Is the brutal police crackdown on peaceful Occupy protestors across America — pepper spraying senior citizens and punching pregnant women — another perverse example of the “change you can believe in” that President Obama promised while campaigning?
Evidence continues emerging of federal government coordination behind the bloody police assaults on Occupy encampments particularly involving the Department of Homeland Security.
Police in Seattle, Wash., punched and sprayed a pregnant woman (allegedly) causing her miscarriage during an attack on Occupy protestors.
Police in Berkeley, Calif., brutally bludgeoned college students in breaking up an Occupy encampment.
And NYC’s misnamed “finest” roughed up respected 87-year-old literary agent Frances Goldin during yet another strike at the ground zero of the Occupy Movement.
Where former President Bush insulted anti-war protestors with heavy-handed, First Amendment rights abusing tactics, actions against Occupy protestors during the Obama Administration are physically assaultive.
As Philadelphia-area investigative reporter Dave Lindorff wrote recently, the “shocking scenes” of police smashing peaceful protestors are things Americans usually see “going on” in Latin America, the Middle East or Asia.
“President Obama has remained shamelessly silent about this police-state behavior by the nation’s local police forces, all of them armed and armored with the aid of federal Homeland Security grants, and working on the basis of “intelligence” collected by federally-funded Fusion Centers and federally-run Joint Terrorism Task Forces.
“This is the moment that Obama … has to demonstrate whether he is the president of the banks (that fund Obama’s campaigns) … or the people — especially the young people — who worked so hard to put him into office in the first place,” Lindorff stated recently in an article on the award-winning This Can’t Be Happening.net site.
Many still believe in the “change” Obama promised.
A Philadelphia native living in a leafy London suburb south of that city displays an artsy poster encapsulating Obama’s promised change prominently on her living room wall.
Many among America’s political, corporate and pundit classes reflectively dismiss assessments of persons like Lindroff as those of the disgruntled unworthy of consideration.
But those views increasingly voiced are not limited to America.
Last week writer Naomi Wolf wrote in England’s Guardian newspaper also questioned President Obama.
Following the flow-chart Wolf stated “for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS to authorize mayors to order their police forces — pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS — to make war on peaceful citizens.”
While political leaders, their corporate pay-masters and media enablers, curtly dismiss those involved in Occupy as ill-informed, lazy or worse, real outrage from crass economic inequities caused by the corporate class drives these protests stretching from Berkeley to England’s picturesque town of Bath and beyond.
Writer Wolf examined the widely propagandized notion that Occupiers are merely mindless ramblers who love living in tents.
Wolf placed inquires on social media to see what makes these people tick and within an hour received hundreds of responses with the top three being: (1) get money out of politics; (2) reform the banking system; and (3) stop allowing members of Congress from voting on legislation to increase the profits of corporations those congress members personally profit from.
This past Sunday a large sign at the Occupy encampment in Bath, England, blocks from the fabled ancient Roman Bath and the famous Bath Abbey, stated that England’s Barclays bank paid one percent in taxes compared to the 25 to 40 percent rates most wage-earning English residents pay in taxes.
Earlier this month, Barclays reported it generated a pre-tax profit of $7.7 billion U.S. dollars during just the first nine months of 2011 — a rate 19 percent higher than 2010.
While Barclays’ American-born boss recently told world leaders that bankers “have to accept responsibility for what has gone wrong [and] mostly importantly, we have to use the lessons learned to become better and more effective citizens” the British Government equivalent of America’s Treasury Secretary proposed further cuts to the poor and elderly to cover deficits arising largely by bank/corporate greed.
President Obama and Britain’s Prime Minister Cameron both say they support the right of Occupy protestors to protest — but want those protestors to be like children: seen but not heard.
Here’s a novel idea for Obama, Cameron and other world leaders: Not only respect the right of protestors to protest, but act to resolve the wrongs the protestors point out.
There is something grossly wrong when corporations like General Electric, DuPont, Verizon, Wells Fargo and Pepco Holdings (an energy delivery corporation operating in N.J., Del. and Md.) pay zero federal taxes on billions in profits.
If President Obama doesn’t have the political muscle to force Congress’ tea party boot-majority to crack down on corporate tax weasels, at least Obama can stop his charades like appointing GE’s head as his jobs creating czar despite this corporate titan cutting over 21,000 GE jobs across America.
And speaking of jobs, employment generated by renovating Philadelphia’s Dilworth Plaza that Mayor Nutter is citing to evict Occupy Philly folks will not help long-term unemployment in North Philly and Kensington since those construction jobs will go to union workers who live mainly outside of Philadelphia.
