Occupy Philly May Day Protests End in Two Arrests
Yesterday’s Occupy Philly’s May Day celebrations promised—through the animated depiction of UC Davis campus Police Lt. John Pike’s head ripped off and spouting blood like a Kill Bill action sequence—closing down banks throughout Philadelphia. That was at least the thought at 12:30 yesterday afternoon when a crowd gathered at the Wells Fargo branch at 17th and Market Streets in Center City.
After some mic checks, in which Occupiers encouraged more actions throughout the spring and summer similar to their fall sequence and less like those of the winter (“We know what’s at stake, so let’s fight for what we believe in every single day after this day”) things got started.
About 150 protesters marched up Market Street, through and in-between traffic, chanting slogans that did not include “We are the 99 Percent,” which was deemed done, for good. Some in the march said this was due to the term being overrun by big-money Democrat groups like MoveOn.org and the Center for American Progress. “This isn’t a political movement,” said one Occupier who identified himself as ‘Red,’ “This is about an idea.”
Best chant: “Wells Fargo, what the fuck? We bailed you out and you still suck.”
After stopping at 18th and Market Street for some chanting and dancing, the crowd turned the corner and moved into Rittenhouse. While passing Singer Financial Corporation at 17th and Locust, someone in the window gave the crowd the finger. From an Occu-observer’s standpoint, this would be a common theme throughout the day.
The urban human clot arrived at the Wells Fargo branch and said they were in it for the long haul. Traffic was paralyzed around the 1700 block of Walnut. Occupiers assured everyone they were going to shut down Wells Fargo.
“We’re not going to leave, we’re not going to be quiet,” a protester screamed as the group set themselves up on the street with giant signs, bikes and drums. Three SEPTA buses were close by, and one would eventually have to back itself up with the help of police and re-route down 17th Street, which is where all traffic headed. Protesters sat in the street and said they wouldn’t leave until the branch shut down.
A crowd of Center City workers and others gathered to watch the protest.
“I personally think there are people here who don’t know what they’re protesting,” said Eric, a Center City valet and bartender watching the protests for a few minutes, “but this is smart. This brings awareness to people and [gets] people talking—and that’s what important.”
Others were less than impressed. “They’re protesting against Wells Fargo?” asked one woman who stopped to watch from the North sidewalk. “I mean, I get it. I wish it were articulated a little more clearly…It becomes this vague, sort of, ‘protest against everything’ and I just wish the message could be articulated a little bit better.”
A man walked by on his cell phone and yelled, without looking up, “Get a job!” (which is, just…c’mon guy) and several yelled back, “I have two jobs” or “I have three jobs.” No one claimed to have four.
Minutes later, a crowd began to form around the ATM machine outside the bank branch. According to those who witnessed it up close, a man unrelated to the protest attempted to use the machine. He was taunted by protesters, and then allegedly shoved his bank card into a young woman’s mouth. Protesters and police then crowded around the scene and two Occupiers were quickly arrested—one, according to CBS News, for assaulting a police officer and the other for disorderly conduct.
“[After the scuffle with the bank patron] the police really tried to get over there and get them out,” said Dusty, a protester who said he witnessed the scuffle, “and of course, in those situations, we’re gonna crowd around. We want to be there. We want to…have our people’s backs.”
Among those arrested was Sean McMonigle, who yelled to the crowd while pressed up against the Walnut Street club ‘Whisper,’ “Sgt. Smith said, ‘Don’t forget my switch blade’”—which was a similar accusation Occupiers made during the eviction in November.
“There’s a reason they picked Sean,” continued Dusty. “Sean is tried and true Occupy. He’s been here since day one. I don’t go to everything, but everything I’ve been to, he’s been at. They know who he is. He’s got that big orange beard, he stands out. It’s not really a coincidence at all.”
Red said he was surprised to see the scuffles, but understood why it happened.
“You know, I’m not against the police,” he said. “They have their job and it’s tough to do, and I think a good percentage of them probably believe what we’re doing, but they have a job to do.”
He said at most of the events in the fall, the police had been “real cool.”
A woman got in front of the crowd afterwards, and called the arrests unwarranted. “They weren’t provoking. This is a clear show and tell of what kind of power these banks possess. If they don’t like what you’re saying, they can have you arrested. That doesn’t make sense to me,” she said in mic-check fashion.
Jane F., who works as a marketing representative in Center City, couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
“I know it’s freedom of speech. If they want to protest that’s fine, but don’t block off the street. Let people use an ATM,” she said. “I disagree with what they’re doing. It’s not helping the economy. Maybe they should be looking for jobs. I mean, look at all these people…they should be more focused on helping the economy instead of protesting like this in front of a public street in a major city.”
Police at the corner of 18th and Walnut began assembling, passing out plastic handcuffs and walking east. Protesters quickly dispersed and marched throughout the city to separate places, including Rittenhouse Square and School District Headquarters for various other celebrations and protests.
Jane F. was glad to see them go. “Really, I think us business people should protest for them to move,” she said.
But that’s not likely to happen. Protesters promised several new Occupy gatherings throughout the spring and summer. A national celebration over July 4th weekend will commence on Independence Mall. But between now and then, Occupiers say they don’t expect their relationship with the Philadelphia Police Dept. get any better.
“This is probably the last peaceful protest, because next time people are going to come hard,” said one protester before leaving the scene. “I’m going to come hard, and I’m going to wait for these motherfuckers in the street. That’s how it’s gonna go down.”
[An earlier version of this blog made reference to a semi-unrelated e-mail in the first paragraph.]