Hundreds March For Infrastructure Jobs; Rally on Market Street Bridge, 24 Arrested

lady with signHundreds of people, including members of Fight For Philly, Occupy Philly, Action United, the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, and the National Hospital Union, began rallying at the Northwest corner of Dilworth Plaza, readying for their march to the Market Street Bridge at 4 p.m. Their goal: Support the Occupy National Day of Action and infrastructure jobs in what’s increasingly becoming Philadelphia’s decaying, dangerous concrete jungle.

Call it everyone’s last shot at rallying for the 99 Percent, or the infrastructure reasons behind the protest, but the crowd was the largest and most diverse at an Occupy Action in a while—young, old, black, white and, as I tweeted during the rally, “Lots of babies” — many of whose heads bobbed in those cool little front-pack kangaroo pockets while Mom and/or Dad marched.

Members of the Dilworth Plaza audience included Ron, a Northeast Philly resident who’s lived in the city for 50 years. He said he was out to support the struggle, the occupation and show there’s a real need to create jobs, three-plus years into the Recession. Plus, he said he wanted to show the city that they can’t evict the idea this movement is based upon.

“I think there’s plenty of time to negotiate a new spot with the city, and I think if the city offers space, we’ll take it,” he said. “The struggle isn’t about space. It’s about the 99 Percent…And it’s sort of funny how they’re all concerned about law and order all the sudden. They weren’t worried about law and order when all those thieves on Wall Street were raping us.”
He said despite its flaws, the Occupy movement has changed the national conversation. “The whole narrative up until recently was the deficit and cutting spending,” he said. “I think this is a counter attack.”

Other members, like Amber, a South Philly carpenter, said she was there because even though she’s held steady work since she was 16, she can’t imagine “what it must be like to not have access to food, health care,” but says she believes the lack of access, and the benefits being taken away from lower income Americans hurt the working poor. “They feel like they’re going to fail before they begin. The people that are poor in the city are losing the attitude and the drive to succeed,” she said.

Still, Occupy Philly made a mistake by merging with the homeless community who, she believes, don’t care about who’s in office or the recession – “[The homeless] are just looking for a handout, and I think that was against the original idea. I wish I could have come sooner and given some of my ideas and things like that. I could have made a difference.”

Most were aware the rally was in support of infrastructure jobs, though few could account for the situation Philadelphia’s infrastructure is in. Twenty percent of Philadelphia’s bridges are currently deemed deficient, of which the Market Street Bridge is one.

Many advocates believe the American Jobs Act, pushed by President Obama earlier this year, could have put many people to work on infrastructure projects, though it was blocked from even coming up for a vote by Republican members of the Senate and some of their gruesome self-hating Democrat colleagues. After the failure, Obama began breaking up the bill, and tried to pass the Rebuild America Jobs Act, which would have focused solely on infrastructure work. That failed too, with 51 Senators voting for and Republicans threatening a filibuster. This happened in spite of Americans favoring the American Jobs Act by considerable numbers and Americans “following the news” supporting it even more.

Pat Toomey, a common foe of advocacy nonprofit Fight For Philly, has voted against all jobs bills that have come before him (other than the Hire Heroes Act, which does not raise taxes) in spite of running on a job-creating platform. Which has led many to believe he, like the rest of the Republican Party, are not interested in creating jobs but rather melting the economy like microwavable cheese to get their presidential candidate in office in 2012 and build on their congressional numbers.

By the time the group got to 20th and Market, the size had grown to about 500, according to my own estimates and those of people around me (Fight For Philly claimed 1,000 this morning) and police blocked off the rest of Market Street, tying up traffic, so protesters could rally for the infrastructure jobs on the bridge.

As soon as the Schuylkill’s massive power could be felt below our feet, 24 people sat down across the bridge, all wearing signs that said “Willing to Work.” It was pretty dark at this point, but the light of police cars and sirens made it look like just another night where a lot of people are going to get arrested.

Among the sitters were Fight For Philly advocates Dennis and Sam.

“There’s a debate in this country about whether we’ll have jobs or cuts,” said Dennis. “This bridge is a symbol of what’s going on in this country. The same conditions of this bridge is the bridge that crumbled in Minnesota…There are thousands of Pennsylvanians who don’t have health insurance of jobs right now and are willing to work. Pat Toomey can put people back to work right here, or he can support the people who destroyed the economy.”

“There are certain elements of our government,” said Sam, “who should understand that the 99 Percent are willing to work. We need jobs. We need to take care of it in a proper manner. No cuts in Social Security, no cuts in Medicare, we have the money in this country. We just need to see it used.”

Both middle-aged men said they were ready to be arrested for this cause.

sittingThe crowd formed a circle around those sitting across the bridge. They began rallying the rest of the audience with bullhorn speeches and chants. One member of Action United, an advocacy group affiliated with Fight For Philly and other nonprofits in the city, said we need to get rid of the Republicans in Congress, going so far as to say Republicans “don’t care if you eat.”

A member of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project got up and compared the current struggle of those who want to work to the Civil Rights struggles of the 50s and 60s. “In 1963, they marched on Washington advocating for jobs and the Civil Rights Act…the storm is brewing again. There are people who came before us that made it a little easier. There are people who fought and died, soldiers were killed advocating for us. So right now, we’re here to fight for economic justice.” He then started a “We need jobs” chant.

A sitter named Noah held a sign reading, “I am the 1%, I stand with the 99% — Tax Me More!” He told me he inherited wealth “and that’s money that should be taxed. That’s money that should go to build this bridge. I think anybody who has more than they need should be giving it back to society. The people who made this bridge should get that wealth.”

Things got a bit heated between some protesters surrounding the sitters. One demonstrator yelled at those standing on the sidewalk, saying 15 people getting arrested “won’t mean shit,” telling everyone to step on the bridge for a truly mass arrest, but few did. Chants of “Whose bridge? Our bridge!” devolved into “Whose sidewalk? Our sidewalk!” which were then drowned out by the former mantra.

Police gave their first warning a little before 6 p.m. and began arresting at 6:30 p.m. The crowd thinned out as they did. The protesters were peacefully arrested by non-riot geared police officers and taken to the Roundhouse.

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