Occupy offers world leaders a wake-up call that most continue to sleep walk.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
As the “Occupy Wall Street and Philly” movement enters its third month, protesters and people throughout the country are wrestling with an issue — what are they asking for and should they actually be there at all?
This week the debate took on a new meaning with the removal of the protest camp at Zuccotti Park in New York City. And in Philadelphia, the Occupy movement took a serious blow as well, with an alleged rape over last weekend and increasingly unsanitary conditions.
There have been reports of fighting among the homeless, causing many to believe that it has become a breeding ground for unnecessary protest, versus a movement for change.
“Occupy Wall Street has not necessarily lost its steam, but the lack of actions beyond showing up to a protest leave those who agree with the concept, but don’t have the time or desire to join the protest … on the sidelines less enthusiastic,” said Michal Ann Strahilevitz, professor of business and marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. “The basic ideas behind the movement are still felt by the public majority, we are pissed and we want reform.”
But the question is — what kinds of reform?
“Many Americans are dissatisfied by our current financial system structure and the lack of regulation,” said Strahilevitz. “However, the movement needs to move from proving that many people are angry to having a concrete set of actionable goals and different ways people can participate other than camping out at the protest site.”
Bill Dobbs, a member of the public relations working group that has helped spawn the nationwide movement, said in early November that “The push for demands has generated a lot of controversy; there are ardent supporters and there are ardent opponents. In all; these discussions about demands, is ‘Where … should this movement go?’”
A “Principles of Solidarity” statement accepted by the protest’s general assembly on Sept. 23 — six days after protesters set up camp near Wall Street — promised that “demands will follow.”
Just over a week later, the demands working group — one of more than 80 groups formed to tackle topics like alternative currencies, political and electoral reform, trade justice and tactics — began trying to come up with some specific aims.
From the beginning, coming up with demands capable of winning the support of a vast majority of the protesters was problematic. Minutes of the group’s meetings over the past month and a half chronicle the discord that the effort has generated.
Opponents have accused the group, which has some 250 members online and a few dozen who meet in person, of going against the principles of the “Occupy” movement. Some issued their own demand, calling on the group to merge with another one better aligned with their vision — or even disband.
“Inherently, in asking for demands, you are accepting that there is a power greater than yourself, which is something that this movement is categorically against,” Patrick Bruner, a 23-year-old protester, told MSNBC.com. “This movement is founded on autonomous action and collective wisdom.”
Some members of the demands group said they welcomed the dissent and asked questions. But others saw it as a calculated effort to disrupt the process.
“The Occupy Movement has never eloquently stated its goal or goals,” said Gary Frisch, a Philadelphia based public relations specialist, in an email to The Tribune. “The movement clinged to abstract notions such as ‘corporate greed’ and ‘income inequality’ and offered little more than sound bites like ‘the other 99 percent’ in lieu of an actual agenda.”
Early on, the group’s message and agenda seemed to be a “Jobs for All” demand, which was presented to the general assembly for discussion more than a week ago in New York.
Members of the demands group distributed copies of the draft and read it out loud. Breakout discussion groups were held, with a member from the group sitting in on each one. At the end, each demands’ member reported back to the general assembly what their breakout circle had talked about.
Some of the dozens of other protesters in attendance backed the jobs demand, while others suggested revisions or their own alternatives. There was even an idea for a constitutional amendment, to specify that corporations aren’t people and money is not speech. But the eviction of the protesters Monday night in New York slowed the process.
Gary Gerstle, a professor of American history at Vanderbilt University and an expert in social movements, said that while it was important for the protesters to “let things emerge,” they’ll need to issue a common set of demands “that different groups are going to be able to unite around and also at the same time allows them to pursue their local interests.”
“There has to be a big demand that addresses the central issue of inequality, of suffering and opportunity, the 99 percent versus the 1 percent,” he said. “How does that get concretized in a real issue that really has legs and can really change the face of politics?”
He said the authorities may have done the protesters a favor with the eviction, because the latter didn’t appear to have a “clear strategy” for moving to the second stage of their protest.
A number of the protesters who don’t support demands see the movement’s physical encampments as success in itself, noting that they have created a space for open dialogue across a broad swath of social and economic classes and age groups.
Jennifer Klein, a professor of 20th century U.S. history at Yale University, said that the occupation strategy had served the protest well in the movement’s early days.
“There has been so much obfuscation of elite class power in the U.S. for the last three decades that taking over those spaces … and challenging the class and spatial boundaries of the city, is really a good starting point,” she said.
But she, too, said that the time has come for the protesters to explain what they want.
