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Occupy National Gathering | Occupied Stories

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Wild Cats on the Run through Philly Summer Night

Editor’s note: This post is part of our #NatGat coverage. You may read more #NatGat-related stories here.

Philadelphia, PA – After a day of marching the streets of Philadelphia photographing a protest against student debt at Occupy’s National Gathering on Sunday, July 1st I escaped the oppressive heat for some air conditioning as one of my journalist friends offered a beer. After a good meal and conversation we reemerged into the now slightly cooler Philly summer night and walked down 10th Street towards Market Street when we suddenly heard the  familiar chant of “Whose street? Our street!” ringing around the corner. Shortly thereafter the first marchers came into view and we knew right away that after the very orderly and disciplined march from earlier in the day, this was the after party for those who had wanted more action. The daytime march was routed to bring the occupiers close to Penn’s Landing, where a rightwing group was holding their annual July 4th weekend festivities. However, Philadelphia PD clearly didn’t want a confrontation on their hands and blocked the NatGat march outside shouting distance from the Tea Partiers. The marchers had stood in a stand-off with PPD for a brief time during which they debated whether to push their luck or return to Franklin Square Park where gatherings and teach-in’s were taking place. Worn out from the immense heat, most marchers opted to return to the park. As everyone turned around, I noticed a group of protesters clearly disappointed.

As we encountered the evening march, I still had my camera in my bag and my friend his notepad ready, so we decided to tag along with the group of 40-50 protesters flanked to the left and right by about maybe 30 bicycle cops, dressed in neat dark blue shirts and the ominously sounding “Police Strike Force” printed in light reflective letters on their backs. I did notice a heavy presence of Philadelphia PD brass marching along with the group. One protester pointed out the commissioner, Charles Ramsey out to me as being among them. The other three were his deputies.

We headed down towards City Hall following the marchers into the street and running against traffic. Philly PD tried to herd the group into the lane flowing with traffic but marchers kept changing direction, often by running in sudden dashes in and out of the admittedly very light Philly evening traffic, choosing to swim “upstream” rather than going with the flow. Some of the protesters were definitively agitated and chants ranged from the productive to the unprintable, but I didn’t notice anything excessively unruly. No trash or paint was thrown, no attempts at breaking windows or other property were made, and no overtly aggressive or threatening behavior was evident to me. This was a group letting off some steam by running in the streets and at some point trying to jump into a public fountain for a cool off before the bike cops managed to get in the way. I’ve seen more unruly behavior at “orderly” marches in New York … Still, the presence of senior brass worried me. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly hardly ever comes to OWS marches. When his deputy Ray Esposito shows up, mass arrests are almost par for the course …

That said, it was also clear that this was not part of the official NatGat program, whose organizers have spent much time and energy on putting together a program focused on movement building, alliance forming, and constructive dialogue. One of the organizers later expressed great frustration to me at what was about to transpire, stating that they did not look to force confrontation with the police. I had heard some rumblings on twitter and from New Yorker participants pro and contra the use of black block tactics during marches at NatGat events, an argument that has been ongoing in the movement ever since the police crackdowns started in the fall. That energy needed somewhere to go at NatGat, and it came out in this march in the form of running in the streets while dancing, singing and shouting. But nothing more than that.

After about 30 minutes of us marching and running along with the protesters, my friend decided to return to the Greyhound station to which we were originally headed after dinner, as he had a bus to catch back to New York. I chose to stay on to see what would transpire. Something was up, but I wasn’t clear as to whether trouble would come from the protesters or the police. I remember one moment, as we were making a mad dash around a corner near City Hall, one protester called out that he had been talking to a cop who said that people would get arrested if they kept running in the streets. I remember that clearly, because the kid was right next to me when he said it. I don’t know if anyone else actually heard him. Most were busy running, catching up, and catching a breath. It was still a very hot night even as the clock struck 10pm.

