allowing protesters to use their restrooms. And that’s an important form of solidarity.”

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Former volunteer firefighter Nicholas Reed organizes the sanitation tent at the ICE camp near City Hall.

To help others decide if the camp is the best place for them, Facebook posts report on what to expect on the ground and what supplies are available.

For the foreseeable future, the protesters plan to remain at City Hall, hoping for good weather and the good will of volunteers and passersby.