“I think it’s time to think big,” she said. “What is the point of thinking in terms of, ‘If we could just come up with this one little bill’? I just think lobbyists will so easily outmaneuver them.”
Despite the loss of the tent camp in New York and the challenges in Philadelphia, many believe that the movement should continue to carve out spaces where individual voices can be heard, rather than trying to meld them into a chorus.
“I definitely think the movement has lost steam,” said Frisch. “Without a specific end game, it’s inevitable that an organization or protest lose the support of both the public and its own members. For example, how do you gauge success? How do you determine that your ‘occupation’ is having an impact? Is the mayor of the city coming to meet with your leaders a tangible success, or just a way to get on the news? It’s like the ‘war on terrorism’ or the ‘war on drugs’ — these are concepts, not wars, and you can’t achieve victory in a concept.”
MSNBC.com contributed to this report.
Zack Burgess is the enterprise writer for The Tribune. He is a freelance writer and editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com.
Activist cites Civil Rights Movement, offers encouraging message to protestors
Hoping to spur religious and civic leaders to help the Occupy movement become a mass movement, the Rev. Jesse Jackson visited with interfaith leaders on Monday during a trip to the Occupy Philly encampment.
“This is the lineage of Dr. [Martin Luther] King’s struggle,” Jackson said. “If we fight with discipline and non-violence — we win.”
Jackson made a brief appearance at Noon, stopping by the sprawling encampment on Dilworth Plaza, on the west side of City Hall. It was his third consecutive day at the tent city at a time when the fate of the encampment remains uncertain.
Occupiers are under increasing pressure to move as the city tries to push forward on a $50 million renovation of the plaza expected start any day, and will take more than two years to complete. Last week, city officials posted an eviction notice — but Occupiers have yet to vacate the plaza.
Jackson declined to be drawn into the fray over location.
“There’s enough space in the city,” he said when quizzed by reporters after meeting and praying with several of the Occupy Philadelphia spiritual leaders.
His main purpose was to continue to offer his support for the cause of economic equality by drawing parallels between Occupy and the Civil Rights Movement. He urged civic and church leaders to push for “mass mobilization.”
“We need to get more involved. I am reminded of Dr. King’s last campaign to bring the war on poverty home,” he said. “Dr. King’s last effort in Washington was to occupy the national mall.”
Not everyone welcomed the veteran civil rights leader’s support.
In addition to attracting the attention of the press, Jackson’s visit drew a number of hecklers. One young firebrand ran up to civil rights leader yelling, “Where’s your illegitimate child, Jesse?”
The heckler refused to be silenced as a couple of Occupy members moved him away from Jackson, he continued screaming, “we don’t want you here” until finally he quieted down. Though he was quiet he remained in the background — his right arm raised and his middle finger extended for the benefit of the news cameras.
Angry, incoherent youth was not the only voice of dissent.
Another man, Scott Strader of South Philadelphia, circled Jackson with a sign noting that 800 jobs were on hold as Occupiers decided whether to leave Dilworth Plaza to allow the renovation to proceed.
“I don’t think this cause supersedes that work,” he said, in a tone more rational that his fellow heckler.
The angry young man turned his heckling from Jackson to Strader.
“Why does his voice matter?” he asked the reporters gathered to ask Strader questions.
Jackson stuck to his message of support for the movement as a whole, taking in stride yet another outburst from a woman who kept screaming for her children.
“We’re all in this together,” he said, noting that budget cuts reduced services to the homeless and mentally ill who were suffering along with people facing foreclosure, huge credit card debt and towering student loans.
Strader, who said he had no ties to the construction project and worked as a server in a restaurant, said he couldn’t support the Occupiers.
“There’s a socialist bent here,” he said. “People have to become self-sufficient.”
Jackson predicted that the Occupy movement would prompt political change regardless of the local politics surrounding each individual chapter, or any attempts to shut any one organization down.
“Occupy is a spirit that cannot be arrested and Occupy is not about a place but about a space,” Jackson said. “The space between the rich and the poor.”
LOS ANGELES — More than 1,400 police officers, some in riot gear, cleared the Occupy Los Angeles camp early Wednesday, driving protesters from a park around City Hall and arresting more than 200 who defied orders to leave. Similar raids in Philadelphia led to 52 arrests, but the scene in both cities was relatively peaceful.
Police in Los Angeles and Philadelphia moved in on Occupy Wall Street encampments under darkness in an effort to clear out some of the longest-lasting protest sites since crackdowns ended similar occupations across the country.
