Camping Out with Occupy Philly, Day 6
It was a good time to show up at Occupy Philly. At about 5pm, everyone getting out of work in Center City is on the move, and many are walking through Dilworth Plaza to get to their train.
Take Rick. Rick didn’t provide a last name, but his black suit, white shirt and purple tie told the 500-or-so people at the Plaza he didn’t belong. He told us he worked in real estate at the building on the corner of 15th and Market. Rick got the basic gist of what was going on.
“There are certainly a whole bunch of things being protested here,” he said. “A lot of people frustrated with the economy and with politics, and it’s borne out of frustration, no matter what the specific cause is.”
He said he even understood the frustration, even if he’s removed from it. “I’m a suit and I’ve got my own frustrations, but there are certain things that…I’ve seen posted [on the Occupy Wall Street website] and there are things that I think anyone would agree with… despite my attire, I think corporate greed is a major problem in this country. I think there’s a major compensation imbalance that needs to be dealt with.”
He doubts the protesters are going to stick around into the winter.
Not too much later, as protestors continued walking across the street holding up signs, a man stood on the other side of Dilworth Plaza with a mess of chewing tobacco in his lower lip. Middle-aged, thin and bald, he stared across the street with what can only be described as a look of disdain.
“It’s entertaining,” he said when asked about the protest. “That’s it.”
“Because they think they’re a legitimate group, and they’re not. They want to be the Tea Party. They’re not the Tea Party,” he said.
Occupy Philly’s Hunger Striker R.J. Smith, since we last saw him, has become something of a star. He was featured on the front cover of Tuesday’s Philadelphia Metro. But he’s not too happy with it.
“They made me out to be a pot head,” he said. “The second headline said I’m doing this for pot, which I’m not.”
He also said he explained the importance of hunger strikes, generally speaking, and used the example of current, ongoing hunger strikes of prisoners in California, which wasn’t reported on.
“I also don’t like how they’re trying to make me the face of Occupy Philly,” he said. “It’s about the 99 Percent. I don’t want to make Occupy Philly look bad just because they made me the face of it, and made me out to be a pot head.”
As we were leaving his station, someone came over and said, “So it’s you causing all the trouble?” He and Smith then bumped fists.
In what was an impressive showing by the tech crew, members of Occupy Philly were Skype-ing with other Occupiers all over the country, using a microphone and a laptop. A man spoke during that time and laid out what was at stake here.
“Is this the calm before the storm?” he rhetorically asked the group. “Are you ready to go to jail? Are you ready to give up your home? These police are not your friend. I’m not saying they’re your enemy, but we are going directly against Wall Street—that’s no joke. They have the power; the power comes from Wall Street to the high level politicians, to City Hall, to the police. The police have to do their job.”
He also said he thought when he helped elect President Barack Obama in 2008, the now-president was a Martin Luther King-like figure. “I’m almost afraid to keep the person in office,” he said, “because I don’t know what he’s going to do the next four years. Because it’s one thing to keep talking about, ‘tax the rich, tax the rich.’ He had a chance to tax the rich but he didn’t do it.”
Someone speaking from another city said he understood the man’s frustrations, but told him not to get too cynical because the opposing side would be far worse.
“I’m tired of seeing Boehner, McConnell and Cantor coming out of those meetings laughing,” the man responded.
A woman got on the mic and spoke in support of President Obama.
Another spoke of her mom, a nurse, getting foreclosed on. “If people getting kicked out of their homes isn’t enough to create a revolution,” she said, “I don’t know what is.”
The Skype was cut off around 7:15 for the greater General Assembly meeting. At the meeting it was mentioned that the Transit Workers’ Union, Local 234 had offered to donate two porta-potties to Dilworth Plaza for the protesters.
The greater group voted overwhelmingly to accept the donations from the union, but agreed there’d be a sign telling people to clean up after themselves.
We also found out the local movement is being supported by the AFL-CIO, stagehands union, AFSCME, Community College of Philadelphia’s AFT union and Philadelphia Jobs for Justice.