In New York, when I tag along with wild cat marches, I stay on the sidewalk, as cops tend to block the edge of the streets to prevent protesters from running in the streets and grab those that make it through anyways. NYPD takes a very dim view on marching in the streets without a march permit. In Philadelphia I had noticed during the march earlier in the day that protesters took to the streets unimpeded, even though the march in itself was not permitted. The march had a pacer who cooperated with the PPD Community Service officer who then passed on the information to the commander of the officers lining the march and directing traffic. So, when I saw the kids run in the streets during the evening wild cat march, I didn’t expect that to be the cause for trouble. I also noticed that I could not walk on the sidewalk per usual, as the bike cops were taking up the entire breadth of it as they flanked the march. My only option for staying with the march was to follow the protesters into the streets.

As time wore on I noticed that one of the units fell behind and started to group at the end of the march rather than on the sides. Reinforcements had arrived, too. Had the ratio cop to protester been about 1 cop for 2 protesters when I happened upon the march, the ratio now was passing 1 to 1 towards having more cops than protesters on the scene. When we passed Cherry Street while marching on Broad St I heard the community affairs officer tell one of the protesters to turn into Race Street which lead us back towards Franklin Square. A unit of bicycle cops blocked Broad Street, so that the march really couldn’t turn any other way than directed. The park was closed at that time, but it was in the general direction of where most NatGaters had found sleeping quarters for the night. It seemed police was starting to lose patience and wanted people to go home. A protester at that time also popped up next to me and told me “we’re going to disperse shortly, stand by for the signal”.  The marchers had grown tired, as well. So, at that time it appeared as if we were headed to a peaceful resolution.

As we were marching down Race Street I noticed that the unit of bike cops that had been riding along side the march had slowly one by one regrouped at the front of it. I looked back and saw a second unit of bike cops bring up the back of the march. At that point we passed a side street that the marchers wanted to turn into, but decided not to when they noticed it was lined on both sides with police vehicles. We just passed Philly Police Headquarters, and this is where they kept their vehicles parked. So the march trotted on along on Race Street and looking back and forth I remember thinking “we’re kettled.” Just about then I saw the bike unit in the front get a signal at which they spread out across the street and blocked the marchers from moving forward. One kid, whom I did not know, charged the bike unit, trying to break through the blockade and was taken down quickly and shoved back into the herd. The rest of the group while getting agitated did not charge the police line, as was later claimed in the arrest notices, but rather stood and shouted, then turned around trying to get out the back when everyone realized that the second bike unit had also closed off the street and we were captured. At no point was an official dispersal order or arrest warning given. No illegal assembly had been declared. Protesters were not given the option to quietly go home. The kettle closed, everybody in it was told they were being arrested, and that was the end of that.

Some protesters got angry and started shouting at the cops “why are you doing this? We didn’t do anything wrong” and some other things, not all of them printable. Others just sat down on the sidewalk resigned to the fact that they would spend the night in jail. All in all the group did keep it together and while some were standing up for themselves and complaining about being trapped I did not see any aggressive behavior after that first kid that had charged the police line.


Still, within maybe 3-4 minutes in which the two sides stood there in a standoff, the bike cops shoved everyone onto the sidewalk, using their bikes as barricades as they closed in. Everyone was ordered to sit down and await their arrest. I tried to get out of the kettle by showing the cops my ID card from the National Press Photographers’ Association, and two of the cops responded “Don’t worry, you’ll be safe.” As they were about to let me pass through their ranks a protester came up from behind, called out my name, grabbed my bag and pulled me back in, which aroused suspicion in the cops.

“Are you with them or are you a reporter?” one of them asked.

I responded “I’m a photographer and I’ve been covering the movement for the past nine months. So, of course I know many of them.”

The Lieutenant then instructed his unit “she’s with them, keep her in,” pointing at the NLG number I had written on my arm.

I said that this was a safety measure, since photographers had been arrested in other cases, so the Lieutenant took a closer look at my NPPA press pass.