Beanbags fired from shotguns were used to subdue the final three protesters in a makeshift tree house outside Los Angeles City Hall, police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said, describing it as a minor use of force incident. No serious injuries were reported.
Police Chief Charlie Beck praised the officers and the protesters for their restraint and the peaceful way the eviction was carried out.
Officers flooded down the steps of City Hall just after midnight and started dismantling the two-month-old camp two days after a deadline passed for campers to leave the park. Officers in helmets and wielding batons and guns with rubber bullets converged on the park from all directions with military precision and began making arrests after several orders were given to leave.
There were no injuries and no drugs or weapons were found during a search of the emptied camp, which was strewn with trash after the raid. City workers put up concrete barriers to wall off the park while it is restored. As of 5:10 a.m. PST, the park was clear of protesters, said LAPD officer Cleon Joseph.
The raid in Los Angeles came after demonstrators with the movement in Philadelphia marched through the streets after being evicted from their site. Over 40 protesters were arrested after refusing to clear a street several blocks northeast of City Hall, said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. They were lined up in cuffs and loaded on to buses by officers. Six others were arrested earlier after remaining on a street that police tried to clear.
"The police officers who were involved in this operation were hand-picked for this assignment," Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said. "They're highly trained and disciplined and showed a tremendous amount of restraint and professionalism in carrying out this morning's operation."
Nutter said the eviction had been planned for several weeks and went off without largely without problems.
Ramsey said he would have preferred to evict the protesters without making arrests, but some refused orders to clear the street and had to be taken into custody. Three officers had minor injuries. One protester was injured when a police horse stepped on her foot, Nutter said.
The Philadelphia protesters were ordered to clear their encampment in part because a $50 million renovation project was due to start at the City Hall plaza this fall.
"Dilworth Plaza was designated as a construction site," Ramsey said. "They had to vacate. They knew that from the very beginning."
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa raised public safety and health concerns in announcing plans for the eviction last week, while Philadelphia officials said protesters must clear their site to make room for a $50 million renovation project.
By dawn in Los Angeles, trash, flattened tents and the stench of urine were the Occupy LA legacy.
City crews were installing chain link fence and concrete barricades around once-lush lawns that are now patches of dirt strewn with tons of debris, including clothing, tents, bedding shoes, trash and two months of human flotsam. Under a tree was a guitar, a bullhorn, CDs and a black bandanna.
Defiant Los Angeles campers who were chanting slogans as the officers surrounded the park, booed when an unlawful assembly was declared, paving the way for officers to begin arresting those who didn't leave.
In the first moments of the raid, officers tore down a tent and tackled a tattooed man with a camera on City Hall steps and wrestled him to the ground. Someone yelled "police brutality."
Teams of four or five officers moved through the crowd making arrests one at a time, cuffing the hands of protesters with white plastic zip-ties. A circle of protesters sat with arms locked, many looking calm and smiling.
Opamago Cascini, 29, said the night had been a blast and he was willing to get arrested.
"It's easy to talk the talk, but you gotta walk the walk," Cascini said.
Police used a cherry picker to pluck five men from trees. Two others were in a tree house — one wore a crown and another taunted police with an American flag.
In Philadelphia, police began pulling down tents at about 1:20 a.m. EST after giving demonstrators three warnings that they would have to leave, which nearly all of the protesters followed. Dozens of demonstrators then began marching through the streets and continued through the night.
Ramsey said breaking up the camp in the early-morning hours helped minimize any disruption to businesses and traffic.
"We acknowledge the fact that we are going to have to leave this space .... but in another sense this has been our home for almost two months and no one wants to see their home taken away from them," Philadelphia protester Bri Barton, 22, said before police began clearing out the camp.
"Whether or not we have this space or work in the city is nowhere near done," she said.
The eviction overall appeared to have been carried out without any significant scuffles or violence.
Later Wednesday morning, workers used front-end loaders to scoop up tents, trash and other debris and dump it into trucks to be hauled away, while others swept the plaza clean.
Demonstrators and city officials in both Los Angeles and Philadelphia were hoping any confrontation would be nonviolent, unlike evictions at similar camps around the country that sometimes involved pepper spray and tear gas. The movement against economic disparity and perceived corporate greed began with Occupy Wall Street in Manhattan two months ago.
The Los Angeles officers staged for hours outside Dodger Stadium before the raid. They were warned that demonstrators might throw everything from concrete and gravel to human feces at them.
"Please put your face masks down and watch each other's back," a supervisor told them. "Now go to work."
The officers came from a wide range of specialized units within the force, including the bomb squad, and the arson unit. Scores of officers in hazmat suits also were sent in to deal with potentially unsanitary conditions in the park.
