- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Some of the country’s most powerful unions are providing the infrastructure and amenities to keep the Occupy D.C. encampment fortified going into the winter.

The camp’s portable toilets are being provided by the Service Employees International Union, the 2.1-million-member organization that helped Barack Obama win the presidency and recently backed his re-election bid.

The estimated 100 demonstrators staying each night in McPherson Square, just blocks from the White House, can take a hot shower at the AFL-CIO headquarters on 16th Street Northwest.

“We happen to have a few showers associated with our small gym. From [10 a.m. to noon], we make those showers available,” said Jeff Hauser, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO, the labor federation with more than 12 million members. “It happened kind of naturally. We’ve talked with them about the needs they’ve expressed. This really helps them, and it’s not a heavy lift on our part.”

A demonstrator said the encampment has designated a “shower coordinator” who takes Occupy protesters to the union building.

The tent-filled encampment, established in early October, also has a first-aid station with supplies and voluntary medical assistance from the National Nurses United, the country’s largest union of professional nurses.

Spokeswoman Donna Smith said Wednesday that nurses are volunteering at Occupy encampments across the country.

“It’s the basic things, little things for people who are outdoors for a period of time,” she said. “And it’s good to have that kind of interaction.”

Although officials have dismantled similar camps in New York City and Oakland, Calif., the Occupy D.C. camp appears to be getting more organized and fortified, with a library, a media center and its own newspapers.

“The rise of inequality, the job crisis — we’re thankful their creative energy and persistence has helped elevate these critical issues,” Mr. Hauser said. “We want to be supportive.”

Occupy D.C. plans to march Thursday afternoon to the Key Bridge, which connects the city with Northern Virginia, to rally with labor organizations. However, there are no plans to block traffic, said Occupy demonstrator Dan Newell.

A clash between Occupy demonstrators and D.C. police last week near the Washington Convention Center resulted in several injuries and arrests. But many protesters said Wednesday that they did not expect a clash at the bridge demonstration.

“We plan to keep traffic moving and keep people safe,” said Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump. “While large crowds can swell very quickly and cause lengthy delays, we encourage motorists to consider alternate means of transportation during afternoon rush hour.”

D.C. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Monica Hernandez said the agency, if needed, would dispatch traffic-control officers, deploy electronic detour signs and work with the Virginia Department of Transportation to identify alternate routes for commuters.

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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