Philadelphia, PA–Last night I saw one of the most beautiful moments of my entire 40 years on earth. The Veterans for Peace and Occupy Marines acquired a permit to have a canopy and information table on Independence Mall next to the first amendment monument. They have been there, 24 hours a day, since Saturday. Yesterday afternoon the National Park Service notified the veterans that their permit had been revoked and that they would be evicted from their spot in front of Independence Hall at 9pm.
News spread quickly among the Occupiers, who have been camping on the grounds of an historic site owned by the Quakers at 4th and Arch Streets during the night and gathering at the city-owned Franklin Square Park at 6th and Race for workshops and festivities during the day. We asked the Veterans to let us know what we could do for them to stand in solidarity. The Veterans were determined not to be removed from the space that they believe their brothers in arms had died to defend their right to be there, assemble, engage in free speech and petition their government for a redress of grievances. “That tent and info table will remain there until we have been physically dragged out of the park and the National Park Service comes in with a bulldozer.” Due to Independence Mall being federally owned land, any act of civil disobedience that takes place there will land you in the federal detention center with very serious charges and very high bail. One of the Veterans said “I signed up to die for the right to stand here, jail is nothing compared to death.”
By 8pm the presence of park rangers, park service and city riot police, bike cops, US Marshals and Homeland Security forces began to escalate dramatically. A few minutes before 9pm the Veterans met with park officials at the edge of the park. It was a tense 5 minutes as the 20 or 30 of us who were there in solidarity with the Vets awaited the results of the meeting. When the Veterans from the meeting returned, a mic check was initiated and the Vets announced that the park rangers would take no action until 11am the next morning when a high enough ranking park service official would meet with them to negotiate a possible compromise. Imminent eviction had been avoided, the fate still left to hang in the hands of some unknown bureaucrat, to be determined by his whim in the morning.
Just moments after the announcement was made a march of 400 occupiers led by a Revolutionary War-style drummer came around the corner. We ran to greet them and inform them that what had looked like it would be a massive confrontation was now a celebration! Shouts of joy went through the mass of Occupiers as they joined us in a now festive celebration of solidarity with the Veterans and the temporary retreat of the Park Service.
As songs, mic checks, sign wavers and even a hula hooper reveled on the sidewalk in front of the Vets for Peace canopy tent and info table, an extremely large contingent of police officers and federal agent remained all around us. About 20 riot police in full gear stood in formation just feet away from us, staring robotically straight ahead. The veterans asked us to move back 10 feet from the line of riot cops and promised us that the vets themselves would form a line of protection between the riot cops and us. As soon as that arrangement had been made the riot cops turned and marched in formation off of independence mall to rapturous cheers and clapping from all who had gathered.
The celebration continued for at least an hour before the Veterans mic checked us and asked anyone who wanted to remain overnight in solidarity do so by sleeping across the street, off of federal land, in front of the regional headquarters of Wells Fargo. Walking past on my way to the train for a quick pit stop at home, there were at least 30 groggy occupiers waking up from a night of sidewalk sleeping. I will return shortly and all of us, Occupiers and Veterans for Peace, will await the results of the meeting at 11am today.
It is impossible to describe the joy and beauty that I witnessed last night. I had a lump in my throat and am still beaming with positive vibes even though I too am exhausted after my 3rd night of sleeping on the ground in a Quaker parking lot.
– Mattymoo –]]>
Philadelphia, PA–There was a synchronicity manifesting at the Gathering:
In one of the Trainings, there was talk about making a direct action at Independence Hall. A smaller group took the idea up. People agreed that some action should be taken on such a symbolic day and symbolic place as July 4th, 2012 at Independence Hall–but no one could agree on what to do. We started organizing, spreading the word, and drafting a statement, but as the day approached, it gradually fell apart. Me and another fellow decided to make a last-ditch effort, but he was delayed, and so it turned out that on the morning of Independence Day, I was the only one who showed up.
The Occupy Legal Team had requested that they be notified of any Autonomous Actions beforehand, and this was turning out to be an entirely autonomous, Autarchic Action, so I called them and notified them.
At 9:00 in the morning, I continued on to Independence Hall, and took the first tour. At the end of the tour, in the room where the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration, I stepped over the barrier. I said “don’t worry” to the other citizens, and I walked right up to the desk where the original Declaration of Independence was signed by John Hancock. It got really quiet.
I set down the written Declaration I’d brought with me, and I signed it right there on the desk. Then I unfolded the Solidarity Economy flag I’d made, and I spoke extemporaneously to the citizenry. This is approximately what I said:
“In the name of People of the United States–the American People–we declare our independence from Corporations, and our Interdependence with one another. This is a flag for an Interdependent Economy of America–for an Occupied Economy achieved through the Separation of Business and State.”
The other citizens were calm and listened to me. When I’d finished, the ranger said that he understood and related to “what you all are trying to accomplish”, and requested that I leave. I had said what I came to say, and I wrapped myself in the flag and walked out.
In the foyer of the Hall, the National Park Police and Rangers were in full scramble mode. I was arrested and imprisoned in the Federal Detention Center. It was worth it.
In there, I met up with the one Occupier who was still in prison, who’d been imprisoned since the tent-ring on Saturday: 20-year old Nate St.-Martin from New Haven, CT.
I was accused of two misdemeanors: Entering a Closed Federal Area and Interfering with a Federal Officer. We were both released the next afternoon, July 5th.
(Side note: when we organize an Occupy event, we ought to make sure we tell participants to write the phone number of the legal team ON THEIR ARM WITH PEN OR MARKER when they are going on a march or action, because police simply take all one’s papers, including slips of paper with phone numbers, and won’t give them back. Both Nate and I were not able to phone the Occupy Legal Team because of this.)
