2011-10-28 – They Have People Power – New York Times City Room

With Generators Gone, Wall Street Protesters Try Bicycle Power
New York Times City Room
October 30, 2011
By Colin Moynihan


Rita Moreira, a visitor from Brazil, was walking past Zuccotti Park around noon on Sunday when she stopped to gaze at a man drinking a cup of coffee and pedaling a stationary bicycle connected to several wires.

“What is that?” she asked.

The bicyclist, Keegan Stephan, replied: “We’re charging batteries.”

He went on to explain that the bronze Schwinn he was pedaling was connected to a flywheel that was, in turn, connected to a dynamo. Energy created by the dynamo flowed through a motor and a one-way diode to charge a bulky black marine battery that sat on the ground next to the bike.

When the battery was fully charged, Mr. Stephan, said, it would be brought into the Occupy Wall Street encampment inside the park and used to power laptops and cellphones. He estimated that it might take six hours of pedaling to charge a battery that would then provide 100 hours of use.

Mr. Stephan, 26, a bike mechanic and a member of an environmental group called Time’s Up, said that he built the contraption more than a year ago and had used it to power the refrigerator in his apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. A few weeks ago he brought it to Zuccotti Park to serve as an example of how people there might create pollution-free energy.

Then, on Friday, the Fire Department confiscated several gasoline-powered generators that protesters had been using in the park and Mr. Stephan’s plan suddenly went from aspirational to operational.

“When they took the gas-powered generators, we saw it as our moment to swoop in,” he said.

On Saturday nine lawyers representing protesters faxed a letter to the fire commissioner, Salvatore J. Cassano, saying that notices of confiscation that his department provided when the generators were seized did not give legal justification. The letter asked that the generators be returned.

On Sunday night, Francis X. Gribbon, the Fire Department’s chief spokesman, said the owners of the generators would be able to get them back but added that their use in Zuccotti Park and the storage of large amounts of fuel there violated fire codes and would not be permitted.

“This was about dangerous conditions that were growing with numerous generators and numerous containers with flammable and combustible liquids,” he said. “We are on firm ground with this.”

Protesters created a short video on the removal of the generators.

About the same time, people involved in the Occupy Boston demonstration contacted protesters in New York and offered a few bicycles that they had already attached to motors and plywood frames. Mr. Stephan found a man in Massachusetts who agreed to put three bikes in the back of his truck and drive to New York with them Saturday night, making his way through the snowstorm.

On Sunday, several volunteers, including Benjamin Tevelow, 31, an electrician from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, showed up at Zuccotti Park and began assembling and testing the bikes that had arrived from Massachusetts.

As Mr. Stephan pedaled and sipped his cup of coffee, onlookers and passerby stopped to ask questions about the bike and the battery.

George Pingeon, 26, a bicycle tour guide from Jackson Heights, Queens, who was helping to assemble the energy bikes, looked at the gathering throng and saw a potential pool of volunteers.

“People get really excited when they see these bikes,” he said. “I’m going to ask the tourists if they want to help pedal.”