By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Forget pepper spray. anti-Wall Street demonstrators in Alaska have a different challenge -- bitter cold that tests their commitment to around-the-clock protests.
Groups backing the nationwide Occupy movement are protesting in Anchorage and Fairbanks, often defying sub-zero temperatures and the risk of frostbite to protest against economic inequality and excesses of the financial system.
In Anchorage, protesters rotate in and out of their tent camp, making sure that at least a couple of people are always keeping vigil at the site established in Town Square, a downtown park.
Participants believe they have an obligation to continue their protest, now a month long, in solidarity with their counterparts in the Lower 48, said John Heuerman, a university student and waiter taking part in the demonstration.
"We're out here supporting the rest of the country. And you know they know about us," Heuerman said.
A hardier contingent in Fairbanks has been camped for two months in a local park, withstanding temperatures dropping to about minus 40 degrees, record cold for this time of year.
"I think that a sense of patience and endurance is happening here, if we hang in there and we endure, that things are going to change," said Brent Baccala, a self-described Christian street minister and a software designer.
"It's important for us, as the coldest and the farthest north, to set that example," he said.
Aside from a few trespassing arrests earlier this month when Anchorage protesters created what was deemed to be a disturbance at a local Wells Fargo bank branch, there have been no clashes with police.
In Anchorage, city officials and the Occupy group have agreed on a temporary move to allow a traditional Christmas tree festival to proceed at Town Square.
But the Fairbanks protesters are grating on some local nerves. At least one local resident has taken issue with their use of a park dedicated to military veterans. Newly erected counter-protest signs proclaim the site to be "Hallowed by Veterans" but "Occupied by Hippies."
There are also concerns about damage from protester campfires and temporary structures, and even about protesters' safety, Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins said.
Protesters appeared to be violating park rules by camping overnight with tents, Hopkins said. While he respected their political commitment, he said, "I don't see it's a First Amendment right that they ought to have shelter from the cold."
Hopkins said he hoped to persuade the protesters to move over the Thanksgiving holiday to an alternative site. But Occupy Fairbanks seemed inclined to stay put.
"I'm starting to think that we're certainly in it for the winter," Baccala said. The group survived the worst of the cold, and the weather had improved by Tuesday night, he said. "It's warmed up. It's about minus-10," he said.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Johnston)