Another one bites the dust. Early Wednesday morning, Philadelphia police removed protesters at Occupy Philly. The physical seat of the Occupy movement in Philadelphia was Dilworth Plaza, a space directly abutting City Hall that is owned and maintained by the City of Philadelphia. Occupy Philly’s eviction comes just two weeks after the highly publicized evictions at Occupy Oakland and Zuccotti Park in New York and almost simultaneously with the Occupy Los Angeles raid.
For the past two months the country has watched the Occupy movement spread from Wall Street to more than 95 major cities across America and around the world. We watched as people who identify as the 99% took up residence in public places and exercised their right to peaceably assemble. Now we see the Occupy camps in major American cities being shut down one by one. Reasons cited by city administrations include substandard safety and health conditions in the camps. Are these shutdowns just a convenient way to try and stifle the movement or were they inevitable?
In Philadelphia, like other cities, protesters are still allowed to congregate– just not overnight, and many are left wondering if the movement will lose its momentum without a 24-hour visible presence. A loftier question, still, lies in what the focus should be when we consider the legacy created at Philadelphia’s “tent city”. What was accomplished? Can Occupy persist without a physical occupation?
Occupy Philly began on October 6 and served as a rallying point for numerous area marches and protests for more than 50 days. As an outsider I was largely unaware of the action at PNC Bank or the arrests at Comcast, so I visited the site a few weeks before its closure to better understand the movement and the people involved. I joined a new friend who occupied to oppose corporate personhood. He was not a permanent resident, but showed me the tent he sometimes utilized and what life is like for an occupier. I quickly learned that this site had its own free library, three hot meals a day available for anyone, and even its own medical tent. Donations of clothing, food, and books flowed into the Comfort tent to be distributed to needy occupiers every day. A safety committee worked to peacefully deescalate disagreements among protesters. The General Assembly, then and now, serves as the voice of democratic governance and a forum for group decision making.
Special interest groups like Grandmothers for Peace, Truth Freedom Prosperity, and the Philadelphia International Action Center also had a presence and were indicative of the spectrum of ideas being represented by many of the occupiers themselves. In this small community, social backgrounds, gender, and political affiliations were generally given a back seat as most people were united by a shared desire for change in our society. I also became aware of just how much city cooperation, namely in obtaining permits to assemble and gaining access to City Hall’s electricity, was necessary to keep the camp viable.
Inevitably, as the Nov. 15 start date for the $50 million Dilworth Plaza renovation came and went, communication and cooperation with the city and the occupiers quickly began to deteriorate. From the outset occupy protesters were divided over whether they supported the renovation and if they would move if asked. Finally within the 72 hours after the official Sunday 5pm deadline to disperse, the police eventually made their decision for them. The area was gutted and those who refused to leave were arrested. Now, the former Occupy site lays empty except for police on watch to ensure that no one returns.
So what’s next? During my visit to Occupy Philly I spoke to a movement facilitating committee member about the future of the movement. In his view, there is no end in sight. He anticipates that sit-ins, protests, and marches will continue to bring attention to the pleas of the 99% with or without a permanent camp site.
You can keep up with the minute-to-minute happenings of Occupy Philly on their media site.