Hundreds Gather for First Occupy Philly Meeting
Close to 400 people turned up at the United Methodist Church at Broad and Arch streets last night for the first meeting of Occupy Philly—a planned demonstration/camp-in and show of solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests in Lower Manhattan over the past two weeks that’s been garnering increasing media attention and spawning similar groups in dozens of cities throughout the U.S.
While the Occupy movement—a “leaderless” movement chiefly organized via Facebook and Twitter and inspired by the Arab Spring protests in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere—so far hasn’t presented an absolute, unified message or clear-cut demands, activists camping out and marching on Wall Street have been decrying the chasm between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the other 99 percent, and protesting corporate financing of elections, bank bailouts, Federal Reserve policies, high gas prices, the war, the execution of convicted cop killer Troy Davis and more.
About 150 local activists set out from the Wooden Shoe bookstore on South Street, where the inaugural Occupy Philly was initially slated to meet before the ranks of the interested outgrew that small space, and marched to the United Methodist Church (along with a police escort) where they met up with 200 more people waiting outside on the sidewalk at 6 p.m.
The three-hour gathering inside was primarily a logistical meeting; a chance for activists—most of whom were strangers to one another prior to last night—to bandy about potential locations and dates for Occupy Philly and figure out everything from medical, safety and legal issues to bathroom and trash concerns. Though the movement is ostensibly “leaderless,” there were a handful of organizers/self-described “facilitators” who helped lead the spirited, sometimes-contentious discussion; some of them had participated in Occupy Wall Street and reported back about some of the aforementioned issues/concerns and recounted some of the police action—protesters in New York have been maced and/or arrested, and many have alleged being beaten by police or witnessing such beatings.
Among the sites considered for the open-ended Occupy Philly: Rittenhouse Square, Independence Mall, Love Park, the Constitution Center, the Federal Reserve building, and the Ben Franklin Parkway. A pair of lawyers were on hand to discuss possible hazards of participating in Occupy Philly (e.g. getting arrested for disorderly conduct, trespassing, etc.); the difference between occupying federal and state property (e.g. it’s much worse to get arrested while occupying federal property); whether or not occupiers should first obtain a permit to gather; and so on.
Ultimately, no location or date for Occupy Philly was chosen, though it was agreed that activists should meet again at the church next Tuesday evening to further discuss the wheres and whens, and what the message and demands of Occupy Philly protesters should be. A few people in attendance groused that nothing concrete had been determined—one man stood up and said he planned to lead his own “pre-occupation” protest (sign in hand) on the Parkway on Monday morning. But others, like 21-year-old Drexel student Dan (who declined to give his last name), said that while the meeting felt somewhat disorganized, “You can feel the energy in this room and I know something great is gonna happen, we just have to figure it all out and do it right. Wherever [Occupy Philly] ends up being, people’s voices are gonna be heard.”
We’ll have plenty more coverage of Occupy Philly in the coming week. Stay tuned…
Meanwhile, some photos from last night’s meetup: