Urban Planner Says Occupy Philly “Glamorizes Homelessness” at City Hall

OccupyPhilly

"Caring about social good is not just buying a reusable tote bag at Whole Foods. Stop going to Whole Foods!" -Jillian Penrod-Krause, urban planner

Occupy Philly is an unusual creature of a political party when it comes to reform. Members hold these daily meetings called “General Assemblies,” in which citizens of Tent Town over at City Hall hold open meetings for public discourse. Philly has its own version—called City Council meetings—however, the public turnout rate hasn’t swelled nearly as high as Occupy’s since the city’s budget meetings last spring. Sigh, democracy. 

To gain a better understanding of what Occupy needs to succeed, we chatted with Jillian Penrod-Krause, who has a masters in public health and urban planning and works at a Philadelphia area university. And not that it matters, but she also used to live on food stamps for a while and is currently more than $200,000 in student loan debt.

Philly Weekly: Jillian, what were your initial thoughts upon your recent trip to Occupy Philly down at City Hall?

Jillian Penrod-Krause: I thought it was a really interesting, expressive demonstration. I had a bit of a background, following with the news, and I think Occupy Philly is one of the sites that has not had violence or notable interactions or with the police. That affected how I saw it, to know that the police tolerated it. I think any social [action] that the city tolerates made me feel more comfortable viewing it, more comfortable walking by it as a citizen of Philadelphia. I wasn’t getting caught up in feeling unsafe.

PW: Occupy often chants “We are the 99 percent!” From what you observed, does Occupy Philly represent the 99 percent?

JPK: They represent the people who have the time, schedule and energy to come out. They share the same characteristics, so I don’t think they represent the 99 percent. They are really reflecting more of a lower-middle-class to middle-to-upper middle-class. These are people who, at one time, they might have been prosperous. I’m not sure they really represent the poor.  They represent everybody but the super rich.

PW: Dozens of tents are sprinkled around City Hall, which you tweeted was “glamorizing homelessness.” What did you mean?

JPK: It’s not following the message they’re trying to send. When they’re trying to make a statement, why are they not reducing their dependence of corporations to match their message? They have projectors for movies, charging stations for cell phones, all these things—corporations, they make them. They should be reducing their dependence on corporations if they wanna send that message. It costs Philly [almost $33,000] a day to maintain police. That’s pennies compared to the bailout. But if all these people are volunteering or reducing crime or investing in social programs, they could re-route funds to something else that could benefit the city.

PW: But it’s a movement. Why would they give their stuff away?

JPK: They’re asking for jams, individually wrapped foods, honey. All these weird foods when they could be providing food where it’s really in need. These are things that could be marked for social welfare programs … I think it’s one thing to go there doing during day, protest and do their thing. But for people who have a home, go home, eat there. You’re literally asking to take food out of others people’s mouths for your own, when they have none. There are so many great nonprofits in the city.

PW: The movement centers on Occupiers’ relentless efforts to stay put and camp out until change happens. Why do you have such a beef with Occupiers sleeping in tents?

JPK: Philadelphia has alcoves and stoops and alleyways that are utilized by the city’s very large homeless population.  I don’t see true homeless people with tents. Making a big statement and saying like, ‘I’m going without the necessities. I’m going on a hunger strike. I’m doing this to make a statement,’ that really doesn’t involve tents or cell phones. Reduce your dependence. It’s very important for voices to be heard. Absolutely. Ironically, they should take lessons from corporate branding and marketing and figure how to best send [their] message.

PW: You mentioned that Occupy should address “real class issues,” although they call out corporate greed. What else could they do?

JPK: Looking at it on a more municipal level, these are issues with care to the city, like not having funding to educate children, not having resources fight crime. If every single person at Occupy Philly came to every city hall meeting, I think these things would get done. I don’t think this is the regular participation rate of City Hall meetings, and it should be. Why isn’t there any consistency? Why are people some just jumping on the bandwagon? There are plenty opportunities to educate policy makers or vote and make a change, but not everyone is taking them.

PW: Where do you see the movement going?

JPK: It depends on the momentum of the message. I know that’s been a theme in the media, but if they don’t strengthen their message, I don’t think this movement is going to engage and spur the movement it’s meant to.

