11.20.2011


11/12/11

Occupy Philadelphia recently celebrated one month of occupying Dilworth Plaza in front of City Hall. Last night, the General Assembly decided, after a week of discussion and an epic five-hour meeting in the cold, to stay at City Hall, despite the city’s impending construction plans for the plaza. It has yet to be seen whether this act of defiance will disrupt the relative ease Occupy Philly has operated with. The mayor may stop making midnight meet and greet visits. The police may send in more plain-clothes agitators. The following are some highlights and notes:

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As is gets colder the protest has contradicted and grown. A couple of carpenters built pallet houses for some of the homeless who lived in the plaza before Occupy began, who will likely be there after. The numbers of homeless have increased too, and while this, like everything, is not without its complications, people are working together to align the needs of the longtime residents with those newer to the neighborhood. The concrete surrounding City Hall is brighter than usual: tent green, blanket blue, cardboard sign brown, endless flyers white. There are three meals a day. There are children. Not only are there children, but there is a kids movie series. There is a library. People actually volunteered to be on the Sanitation Committee. There continues to be an outpouring of support.
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We’ve lost count of how many times we have marched around City Hall.

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We watched the Phillies lose their last game of the season here. It was projected onto a big screen, and over a 100 people (including some amused cops and journalists) watched. Some worried that it would make us the laughing stock of the Occupy movement, others insisted it just made us more American.  After the game was over I, a semi-retired DJ, jumped on youtube and played the following radical music videos: 5 Million Ways to Kill a C.E.O. by The Coup, Latinomerica by Calle 13, Millionaire by Kelis feat. Andre 3000, and video by the talented rapper Invincible before some self-appointed someone, “I’m on _____ and ______ committee,” told me to turn it off. I told the newborn official (or undercover cop) I would turn it off, but I didn’t care what committee they were on. They seem genuinely pissed I wouldn’t recognize their power. I write of this to: 1. Share some great music videos with you. 2. Show how Philly Philly is—baseball game watching at the protest (no committee self-selected spokespeople dared interrupt while on) and 3. Remind of how quickly we can become what we fight against. I don’t know that Occupy Philly won’t last forever, but I do know that power confused committees and infighting may threaten as much as the coming snows.
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There was a surreal moment on Halloween when Angela Davis, in town for a conference, led a march sixteen blocks from UPENN to City Hall, where she proceeded to lead a short rally.
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I see people for whom activism is not new struggle to balance the old meetings and organizing with the new. It can be exhausting, but the energy of Occupy Philly is infectious. Still, there are questions of how can we integrate this movement into existing social justice campaigns, or should we? What we want is bigger than a list of demands, more than some illusion of a clear agenda.

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Speaking of, are these new recruits for ongoing work? Maybe. We hope so. Those who have found their way to City Hall because their belief in the system wore off, because they finally looked it up and realized that capitalism and democracy are inherently contradictory terms.
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There is what I will go ahead and call “red baiting.” It is primarily directed at the anarchists. I want to tell people they don’t need to be scared, that acts of anarchy happen everyday, are a vital part of how the Occupy movement operates (self-determination, mutual aid, no leaders, etc).  That part of how humans get into messes like the U.S. economic system is by giving power to people who will kick you when you are down and say it is for your own good.

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We watched the footage from Oakland. The brutality recalled so many times past, even if we just restrain ourselves to this country. I remember the mini-tanks used against us in Miami, and the eighteen different types of “non-lethal” bullets.

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The people are fighting. The people have never stopped fighting. It is impassioning to see so many more. The people know that we can do better, so much better, because we’ve been that—if only in moments. We have managed and we can manage more. There is so much more than hope—there is action. 

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