Before police arrived in large numbers, protesters were upbeat and the mood was almost festive. A protester in a Santa Claus hat danced in the street. A woman showed off the reindeer antlers she had mounted on her gas mask. -- (AP)
Occupy Philly and the city seem poised for a confrontation as concerns over public safety and health issues — exacerbated by new allegations of a rape Saturday night in the sprawling tent city — and plans to renovate Dilworth Plaza move forward.
“Occupy Philly has changed,” Mayor Michael Nutter said in a statement issued on the weekend after the alleged rape in the encampment of several hundred people in Dilworth Plaza on the west side of City Hall. “We’re seeing serious health and safety issues playing out on almost a daily basis. The people of Occupy Philly have also changed, and their intentions have changed … and all of this is not good for Philadelphia.”
He also announced that police would begin regular foot patrols through the makeshift city of tents and tarps.
The move came after reports of a rape there Saturday night. Police are investigating the allegations made by a 25-year-old woman from Atlantic City, who said she was assaulted at about 7:45 p.m. A 50-year-old man was arrested late Saturday, but has not been charged.
Administration officials have quietly been worrying about how to deal with Occupy Philly for several weeks, but hoping to avoid provocation, have done nothing. On Sunday, Nutter ran down a list of grievances. Demonstrators lack a permit, public urination and defecation have been reported and the encampment has been attracting more and more homeless people.
In addition, Nutter said the encampment has also been drawing political radicals.
“We’ve seen the rise of new groups as a part of this movement — like the Radical Caucus, which is bent on civil disobedience and disrupting city operations,” he said.
Demonstrators have occupied Dilworth Plaza for 41 days.
Plans for the renovations to the plaza — expected to cost $50 million — have been in the works for more than year. There is no firm date for construction to begin, but “it’s coming soon,” said Nutter’s spokesman Mark McDonald. That could force the Occupiers to disband or moved to a new site.
Knowing that, several Occupy general assemblies have been held to debate the possibility of a move. Several ideas have been discussed, including a move to the nearby plaza adjoining the Municipal Services Building.
But on Friday night, members of the group voted in general assembly not to vacate Dilworth Plaza.
Nutter said the city was intent on avoiding a confrontation, but chided the group for its vote, which could disrupt plans for the plaza remodel.
“Occupy Philly is now purposely standing in the way of nearly 1,000 jobs for Philadelphians at a time of high unemployment. They are blocking Philadelphians from taking care of their families,” he said.
Some demonstrators said the mayor’s concerns about the renovations were simply a pretext for the city to expel them.
“Forget this crap about re-doing Dilworth Plaza,” said Bob Magee. “Nutter wants Occupy away, so the Christmas and Hanukkah shoppers aren’t offended … this is what it was about all along and now he’s setting up his pretext to clean out the Occupy encampment.”
Some sort of showdown seems inevitable, agreed Jacob Russell.
“It is wishful thinking to believe power will surrender power without strategic confrontation,” said Russell. “There is no ‘safe’ place to move, unless it be somewhere completely out of sight and with no possibility of exerting pressure on established power.”
Like hundreds of Occupy demonstrations the world over, protesters in Philadelphia started out voicing their concerns about corporate greed and government corruption. Unlike other demonstrations, some of which have been wracked by violence, the Philadelphia movement has remained peaceful. There have been 25 arrests in a couple of incidents where protestors have been charged with trespassing or obstructing the street, but Philadelphia has avoided the kind of violence that has marked the protests in Oakland, Calif. and Portland, Ore.
Occupy movements across the nation appeared to be in a state of flux over the weekend.
According to the Associated Press, police in Portland and Oakland cleared out Occupy encampments on Sunday and Monday. In Salt Lake City, Utah, 19 people were arrested on Saturday when protesters refused to leave a park a day after a man as found dead inside his tent. Twenty-four people were arrested in Albany, N.Y. after they remained in a state-owned park after it closed at 11 p.m. In Denver, Colo., authorities arrested four people as they forced protesters to leave a downtown encampment. In San Francisco, police said two demonstrators attacked two police officers in separate incidents during a march.
Participants in Occupy Wall Street’s National Gathering have converged on Philadelphia, bringing with them a host of ideas on how to reshape the country.
The gathering, dubbed NatGat by participants, drew a wide array of people that ranged from a group of architects calling for an independent investigation into the collapse of the World Trade Center to others calling for reduced defense spending and an end to corporate personhood.
Gina McGill came from Madison, Ala., to pitch an idea for direct democracy to the group, hoping that by speaking at Occupy’s National Gathering, the idea would gain traction and transform American government.