“Never heard of them” he said, tossing my credentials back at me. “Who you shootin’ for?”

“I’m an independent photographer”, I responded.

“So, you sell your pictures?” the Lieutenant asked.

“Yes, I do, if someone wants them,” I replied.

“So, you’re a papparazzi, not a reporter”, the Lieutenant concluded, repeating to his troops “she’s with them” and ordered me to keep in the corner.

All the while this conversation was going on I kept shooting pictures of protesters getting arrested right next to me. Some tried to get up and move around, others just sat there waiting. The arrests were very methodical and mostly without violence. A couple of protesters who had gotten up and tried to sit close to their friends got grabbed and pushed against the wall a little harder, others complained about tight zip ties. Still, for a mass arrest of close to 30 people accused of unruly behavior, the entire procedure was very orderly.

As I kept photographing, the Lieutenant got annoyed and said, “stop doing the press thing. You’re a papparazzi. Put your camera away or you will be arrested.”

At this point I asked “Am I under arrest, Lieutenant?” to which one member of his squadron replied

“Hang in there, we’re getting the boss.” The Lieutenant looked a little unhappy but said “in the meantime, put that camera away.”

I still believe I had every right to photograph where I was and what I saw but was a little weary of pushing things further, so I did take the flash off my camera and stuffed it into the bag I had hanging around my shoulder. As cops ordered the protesters to sit down or get hurt I stood quietly in the corner, waiting for things to evolve and tweeting about my possible arrest while feeling the full force of a splitting headache, I had tried to ignore for the better part of the evening march. It had been excruciatingly hot all day, and photographing protests is a physically demanding undertaking, so I sweated enormously. While I had been drinking a lot of water, I did not resalinate, and was now paying the price for that.

The boss, I believe it was the Commissioner himself, but I might be mistaken – it definitively was a very senior white shirt cop – eventually came and took another look at my press pass and told his troops “It’s ok, she can go.” And so, after about 15 rather tense minutes, they finally did let me leave the kettle. I crossed the road, while tweeting that I was now out, when an officer in a light blue shirt came over and introduced himself to me as the “media relations officer”. Why he was there at the ready when at that point the TV crews had not yet shown up I do not know, but he demanded to see my press pass, wrote down my name and the fact that the pass was from the NPAA, and then asked for my address and date of birth. I know I should have told him to call my lawyer, but was frankly a little out of it, so I gave him the info.

After a couple of minutes I regrouped, pulled out my camera again and started taking pictures of the arrestees lined up and waiting for the paddy wagon. At that point I also noticed the Fox News crew running around filming the protesters being loaded in, talking to the Commissioner and other brass. I don’t think they interviewed the protesters. As the first paddy wagon drove off, I heard a choir of voices from inside singing in union “solidarity forever” …

As word of the arrests got out, other occupiers arrived on scene, many shouting at the cops, protesting what they saw. I was particularly impressed with an older lady who in a quiet but determined way heckled the police for arresting these marchers. She didn’t use any unfriendly words, but clearly got the point across that she felt what the police did that night was wrong. The cops and the news crew ignored her and kept going about their business.

A group of occupiers that had congregated at the arrest scene by then marched on further down the street to the police headquarters for jail support. I wanted to join them but felt I needed a break from my headache, especially since a text had gone out saying that most arrestees were expected to be released within 3-4 hours. So, I found the group from Occupied Stories who by then had bedded down outside a PNC Bank branch on Walnut and 9th Streets and to my delight found a couch standing on the sidewalk that I could crash on. Halfway through the night I woke up to find a man a few feet away from my face taking pictures of me sleeping on the couch. He was not a photographer and looked more like an undercover cop armed with a cellphone. So, who, exactly, was the papparazzo in this piece?