PW: Its biggest weakness?

JPK: Trying to do too many things. Its lack of a true solid direction and solid message—if everyone is asking what a message is, you need to get your message out there. It needs to be socially sold. Politically sold. It needs to be packaged … If people are coming over to dinner, make the dinner table nice! Caring about social good is not just buying a reusable tote bag at Whole Foods. Stop going to Whole Foods!

PW: Biggest strength?

JPK: This kind of demonstration creates a platform for future demonstrations and I think it’s great City Hall is going back to being a real City Hall, where people use the space.

PW: What’s something people generally don’t know?

JPK: The movement is trying to fight for the survival of a class that corporations and a government created. The middle class formed in the ’50s and ’40s because the government gave everybody money to live. So this class they’re fighting to maintain is a class the government created.

[Editor's note: This was part of a longer conversation.]

10 Responses to “ Urban Planner Says Occupy Philly “Glamorizes Homelessness” at City Hall ”

  1. Susie Madrak says:

    Correction: This class is fighting to recreate the more equitable distribution of wealth and opportunity that used to exist. They’re now fighting a class of disproportionate wealth that was created by a new wave of government policies. Clearer now?

  2. Natasha Chart says:

    It’s a damaging and persistent idea that cell phones are something that the truly poor, or homeless, shouldn’t have. That’s what JPK seems to be suggesting by saying that the demonstrators should give up phones in order to imitate homeless people, which I also don’t agree with but is a longer conversation.

    First, cell phones are cheap. So are a whole host of electronic devices that seem to strike people above a certain age as exotic. Honestly, I’m not immune to that perception, it was a big deal as a kid when my family got its first color TV and I was a teenager before we had a DVD player. But electronics are now cheap and ubiquitous, and the entertainment and information functions that today’s electronics provide are often a good deal over time. But mainly, people need to get over the ridiculous idea that a cell phone is some kind of status symbol. The 1990s are done and even poor people have cell phones.

    Second, everyone needs a phone. Pay phones barely exist anymore. If you’re trying to find a job, you need to have a phone number. If you want to be sure you can call someone for help, you need to have your own phone. Younger people are increasingly living in homes where no one ever bothers getting landline service, a trend that’s moving up the age ladder.

    Third, SMS texting is increasingly a primary means of informal social contact, and has begun to be embedded inextricably with our interpersonal communication habits. For low-income people, who are less likely to have a computer or a stable residence, the cell phone may be their only steady connection to friends, family and work. This is even frequently the case in developing nations, where texting and prepaid phones may be just as common as they are here in the US. Text is an important part of how people talk to each other now and that’s just reality.

    Fourth, and this is the only political point I’m going to make, this protest movement was largely organized via social networking and wouldn’t be possible today without the communications culture enabled by mobile devices. I doubt that any of the protestors want these devices, or the companies who make them, abolished. They aren’t Luddites. They just don’t think that the corporate persons who make their phones deserve more political consideration than actual persons like you & I & everyone standing out in the rain tonight in support of democratic governance.

  3. Donna Fennell says:

    I find the whole anti-corporation message misleading. I mean, who uses a computer or cell phone made in their basement, or in a small shop? Instead, why not push for more socially responsible corporations? (which would include a fair wage to live on). Besides, if there is one umbrella issue here it is campaign finance reform. Outlaw superpacs, campaign contributions above $100, and lobbyists. Let’s see who legislators speak for then.

  4. Nik says:

    Who ever said this was a destroy the corporations movement? The only thing we have ever talked about is stopping the corporations from buying policy in their favor at the expense of everyone else. Also, those corporations would use every tool at their disposal to gain a competitive advantage, so why shouldn’t we use every tool to make ourselves heard? I really agree with Natasha, as well. The prejudiced vision of what is poor or not poor is ridiculous, as Jon Stewart pointed out on the Daily Show not too long ago, when a Congressman said that some large percentage of poor people had a fridge. Poor is a class, not what possessions someone has, and it is the most exploited class in the U.S.

  5. Oskar says:

    The interviewee doesn’t get it. She’s dense. She has no clue what she is talking about.

    Corporations are not in and of themselves bad. It is certain types of corporations that are associated with what is often referred to as the “Predator Class” that are bad.