“We need a change; actually we need a new government foundation, a partial redesign,” she said. “It would be a fourth branch of the government, the people’s branch. Whatever we say through consensus would be what the government would have to do.”
It would give people a direct voice in setting policy like minimum wage, standardized work week, tax rates and government spending. The idea was not hers, McGill said. Rather she was endorsing an idea from Roger Rothenberger and his book titled “Beyond Plutocracy.”
“We live in a plutocracy,” McGill said. “It’s minority rule and it’s all about money. “We the people are not having our needs met.”
Despite a broad range of opinions, everyone gathered as part of the movement had one thing in common: They all endorsed change of some sort.
Not everyone endorsed government reform.
One man, an 18-year old from West Hartford, Conn., who declined to give his name, said he had been listening to a lot of the conversation and agreed that change is needed. But, he was not sure exactly how it would happen. He thought a personal approach might be better.
“I personally am trying to figure things out about myself,” he said. “I don’t know if I can change another person’s mind. I can only change me.”
He’d been drawn to the movement after talking to a friend, and arrived Saturday in the official caravan.
“I just kind of got whisked off on this journey,” he said.
As he spoke, someone addressed the general assembly, thundering, “Corporations are not people!” An older woman passed out yellow leaflets urging Congress to cut defense spending and shift the money to domestic priorities like education and health care. Another young man in a Guy Fawkes mask — the symbol of the Occupy Wall Street movement — silently carried an Occupy flag through the crowd.
Occupiers were sprawled in the shady southeast corner of Franklin Square, lounging under London Plane Trees, in the shadow of the Roundhouse and just a block away from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, where two protestors called for an end of the Fed.
Unlike Occupy Philadelphia, which set up camp in Dilworth Plaza for nearly two months until being evicted by police last fall, this group was not camping in the square. McGill said she was staying in a nearby hotel. Some were reportedly camping in a nearby parking lot.
Plainclothes and uniformed police officers ambled through the crowd.
On Sunday evening, 26 Occupiers were arrested without incident and held overnight after clashing with police near the Pennsylvania Convention Center in the 1200 block of Race Street.
They were released individually and in small groups throughout the day Monday. According to the group’s Facebook page, another protestor was arrested Saturday as Occupiers marched on Chestnut Street in the historic district near Independence Hall.
Independence Mall was ringed with police barriers on Monday morning, with National Park Service agents and Philadelphia police officers stationed intermittently throughout the area.
Organizers won’t discuss the group’s plans in detail, but a number of marches are expected.
There was little evidence on Monday of the enormous gathering that was initially expected.
Though the crowd in Franklin Square ebbed and flowed Monday, it never seemed to exceed 400 people, most of whom were gathered for a noon general assembly.
Organizer Matthew Armstead said the gathering was a chance for Occupiers from across the country to come together and decide what the next step for the group will be and how to capture attention at a national level.
“Elections aren’t the only way we can have our voices heard,” said the West Philadelphian. “So, we went national here to allow people across the country to connect with ideas and help steer strategies.”
They’re back – members of Occupy Philadelphia returned to Center City on Thursday afternoon with a whimsical theatrical sketch intended to again draw attention to the cost of financial deals between Wells Fargo Bank and a number of Philadelphia institutions.
Titled “The Fat Cat in the Hat, a Wells Fargo Unfairy Tale” a number of protestors appeared in a “Suessical” protest in front of the bank branch at 17th and Market street. Fourteen protestors were arrested at the site on Nov. 18.
They are all slated for trial on April 12.
“We staged a citizen’s foreclosure on Wells Fargo because this bank has failed to pay its debt to our city,” said organizer Aaron Troisi. “Wells Fargo made record profits last year by taking from our neighborhoods and city agencies. We are drawing attention to that injustice.”
Last fall, Occupy Philadelphia staged demonstrations in front of several branches of the bank, including its Philadelphia headquarters on South Broad Street. Among the chief reasons Occupiers are angry is that the school district had to pay $63 million in prepayment penalties to the bank as it sought to unload souring investments. Overall, Occupy estimates that deals with Wells Fargo cost the city $330 million.
“We ask, who are the real criminals?” said Troisi, the moderator of the skit which told the story of fat cat banker who arrived on the scene in a mock-up of Wells Fargo’s iconic stagecoach and ruthlessly foreclosed on homeowners — and took money from the school district.
Troisi said the Occupy movement was using the pending trial of the 14 members arrested last fall as a chance to put Wells Fargo on trial.
“We’re putting Wells Fargo on trial,” he said.
Bank officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The show did not impress everyone who stopped by to watch.