On Monday morning, as we walked back to Franklin Square, we passed by the police headquarters and saw that jail support was still ongoing. At 9am, a good 10 hours after the arrest, only about 5 protesters had been released, telling stories of being kept in the paddy wagon without water for close to an hour, and realizing that their belongings had gotten mixed up between different protesters, indicating a thorough search of everyone’s bags. I sat down with the protesters to catch up on what had transpired after I had left the kettle. Slowly, usually in groups of two and three, the arrestees emerged, all very happy to be greeted by their friends, several voicing complaints about their treatment. One protester read out the charges levied against him, while another added pantomimic underlining for entertainment. In essence, Philadelphia Police’s version of the story is that the protesters disrupted traffic, blocked a highway (which Race St on which we were kettled technically is) and then charged the police line, upon which they had kettled the group. That is not what happened on Sunday night, as the wild cats went running in Philly.

-Julia Reinhart-

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#NatGat, Day 1

Editor’s note: This post is part of our #NatGat coverage. You may read more #NatGat-related stories here.

Philadelphia, PA–On the first day of the Occupy National Gathering, the excitement to meet one another was hampered by police confrontation. This led to indecision and internal arguments over contingency plans, but by the evening, Occupiers were safely assembled at jail solidarity or at the National Gathering Comedy Show.

The afternoon began with workshops around issues like the All In The Red debt campaign and the War on Drugs. Through the afternoon, the Occupy Caravans delivered activists from Tuscon, Wichita, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and many more cities from around the country, who were all formally welcomed at the informational meeting at 3:30 on Independence Mall. At the meeting, National Gathering Working Group members explained issues from food to legal safety, reviewing the logistics Occupy National Gathering Welcome Packet.

At 6pm, an enthusiastic and dance-filled March to End Corporate Personhood began at Wells Fargo and looped around to the park behind Independence Mall. The heavy police presence prompted a series of mic-checks, in which Occupiers shared a range of opinions about Occupy’s relationship with the cops.

Around 7pm, an Occupier attempted to put down a cot and police officers and park rangers informed the group that any setting up of bedding was prohibited. Occupiers set down a tent and surrounded it in solidarity. Members of the Philadelphia Police strike force pushed through the protest line using bikes to clear Occupiers. In the clashes, one Occupier was arrested while others were knocked to the ground. The officers carried away all sleeping material, including those not being set up.

Still surrounded by police, the conversation was strained about what to do next. NatGat Working Group members informed the assembled that Occupiers were legally allowed to sleep on sidewalks, which would also show solidarity with Philadelphia’s homeless, or stay at 4th and Arch in the parking lot of the Philadelphia Friend’s Center. However, the ring of police around the meeting made some feel uncomfortable with a discussion about strategy, causing the attempted impromptu assembly to largely devolve. Most went to 4th and Arch, although others remained in the park or went elsewhere.

At a little after 9pm, a group of Occupiers gathered in the Friends’ Center parking lot for the upcoming entertainment, while another group went to the Philadelphia roundhouse to do jail solidarity for the arrested protester — who was reportedly arrested for assaulting a police officer on federal property. The National Gathering Comedy Show was hosted by N.A. Po of Occupy Philly and included several local comedians. Activists drank from water jugs and enjoyed pizza and snacks in the parking lot where many settled for the night.

– Zachary Bell –

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What Would William Penn Do?

Editor’s note: This post is part of our #NatGat coverage. You may read more #NatGat-related stories here.

Philadelphia, PA–I’ve done the All in the Red casseroles marches weekly in New York and was curious to see what it would be like in a different city. Arriving to the Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia on Sunday, this was my first march as part of the National Gathering, and my first ever protest in Philadelphia, and I was unsure of what to expect but mostly optimistic and excited. It would be interesting to participate in a march that (as far as I knew in the United States) was only happening on a regular basis in my home city, but this time in a new place with a group of unfamiliar people.

Shortly after we began, there was a split between those who wanted to take the streets and those who did not. I recognized those who organized and were pacing the march were from New York; where we’re from, taking the streets is a risk in which you may be arrested immediately for setting one foot in the road. But the cops here cruised on their bicycles, letting us move freely. The pacers responded by mic checking that they supported autonomous action but were not recommending or suggesting we walk in the street. But once it seemed as though the police truly did not care, they and most of the march poured into the street.