  6. Mary Stein says:

    “Reduce your dependence”
    Even for those who want to reduce their dependence, the system makes it impossible. no one wants to be poor or unplugged. As reader Natasha Chart commented above: “everyone needs a phone. Pay phones barely exist anymore. If you’re trying to find a job, you need to have a phone number.”

    It is always the middle class that takes the greatest hits. As JPK says, the protest is not the poor, but the middle, more educated classes. This is good, the middle class will lead to change.

    The argument of “either you hate corporations and their products, or you are a part of them” reminds me of Bush’s “for or against us” , it is a populist discourse.

    The point the protesters should be clear in making, is that THE SYSTEM in ITSELF is flawed. This does not mean that we don’t recognize the “work” of corporations. but perhaps it is time that the Corporations” recognize that they wouldn’t be anywhere if it wasn’t for us working for them. It is undeniable that the middle class has grown out of the economy that now enslaves it, why is it wrong to want change? The corporations that created the opportunities for a more educated middle class, also now face the threat of their increased education. This protests were inevitable.

    The current system works well only if we support ignorance. Ignorance of the masses increases the profits of the 1%. Maintains the status quo. So should we aim towards a system with people who work, but don’t question?

    JPK’s answers imply that there are only two choices: capitalism as we now have it or a socialist type or a place where there is equality but everyone is poor. This is not where the debate should be centered, but thats what the defenders of the system are articulating. They want to make this about “class war”.

    It takes a lot of guts and courage to admit that there is something very wrong with the system, and a lot of honesty to know that we all need to work together to fix it.

  7. jk says:

    Why did you interview this woman? Does she have some kind of expertise or unique knowledge? Lots of people have MPH’s. she “works at a Philadelphia area university”? So do I, so do thousands of people.

    It’s clear that she is most comfortable working WITHIN the system, advocating better lives for people but not changes to the system. This is clear from her saying she only wants to protest if there is a permit to make her feel “safe” (ironically, after mocking protesters for using tents and cell phones) and puts it on protesters to “reduce crime” (how??) or “invest in social programs” (rather than the government? that’s a libertarian position).

    This is Matthew Petrillo’s second lazy article about Occupy Philly. What’s the deal?

  8. Henry says:

    “I don’t think they represent the 99 percent. They are really reflecting more of a lower-middle-class to middle-to-upper middle-class. [...] They represent everybody but the super rich.”

    Huh,what? That’s some sharp analysis.

    “They’re asking for jams, individually wrapped foods, honey. All these weird foods when they could be providing food where it’s really in need.”

    They are feeding HUNDREDS of people a day! Come one, come all.

    “They use stuff made by corporations!”, “Waaah, what about police overtime?”

    One: Who but giant corporations makes anything any more? That’s part of the problem. Two: the city doesn’t need all those cops there, so that’s their choice. Three: do people moan about overtime for parades? This is democracy in action. It’s certainly worth as much as an annual parade.

    It’s almost as if Matt Petrillo lives to spread every underhanded thing he can come up with about this event.

  9. tad says:

    The fact that all of you cannot grasp the sheer incoherent message you are standing behind, states more clearly than I ever could, exactly what this movement is all about.

  10. L J Cook says:

    “JPK: Looking at it on a more municipal level, these are issues with care to the city, like not having funding to educate children, not having resources fight crime. If every single person at Occupy Philly came to every city hall meeting, I think these things would get done. I don’t think this is the regular participation rate of City Hall meetings, and it should be. Why isn’t there any consistency? Why are people some just jumping on the bandwagon? There are plenty opportunities to educate policy makers or vote and make a change, but not everyone is taking them.”

    If you sit in an office and read articles in the newspaper, or sit at home and watch it all on television, you will not get the full story. If Ms. Penrod-Krause were down there, she would see that Occupiers are addressing these very issues, and more. They are not “literally asking to take food out of others people’s mouths for your own, when they have none.” In fact, the people preparing and serving meals to the homeless at Dilworth Plaza, and the people providing the homeless there with free medical care there are the Occupiers.

    Shame on Penrod-Krause for criticizing others without informing herself about the facts…and shame on PW for providing her with a platform to do so!

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