Occupy Philly, Night 41: ‘This Place Stinks’
Tensions ran high at Occupy Philly last night. Protests the country over have been broken up by police and Mayor Nutter chose the weekend after his re-election to talk tough with the protesters. There was an alleged rape last weekend, sanitation has become a growing concern (especially with recent media reports of shit smeared on lower Dilworth Plaza walls) and a fight between two homeless people found one of them arrested yesterday.
So last night’s General Assembly did not begin on a positive note. “There’s a small group tonight, which means we need to unify more,” said Jacob Russell, one of the first movement representatives. Referencing several media and government stories to come out of Dilworth Plaza, Russell said if anyone hears a story, ask about verification. But mostly, he said, the sensationalism needs to end and the movement needs to return to its original intent—not fighting with the city, but fighting for their multiple human and economic rights causes. But considering the circumstances, that proved tough.
“[The government has] hit every city and society and all that other shit,” said the first speaker of the official General Assembly in an often-rambling report. “If we don’t come together as one…we are here to fight for our next generation. Whether we fail or whether we prosper, our next generation is going to be the product of who we are and what we stood up for. So if we allow the government to treat us in slavery, and we allow people to take advantage of us and we don’t fucking stand up [for ourselves], we’re going to fall apart.”
After he finished, “Pastor Pete” of the Interfaith committee got up to speak, and assured the small crowd that he’d spoken to members of the city government that day, and the camp wasn’t going to be raided by the police that night. In fact, he said the city assured him there’d be no eviction without prior notice. “And for those who do not have permanent housing,” he said, “they are developing a plan for alternatives as to where those people can go if there is an eviction…they will publicize a plan and they will educate us about the plan before any eviction.”
“So, I hope we can all relax a little,” he said.
Many members of the media and city government have been urging the protesters to leave, saying their job is done. Some media reports have faulted the movement for voting to stay at Dilwoth Plaza without noting the city has thus far refused to provide the demonstrators with a permit—or even a conversation about a permit—to go somewhere else. Which seems to be what the majority of protesters want.
But the problem remains. Dilworth Plaza is a mess. And Nutter has been pretty blunt about that. “In spite of the presence of porto-potties, the problem with public urination and defecation remains a significant health threat,” he said on Sunday. “In short, conditions there are unsanitary and that also includes food distribution.”
The Sanitation Committee has been MIA for some time, according to numerous protesters at the General Assembly. And during the GA, when I thought maybe it was just me being paranoid, having not camped out at Occupy in about a month, others said what I’d been thinking and proposed a massive clean-up resolution: On nights like tonight, said a member of the GA, when it smells like urine, it’s obvious we all need to step up. So a resolution was proposed that would find the entirety of the Dilworth movement cleaning up after themselves every two weeks, after the GA voted to hold a candlelight vigil tonight, signifying a request to the mayor and his forces not to use violence.
During the question period of the clean-up proposal, a young female member of the group, who’d earlier volunteered to take notes, said she had a question, though clearly did not. She got to the front of the group, turned an orange bucket upside down, stood on it, and took the “people’s mic.”
“OK,” she said. “Has anyone here ever seen a person burn a dollar with the word ‘Violence’ written on it, with a lighter with ‘Peace’ written on it?” She began attempting to burn the dollar, and a member of the group acknowledged that this question had nothing to do with the proposal at hand. She was asked to remove herself from the bucket.
The massive cleanup every two weeks, on alternating Wednesdays and Saturdays, went through several more comments/questions. ‘Was this necessary?’ ‘Is two weeks often enough?’ One woman standing behind me said the group should collect money for bottles of cleaner from the dollar store, “for nights like this, when it smells like urine,” she said. “I will offer up the first bottle.”
Another member offered an amendment for a ‘Pee watch’—essentially, a “see something, say something” attitude toward OP members and others who are caught using the Plaza as their personal toilet. It was suggested this be passed as its own resolution.
The resolution passed, and representatives said they’d be contacting the city about using the water sources on either side of City Hall to assist in the clean-up.
A walk around the Plaza proved messier than anyone at the GA could let on and it’s hard to imagine outbreaks of disease like ringworm and scabies haven’t hit Philly like they’ve done to camps in California. It smelled just terrible, and different corners emitted different bodily smells. Later on, I spoke with a homeless man who said the Occupy protests around the country had restored his faith in the American people, though in general, he’d rather hang out with animals, because animals don’t have ulterior motives.
I headed down to catch the El back home later and passed a man on the staircase who waved his open palm in front of his face while exclaiming to me, “Man, this place stinks.” Usually I’d have laughed with a nod and a shrug, maybe let out a “Yeah” as we passed. But this time I didn’t.