Because many of us are from different cities, and therefore have varying experiences with different police forces, everyone seemed to react differently to the authorities. I was not in Philadelphia the day before, so I had no previous experience with the Philadelphia Police Department and could only go by their indifference to our taking the street, and felt that the police were being very permissive and respectful. But a few people taunted the police while others yelled at comrades in the streets things like “Good luck getting arrested!” Few of us from out of town anticipated the police’s leniency, and I probably wasn’t the only one who wondered how long this would last.

The bulk of the march was spent walking east on Market Street. I had been here before a few times years ago, going across the river to Philadelphia for concerts in my teen years, but the new context made the place seem rather alien. The last time I visited here was before I moved to New York, and today the city seemed desolate and devoid of people—but here on Market Street, people stopped, stood and watched us.

We approached Penn’s Landing, and many of us out-of-towners weren’t quite sure where the bridge led to. We took the bridge, and when we made it half-way across we circled around and came back. “We shouldn’t have turned around,” I heard someone say behind me. “Why don’t we cross to the other side?” A few steps after our turn-around we stopped again with a mic check from a pacer: apparently, we were originally meant to cross the bridge but the front of the march had come upon a wall of cops on the other side. Not wanting to start conflict with them, those in front decided to turn around and walk back. But some protesters took issue with this and wanted to face the cops. Would we continue on this new path, off the bridge on the side we entered, or confront the police?

Opinions divided, and the march did as well. I followed the group that went back towards the police, but there was no clear strategy as to what to do once we met with them. What were we here for? Some said confronting the police was exactly the reason why we had all come together; others said this march was only to educate and raise awareness to the student debt crisis, and that conflicts with the police would only muddy that message and invite criticism we didn’t need. So we ended up doing a lot of standing and sitting on the other end of the bridge in front of the police. I heard one guy gossip that obviously an undercover had suggested that we move back towards the police instead of re-routing; another one was showing rumors that he received on his phone that police re-enforcements were on their way to kettle and arrest us all.

There was slight conflict with civilians when the police opened up space in their wall to allow civilians from a street festival on the other side of the bridge to pass. I wasn’t so close to see what happened—I expect protesters tried to squeeze through—but I heard a lot of yelling as a mother and her kids (and then other civilians, but she was doing the yelling) walked past us looking flustered. One girl said it best: “They see us as an inconvenience, and don’t realize that this inconvenience is a public service.”

We eventually decided to march back to Franklin Square Park. Again, we were divided between those in and out of the street, but the walk back was largely casual, with fewer chants. We made it back with pretty much no conflict, and lots of support from bystanders and drivers.

– Joe Sutton –

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Occupy Caravan, Days 7 & 8: Occupy New Orleans

Editor’s note: This story is part of an on-going series documenting the Occupy Caravan’s journey from California to Philadelphia. It was originally posted here.

Day 7


So, we got a very early start on the road this morning, leaving from Wichita, KS at 8am. Our first part of the trip will be traveling to Okemah, OK, the hometown of Woody Guthrie, where we will be meeting up with the southern caravan.

We picked up two additional people from Wichita, Richard and Ben. Both seem to be very nice people, and seem like they will make a great addition to the group.


So, we made it to Okemah around 12pm, and met up with the southern caravan. We had lunch at this really cute restaurant called Daddios.

Day 11


So, we are once again on the road. Sorry I have not been posting for the past couple of days, but between live streaming and participation in direct action in New Orleans yesterday, I have just been so exhausted.

In addition, I have been silent the past couple of days because I needed to think on something. You see, on the 18th, I found an article written by Powerline about the Caravan that not only was extremely right wing, but that the author used quotes from my blog and my photos from my blog without even the courtesy of asking my permission first.

