City says despite multitude of protests, fourth of July will be ‘business as usual’

Though at least four separate protest groups descending on Philadelphia’s Historic District will compound the chaos of the 600,000 revelers expected to attend the Wawa Welcome America! festival, city officials said yesterday they did not expect a major disruption.

“It’s a very secure area,” Managing Director Rich Negrin said. “There’s a strong police presence. We have the joint operations, as we usually do. This is something we do really well – it’s business as usual for us in the city.”

Negrin said that, though there is concern about demonstrations – and counter-demonstrations, the District is largely under federal jurisdiction. “The Philadelphia Police Department is only there when things go badly, which really hasn’t been case so far,” he said. “Beyond that, it’s about making sure people have the right to enjoy Philadelphia this week and visit our historic sites and get around safely, which is what we do anyway.”

As far as Occupy’s National Gathering, which has already resulted in 27 arrests, Negrin said that both police and protesters have benefited from lessons learned since last summer’s Dilworth Plaza occupation and subsequent eviction.

“I think the experience we had last fall definitely helps to inform our actions on both sides, it think,” he said. “A lot of the Civil Affairs officers down there have seen a lot of the protesters and, in many cases, there’s a mutual respect. I think that’s a positive thing when you see each other not as objects, but as human beings.”

He said the city has also received its fair share of schooling about the nature of the Occupy movement. “I think what we’ve learned is the majority of folks are well-intended,” he said. “The majority of folks are really about pure civil disobedience and that’s different than criminal behavior, where they’re engaging in activity that’s going to get them arrested.”

Occupy participant Nathan Kleinman said he also expected the holiday to be peaceful, though he noted the unpredictability of other parties involved. “I don’t expect any clashes with police,” he said. “But you never know what the police are going to do and what individual protesters may do things that instigate clashes.”

Negrin said city officials and law enforcement, as a whole, have no desire to instigate anything, a tenet he said is evident in their conduct. “It will be a challenge, logistically, but we’ll manage as we usually do,” he said of Occupy’s planned actions.

“You can tell by the way we operate we seek to avoid arrests. It’s not something we want to do because we want to respect peoples’ rights. But when they impact public safety, it affects other peoples’ rights and we have to make arrests. Some people are determined to get arrested and they demonstrate that by their behavior.”

Dueling dissent

On the fourth of July, these four group will all hold events at the same location – save the first listed, who recently moved their meeting place … two blocks away.

– The Independence Hall Tea Party Association will host their fourth-annual Independence Day rally, “Celebrate American Exceptionalism,” at the Independence Visitors Center Ballroom.

–– Unendorsed Occupy spin-off The 99 Percent Declaration is holding a “Continental Congress 2.0” at the Philadelphia Convention Center to petition the federal government for a redress of grievances. They plan to march to Independence Hall on July 4.

– Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the Revolution will hold their annual “Let Freedom Ring” celebration of the Declaration of Independence signing at Independence Hall.

– Occupy’s National Gathering will hold a massive final march to Independence Mall that is expected to draw thousands of participants from around the country.

Back in black

According to Negrin, the 26 Occupy participants arrested Sunday night were an anomaly. “They describe themselves an an anarchist group that broke off from larger National Gathering group,” he said, using a term that refers to black-clad protest factions sometimes associated with more aggressive demonstrating tactics, both offensive and defensive.

But, though Kleinman conceded the march was spontaneous and not officially endorsed by the National Gathering, he resisted the characterization. “If the implication is that they were planning or perpetrating any violence, that’s not true,” he said. “It may be easy for police to profile people, to make a determination based on their appearance about what their ideology might be, but that’s not the case.”

Regardless, Negrin emphasized that those taken into custody represented a minority. “I think that’s because most people are here to exercise their right to free speech and not engage in shouting matches or even shoving matches with police, like what happened [Monday],” he said. “That’s a line. I think we treat them in a way that, as long as they’re behaving in a professional manner and not infringing on the rights of others, we’ll do a good job.”

Water wars

In a complaint that snowballed into an outcry, Occupy protesters claim
the city denied them water during a scorching “code red” heat advisory.
“We have been getting our water from the fire department, from the hose,
it’s like a garden hose next to the fire station at 4th and Arch,”
Kleinman said yesterday.

“And I’m told Mayor Nutter personally called the fire chief and told him
we are not to get any more free water. Especially when the city’s
biggestconcern is heat stroke, denying us water is appalling.”

He later said that he could confirm the order had been given from
credible sources, clarifying that Nutter had called the fire station.
The incident exploded on social media, sparking a Twitter back-and-forth
between Negrin and an Occupy participant. One blog commenter even
suggested Nutter should be prosecuted for murder in the event of a
heat-related protester death.

“I saw the traffic yesterday and we responded to it,” Negrin said. He
confirmed that private citizen use of fire department water is not
legal, but also said its regulation is not within his purview, nor
Nutter’s and that no such calls to the station were made.

The public clamor, in which Negrin was specifically called out, put him
in a delicate situation – if he explicitly told Occupy that they could
use the water, it could be construed as favoritism. But he is not in a
position nor does he have the desire to enforce an outright ban.

“Nobody is specifically
trying to deny Occupy water, that’s just kind of silly. They have the
same access to water all of our citizens have,” he said, pointing to
public water fountains, school cooling stations and city spraygrounds
around Philadelphia, whose locations are listed on the Managing
Director’s website.

“Even if we agree with or are sympathetic to any particular
group, we wouldn’t be able to show special treatment and give taxpayer
benefits to one group over another,” Negrin continued. “We wouldn’t deny Occupy anything accessible or
available to the general public.”

Following the backlash, firefighters the next day permitted
demonstrators to use the station’s water once again, participants
confirmed. Negrin said he has no objections. “The mayor and I don’t
dictate individual fire department water policies, so if some fireman
decided to give them access to a water fountain, they’re not going to
get yelled at by me,” he said.

Calendar of events

Tomorrow’s march will target large financial institutions in what one protester called “a more participatory, direct action.” A demonstrator said earlier this week they planned to stage a circus “to point out the absurdity that financial institutions in our country have become.”

Keep an eye out for performers costumed, for example, as a tax-dodging acrobat. Occupy sub-group Philadelphians Allied for a Responsible Economy played a large role in putting the performance protest together.

Occupiers marched around 4:45 p.m. today, demonstrating for corporate accountability and workers’ rights in front of several large conglomerates.

They first headed to a Verizon corporate office at 11th and Market streets, where they joined protesting Communications Workers of America local 13500 members, who have been working for a year without a contract while Verizon CEOs reportedly received a multimillion dollar raise this year and make about $11,000 an hour.

The union members walked alongside Occupiers for the rest of the march, during which they hit up conservative state Sen. Pat Toomey’s Office on the 1600 block of JFK Boulevard, chanted about corporate greed and more outrageous CEO salaries at the Comcast Center’s plaza at 17th and Arch streets and railed against home foreclosures outside Fannie Mae at 19th and Market streets.

Participants then headed back to their Franklin Square outpost, briefly stopping at the Philadelphia Federal Detention Center at 7th and Arch streets to show solidarity with the man jailed Saturday night for allegedly assaulting a National Park Service ranger.

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