The Legal Working Group got on the mic to announce they received a letter from the city at 4:30 that afternoon “that is basically the outline of what the permit is.” They said the tech team would put it online.
They said the most important parts of the letter would be that the city wants to meet with a group of individuals from the protest once a week. “This is not the police. This is the city. This is the mayor’s office,” said Jodie Dodd, one member of the legal team.
She explained that they’d have to explain to the city how they work. Nothing will likely get done in said meetings, because the city is “not used to working in direct democracy.” Whatever they discuss in the meetings, she said, will have to be brought to the greater group for a vote, then brought back to the city.
Then came the big news. Construction starts on City Hall on Nov. 15, which means the protesters will have to move. “The construction on this plaza has been scheduled for 2 years,” said Dodd. Other spots will be discussed with the city, she said.
There was an announcement that the People of Color Committee no longer wanted “white allies” at its meetings. Instead, a white solidarity committee—which sounds much worse than what it is—would meet to discuss issues of racism and white privilege, and the two groups would come together afterwards to make sure allegations of racism are kept to a minimum.
Some pranksters were caught putting up a sign at Dilworth Plaza that reads “Fuck the Police.” They were said to run away almost as soon as they put up their poster.
There is a new PayPal account on Occupy Philly’s website. It was announced that fake PayPal accounts have been going around saying they’re for Occupy Philly, but weren’t. Now, they’ve got to get the word out that the PayPal account on Occupy Philly’s site isn’t also fake.
A group was formed after the announcements with regard to a list of demands. I later met with the group, who said the 20-or-so people broke into smaller groups to discuss what the protest is about. They’re going to put together a Google spreadsheet, where people can list their demands, bring them back to the group and perhaps be voted on by Friday.
We heard the group was having trouble figuring out if they were Philly-centric or if they were just in support of the first movement in New York City.
“Democrats are going to try to co-opt this movement,” a speaker said back at the open mic, which took place after the General Assembly. “We have to decide if this is a reform movement or a revolutionary movement.”
Another said the demands by the city in the permit were meant to “divide us.”
Into the Night
The open mic gave way to several singers and lots of dancing. The main drum circle did not stop—not once—until quiet hours at midnight.
Tout va bien, a French movie starring Jane Fonda, was then shown on the wall at City Hall. About 30 gatherers sat and watched.
For their part, every sane person I talked to gave way to another with some wacky ideas. And there wasn’t just one person talking about Bohemian Grove conspiracies or the secret world domination people “left off” the Forbes 400 list—lots of Alex Jones stuff.
The movement is still leaderless (though it’s obvious who is not a leader), still relatively idealess (as mentioned above), and is largely being run by college kids. Some of them are sleeping over, but many mentioned having to take time out, this week especially, to take midterms.
Sleeping on concrete is nothing like sleeping in the woods. As uncomfortable as dirt and leaves often is, concrete is infinitely worse. There’s no give. It’s much colder than even a damp woody ground. If nothing else, give the full-time occupiers some credit for that. And the way the tents are set up, where they’re set up, there’s no privacy. While trying to get to sleep, it sounded as if the man next to me was snoring in my ear and I found myself unconsciously checking to see if he was actually in my tent. His snores sounded like a creeping reptile seeking out its prey.
Waking up was worse. My tent, already weak because of a lack of soil in which to stick the spikes, had begun caving in due to the rain, and I was reminded of the scene from Fire in the Sky—perhaps the scariest scene in movie history—in which the Travis Walton character has a wet alien tarp smeared over his body before being examined and probed by the mess of alien surgeons around him.
I heard someone in a tent across from mine calling into the Chris Stigall radio show on WPHT, trying to explain that the protesters weren’t a bunch of “freaks.” It was about 7 a.m.
Someone told a passer-by on his way to work to “come join us after work.”
The passer-by, wearing a suit, responded, “I’ve got a 12 hour day.”