Not only was the article so far in right field, but the author of the article, John Hinderaker, who is a lawyer, came to some of the most absurd conclusions. Not only was the article libelous, but you would think that a lawyer would be more familiar with intellectual property law. However, since he apparently is not, let me say now, all content in this blog, including but not limited to blog text and photos, are the intellectual property of myself, and may not be used or reproduced without my expressed permission.

Anyways, enough about that. Now on to how things went for us in New Orleans. First, allow me to say a special thank you to our hosts, Occupy New Orleans and Occupy The Stage. Not only did they give us an extremely warm welcome, they made sure that we will never forget our time there.

Our experience yesterday began at the Superdome when we went to protest the auctioning off of offshore properties in the Gulf of Mexico that were being bid upon for offshore oil drilling purposes. The auction bid reading was open to the public, so we went inside.

While we were inside, we were approached by security, and told we had to leave. At this point, all we had been doing was standing there and listening. At one point, one of the security people told me I was not allowed to be filming her, yet there were at least 10 video cameras filming the reading, including some from mainstream press. I pointed this out to her, and she apparently did not like it, because the next thing you know, she was calling for backup.

It was at this point that some of the media in the room began to notice what was going on. At one point, a person with mainstream media came over, and asked security why we were being asked to leave. He also pointed out that this was a public meeting, and that we were not creating a disturbance by standing there watching.

After a few more moments, security stepped away from the room, and I decided to go out for a cigarette (yeah, I know…smoking is bad!) I got lost trying to find my way out, and went to the wrong side of the arena, and by the time I found the right exit, I saw the rest of our group outside, and I found out that they had been asked to leave after doing a people’s mic and interrupting the auction (I hate when I miss the fun stuff due to smoking!)


Hey again folks. So, we had a very beautiful action this afternoon. We had a small rally of about 30 people who met up at Washington Square Park, where we got to listen to The Willow Family Band perform, before having a march to City Hall.

We marched through the French Quarter, and from what I could see, we had a number.

– James Jennison –

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Occupy Caravan, Day 5: Western Hospitality

Editor’s note: This story is part of an on-going series documenting the Occupy Caravan’s journey from California to Philadelphia. This part was originally posted here.

Wichita, KS–So, I have to apologize for not posting to the blog yesterday.  Since I was traveling in a different van, with different people, I decided to try something different with my live stream.  Since I had access to a consistent power source, I decided to stream non-stop for the day, so I did not have a chance to do any regular updates.  I will however upload the pictures that I took yesterday, under the post called Day 4.

Today, I decided to do the same thing and stream non-stop, so I don’t have as many pictures as I would normally have taken.  I’ll go back to taking more pictures beginning tomorrow.

So, today, we traveled from Denver, CO to Wichita, KS.  To be honest, I wasn’t altogether impressed with the scenery.  There really was nothing to see once we got into eastern Colorado…just dry plains as far as the eye could see.

We did have a great stop in the city of Colby, KS however.  We stopped at this really cute little bar/restaurant called Mabel’s.  We met both the owner of the bar, and the owner of the building.  Both were extremely warm and welcoming, and they even made us a plate of something wonderful, of which for the life of me, I can’t remember what it’s called.  I did take a picture of it, and have included it with this post.  Lunch was fantastic, and I don’t remember the last time I had a bacon cheeseburger that tasted so good.

We arrived in Wichita around 9:30pm, and we drove to the Peace & Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas, where we were greeted by about 7 or 8 people with open arms.  We also found out that we will be adding one more person to our group, by the name of Richard.  He will be the first addition to our group since we left Oakland.

We will be staying in Wichita for 2 nights, and then heading to Oklahoma City, OK, where we will be converging with the southern caravan.  That will be nice as I will be able to see some of my friends that I made in LA from when we went to Chicago.  I only hope that the southern route is having as much of a good time with their group as I am with ours.

Anyways, I’m sorry that today’s post is not in as much detail as my previous ones.  I will get back to my normal updates tomorrow as I am able.

– James Jennison –

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