I got my own “occupy uniform” because the Federal Bureau of Prisons mailed my clothes to my home in upstate NY. So I left with a cool gray federal prison jumpsuit, size XXX Large. It’s actually pretty comfortable, and I felt it was a fitting outfit for present-day America. And it made a striking complement to my “Red Square, Blue Stripes” economic flag that served as my sun-screen and blanket as I continued on.
As I was leaving town that night, I walked up to a random person on the street to ask for directions, and he was astonished (and I was too): he was the Park Service tour guide at the Declaration of Interdependence! We spoke amiably for awhile, he asked to take my picture, and he looked on his phone for directions for where I needed to go. We shook hands and wished each other good luck.
– Travis Henry –]]>
Philadelphia, PA–The third day of the Occupy National Gathering was full of energy and good conversation. Speaker Amadon DellErba from Spritualution discussed the importance of ending all “isms,” Gina McGill from Alabama promoted the ideas in Beyond Plutocracy, and Matt Taibbi exposed bank collusion. Captain Ray Lewis declined to speak in the group because of the many side conversations, but made himself available for any individual conversation throughout the afternoon.
At 5:00pm, a march began against Comcast and Verizon, and in solidarity with the NATO 5 (and the NatGat Occupier being held in the federal courthouse). It included a join up of union members and Occupiers, speeches from homeowners who have been foreclosed upon from Action United, and an energetic dancing protest down Broad Street and around City Hall.
The evening included songs from Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping and a General Assembly on racism. The assembly was cut short so that Occupiers could join the veterans on Independence Mall who were going to be evicted at 9:00pm. However, the veteran protesters were granted a twelve-hour extension, with negotiations to be held in the morning. Some Occupiers went to a bank sleep at Wells Fargo while others went back to the Friend’s Center parking lot to sleep.
– Zachary Bell –]]>
Philadelphia, PA–The second day of the Occupy National Gathering began with some sense of stability, with Franklin Square set as the permanent location for workshops and the Friends Center’s parking lot as the permanent sleeping area. However, the day of speakers and skill-shares precipitated an evening of arrests, with 25-30 reportedly taken into custody.
The morning of thematic meet-ups was followed by a series of speeches by activists like Occupier Lisa Fithian and CounterPunch contributor Mark Provost. At around 2:00pm, Occupiers broke out into workshops that ranged from the Money Out of Politics Voting Bloc to Code Pink.
A group of protesters, including many who are part of All In The Red, led a casserole march against debt, in solidarity with Montreal’s student strike. The protesters donning red squares were blocked off at Penn’s landing by a line of police. While there were arguments with police, and brief physical contact when cops let civilians pass through the line, there was no real confrontation.
At 6:00pm, Chris Hedges addressed the crowd of Occupiers. Hedges described the state of political America, including the death of the radical class, the “monstrosity of faux liberals like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama,” and the marginalization of structural critique in political discourse. He addressed Occupy’s future, articulating Occupy’s immediate goal “to reverse the corporate coup d’état and put the power back in the hands of people.” Hedges opined that the black bloc’s tactics are destructive because it plays into the hands “of those who want to destroy us” by demonizing Occupy in the mind of the public. But he remained hopeful and urged patience, citing his experience in movements that took time to build: “This is the dress rehearsal for the end of the corporate state.”
At 7:15pm, the first Occupy National Gathering Feminist General Assembly met. Through small and large group discussions, the participants in the FemGA shared how feminism can be alienating, shared common objectives (like ending sexual violence and strict gender roles) and listed the main goals of the FemGA.
By 9:00pm, Occupiers some were getting ready to settle into the parking lot at 4th and Arch and others were preparing to march in a jail solidarity protest. At around 10:30pm, a group of marching protesters were kettled and arrested. Cops used bikes to push Occupiers and refused calls by protesters to explain the charges. Of the 27 reportedly arrested, 7 were released by 9:45am. Others are being released slowly.
– Zachary Bell –]]>
Philadelphia, PA – After arriving by bus from New York late Sunday morning, I found the National Gathering in Franklin Square. The crowd was smaller than expected: a few hundred people sat in thematic clusters, hiding from the heat in the shade and wrapping up the morning discussions. In the afternoon I joined a march with All in the Red but the highlight, by far, of my first day was going to sleep.
Around 10pm a group of nine of us left the main group that had gathered at the Quaker house parking lot in search of an appropriate bank to sleep in front of. Along the way we picked up another occupier and the ten of us found a PNC bank at Walnut and 9th Street and set up camp. While we began to lay out our yoga mats and sleeping bags, one of the group, who had split off in search of nearby materials we could scavenge, announced he had found a dumpster full of cardboard boxes and even couches and chairs. A team went out to pick up whatever we could use. Once our cardboard beds were made we turned our energy into making signs about our protest; my favorite was a play on the bank’s initials and read ‘People Not Corporations’ on the side of the bank, hanging above our couch. While we were still setting up, a taxi stopped and offered us a ride.
“No we’re sleeping here,” we told him.
“Occupy?” he asked with a heavy accent.
“Yeah,” we told him.
He gave us a big smile and beeped his horn.
Over the next hour two of our group left to make their way back to the Quaker house but two more occupiers passing by joined us, keeping our group at 10 all night. Other occupiers and pedestrians stopped to chat, debate and lend their support. The police and a Homeland Security SUV came by but left us alone, and aside from one heckler who shouted at us, it was all positive.
Our sleepful protest captured some of what I loved so much about Liberty Plaza in the fall: the protest was not a temporary reprieve from our everyday life; our everyday life, both waking and sleeping, was protest.
The actual sleep was not very good, but when the sun rose I still felt refreshed and reenergized. When the bank opened we picked up our cardboard signs and formed a mini picket to greet the arriving employees and customers.
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 –]]>
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 –]]>