“It makes me want to go into Wells Fargo and open an account,” said one woman who stopped to watch. She declined to give her name, but said that Wells Fargo’s actions were “just business.”
The bank has been singled out by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission in a 2010 suit that alleged discrimination in its loan policies. Among the allegations in the suit, was the charge that the bank’s predatory loans resulted in “disproportionately high foreclosure rates in Philadelphia’s African-American community.”
Bank officials said at the time that was not the case. The suit remains unsettled but in July 2011 the banking giant was fined $85 million by the Federal Reserve for discriminatory lending practices.
Thursday’s action by Occupy Philadelphia was first for the year.
Occupy Philadelphia was evicted from Dilworth Plaza, the area west of City Hall, on Nov. 30. The group had been encamped there since Oct. 6. They demonstrated at several locations downtown, including Wells Fargo headquarters on South Broad, and the branch at 17th and Market streets.
A sign strung up in the western archway leading to the City Hall courtyard sums up the new reality for members of Occupy Philly: “Where next?” it asks, then gives its own answer. “It’s a surprise.”
Time is running out for the encampment that has, for 54 days, occupied Dilworth Plaza. Signs of the shift were everywhere on Monday, with fewer than 75 tents left of the once sprawling tent city of more than 300 tents that filled the space west of City Hall. Estimates put the number remaining between 60 and 75. Mounds of garbage, stacks of wooden pallets once used to anchor tents and bits of discarded furniture littered Dilworth Plaza.
Yet, Thomas Paine Plaza, which the group now has legal permission to occupy, remained empty.
“We’re going to continue to hold this space,” said Erika Bell, 20, who had been part of the movement since Oct. 6. “I’m prepared [to get arrested], not necessarily seeking it.”
Arrest is a distinct possibility for those defying the mayor’s order for Occupy to vacate Dilworth Plaza by a 5 p.m. Sunday deadline.
The city would like to see the members of Occupy Philly continue its demonstration — without its tents and with restricted hours — in Paine Plaza, which adjoins the Municipal Services Building. But, a core group of diehard Occupiers seem disinclined to leave and remain in Dilworth Plaza despite orders to move.
Bell and Keith Pendleton, a fellow member of the food collective, continued their daily routine on Monday, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for those who remained despite the fact that the deadline to leave expired the day before. As they spoke, the familiar drums of the Occupy drum circle continued.
“I’m not going to leave. We’re better as a team, not separate,” said Pendleton, 30, who has been part of the movement since Oct. 9. “I believe that what we’re doing here is for a reason.”
Police officers continued to patrol the edges of the area. A couple of police vans were parked along the perimeter of Dilworth Plaza but they were outnumbered by news vans as the city waited to see who would win the stand-off — Mayor Michael Nutter or Occupy Philly.
“I can’t predict the future,” said Mark McDonald, the mayor’s spokesman. “We continue to ask people to leave. The deadline is past — so people are on notice that they are illegally on the site. They need to go.”
Anyone who remains could be arrested for trespassing.
“When that would transpire, I can’t say,” added McDonald.
If the remaining Occupiers don’t leave of their own accord, police will have to clear the site to allow work to start on a $50 million two-year renovation project.
Contractor Daniel J. Keating has begun pulling together the supplies needed to start the project, said McDonald. Renovations are expected to generate 800 jobs, a fact that has divided the Occupy movement — with some wanting to vacate the plaza to allow the project to move forward, and others wanting to stay.
“They don’t want to stand in the way of jobs, which over the next 27 months are going to transform an area of concrete and granite into a verdant, green, quiet place,” said McDonald. “Something all Philadelphians are really going to love.”
For Pendleton, staying is a fight for jobs.
“I’m looking for a job. There are no jobs in Philly,” said the Philadelphia native, a father of four whose wife and children are living in a New Jersey shelter. “I’m looking for housing.”
Bell said she hoped to go back to school, but can’t afford to at the moment.
“I’m struggling to support myself,” she said, noting that she joined Occupy Philly for reasons larger than herself. “Corporate greed is a huge problem. Hunger is a huge problem.”
“Corporate people have everything,” chimed in Pendleton. “Poor people have nothing.”
The Occupy Philly movement has largely been peaceful — about three dozen people have been arrested in several different protests, but none have been marred by the violence that has accompanied some of the arrests in other cities.
Occupy Philadelphia protesters have been given 48 hours to move from their City Hall encampment.
Mayor Michael Nutter said on Friday the demonstrators have until 5 p.m. Sunday to leave their current spot to make way for a $50 million Dilworth Plaza renovation project.
