Occupy Philly braced itself for possible arrests at its City Hall encampment tonight as it reached the city’s 5 p.m. eviction deadline issued Friday – though the commotion may have been premature. Police seemed less than eager to make any arrests and watched from the sidelines of the plaza.
As scores of officers flanked the 15th and Market entrance, the number of supporters swelled, including occupiers from other cities and advocates unable to live there full-time.
“It’s been 30 or 40 years coming,” said Roger Ritch, who was visiting his daughter from Boston and supports Occupy’s condemnation of Wall Street greed and the widening income gap, which he feels is long-overdue. “I’m heartened to see people joining together to try and make a statement.”
Still, many occupiers said they had not yet decided what their next move would be.
“We’re feeling a different energy today,” said longtime occupier Kevin Heaney. “A huge group of people want to chain themselves to City Hall. Others are like, ‘Yeah, we’ll go.'”
Heaney and some friends built a wooden structure to make it more difficult for police to dismantle the camp, reinforcing the planks with screws and adhering it to the pavement. “I want to reinforce it so much and watch them struggle to tear it apart,” he said. “Let them waste tax dollars to remove it.”
Still, Heaney said he is not sure if he is willing to stay and risk arrest. “It’s a hard decision,” he mulled. “I am not going to get arrested,” said an occupier who asked to be identified only as Jesse. “My family would kill me.” A third occupier agreed, simply saying, “Hell, no.”
Suggestions that were being tossed around for how the movement might look in the future included moving the occupation into a permanent indoor space and acting more like a conventional activist group, reforming in another location (Rittenhouse Square was a favorite) and dispersing to occupy vacant and foreclosed homes.
“I think that’s the way the movement will go and should go,” said activist Brian Garrison. “A lot of energy is going into that here and in other cities.”
While some looked toward Occupy’s future, others reflected on what brought the movement to its current tipping point. “The thing that frustrates me so much is the fact that people are splitting – splintering, really,” Heaney said. “Some of the splinters are willing to stay together for the sake of the movement and some are not.”
Drawing particular ire was the acceptance Friday of the city’s strict Thomas Paine Plaza permit by a breakaway faction, the Reasonable Solution committee, without the sanction of the general assembly.
The decision was billed by officials, including Mayor Michael Nutter, as the city having reached an agreement with Occupy Philly, though the assembly actually voted to appeal stipulations put on Thomas Paine, including a 7 p.m. curfew, reimbursement for utilities and a ban on tents. Because Reasonable Solutions agreed to the permit, Occupy Philly’s appeal was not considered, according to Gwen Snyder of the legal collective.
“Reasonable Solutions is not part of Occupy Philly,” Jesse said. “When you subvert our process, you abandon the movement. The city latched onto them because they were saying what they wanted them to say and the media latched onto what the city told them.”
Another occupier who asked to be identified as Tommy D. said that, regardless of Reasonable Solutions, the trouble stemmed from infighting within Occupy Philly itself. “It turned from a cause to no cause,” he said, claiming that many facilitators, who are the closest thing the movement has to people in a position of power, were not transparent in their dealings, favored certain working groups when doling out funds and used Occupy money to buy cases of beer and takeout for themselves. “These people are not serious. The same things a lot of facilitators are protesting, they’re doing.”
“I agree with a lot of the issues, but these people don’t live it. If you’re going to talk the talk, you got to walk the walk. A lot of people here don’t practice what they preach – you’ve got to camp out here, eat here and attend the GA meetings to really understand.”
Tommy said he would be willing to be involved in the future, but only if the movement evolves. “This thing could really have made a difference in a lot of peoples’ lives and it could have been a good chance to make a statement to the city,” he said. “We’ve got to rewind and restart.”
One sentiment seemed to prevail at tonight’s gathering – Occupy Philly is not dependent on a piece of property – as many of the signs read, you can’t evict an idea. “It’ll only get bigger,” said Jesse.
“Longevity is the key,” Ritch said. “Not a week, not until spring, but until you can see some change. It’s probably years in the making.”
Still the self-described “product of the 60s” has every confidence that it can be done. “It’s time,” he said. “It’s been time.”