“Last week, the city posted an Official Notice that construction was imminent,” Nutter said. “Today, I am happy to report that the city has approved a building permit for Center City District and its general contractor, clearing the way for the start of this 27-month construction process and the many jobs associated with it. And so now, I am announcing that as of 5 p.m. today everyone now encamped on Dilworth Plaza has 48-hours to remove their possessions and themselves from the project site, which will be fenced for the construction project and public’s safety starting some time next week.”
The protesters have lived next to City Hall since early October as a statement about what they call economic injustice and in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement, which began on Sept. 17.
The mayor has cited what he called "serious health and safety issues" at the current Occupy Philadelphia encampment, saying conditions there are "intolerable," and officials said they do not want to see a repeat of the 24-hour occupation at the new site.
Nutter also announced that a permit to protest at Thomas Paine Plaza was granted to Occupy Philadelphia Reasonable Solutions, an Occupy splinter group that met with city officials earlier and presented a petition with more than 500 signatures supporting a move.
“The people associated with Occupy Philadelphia Reasonable Solutions have been at Dilworth Plaza from Day One,” Nutter said. “They have slept on the site and they have participated in events for the last seven weeks. They are not and never were trying to stop the Dilworth Plaza construction project, a beautiful remake of the plaza built by the 99 percent for the 99 percent. In its appeal of the City’s rejection of its permit application, the group said it wanted to continue its citizen action and lobbying activity. Occupy Philadelphia Reasonable Solutions wants economic and social justice for the less fortunate in this great nation of ours. That is something that I and my administration work for every day.”
In recent weeks, the level of conflict within Occupy Philadelphia has been highlighted by public discontent and finger-pointing. The formerly leaderless movement now has at least three entities, and several spokespersons.
“Nutter has patently not communicated with us,” said Occupy Philly member Jennifer Starwood, 28. “He has communicated with Reasonable Solutions under the guise of communicating with Occupy Philly, which is poor politicking. The Occupy Movement is about corporate accountability, bank accountability and government responsibility to us...I don't care about where our political voice comes from in terms of space, it's important that our political voice be heard everywhere we are. Reasonable Solutions wants to turn it into a site, or a battle, about space, and that just seems petty to me.”
According to Nutter, a one-month permit was granted to Occupy Philadelphia Reasonable Solutions that allows for people to protest at Thomas Paine Plaza, which is located across the street from City Hall, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
No tents or overnight camping will be allowed. One canopy will be allowed for an information booth and shelter for computer equipment.
—The Associated Press contributed to this report
I have been noticing a number of commentaries that in looking at the Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Together movement (OWS for short) conclude that African Americans are not particularly interested, or that this movement is irrelevant to the Black Experience. I disagree.
The OWS movement has been an exciting development on the U.S. political stage. It has shaken this country in ways that it needed to be shaken raising the matter of wealth and income inequality and the depravity of the rich. It has called into question the policies of Wall Street, but also the political allies of Wall Street — both Republican and Democrat — who are more concerned with protecting the rich than they are with the common person.
Yet, it is true that these “actions” have been largely white. My first response: So what? I am actually quite pleased to see white people challenging a system that is crushing us all.
But my second response is a bit different. The reality is that spontaneous movements in the USA tend to be unbalanced racially. The student movement against the Vietnam War in the 1960s, for instance, was very white. This did NOT mean that Blacks were absent. What it often meant, however, is that African Americans formed their own organizations through which they participated in the student movement and/or the anti-war movement.
Where I have seen this play out differently, however, is in some sections of organized labor. I have seen some serious trade union demonstrations and actions that are very multi-racial/multi-ethnic. But part of what makes this possible is that there is a critical mass of a particular group — in our case, African Americans — who can see themselves in the actions. In other words, when they look at an action, they see a critical mass of us.
In OWS, many of us, regardless of whether we support the cause, do not necessarily see ourselves represented. While some of us will nevertheless participate, others will sit back and support from the sidelines. My suggestion is that we need to organize our participation. Here are a few examples. We could ask our minister, priest, Imam, etc., to organize a delegation from our religious institution to participate. What the OWS is doing is completely consistent with religious doctrines that overwhelmingly speak to the poor and the dispossessed. A second thing would be to have one of our organizations, such as the NAACP, a Black student union or a chapter of a labor union in which we are active, to participate together.
There is something else that we can do. We can organize our own actions that protest not only the income inequality but the growing racial inequality that is crushing working people of color.
Let’s stop worrying about whether white people reach out to us. We have our own reasons to be integrally involved in movements like OWS.
Sound like a plan? — (NNPA)