Tag Archives: Independence Mall

Why “Bank Sleep” Matters

The march from Independence Mall to the Philadelphia Stock Exchange begins. An Occupy Philadelphia affinity group has been holding this federally-enforced space for over two weeks now – without signing a permit – and sleeping outside a Wells Fargo regional headquarters directly across the street at night. The National Park Service would not allow them to sleep on the cement apron at the entrance to the Mall.

Occupy Independence Mall. Photo by Dustin Slaughter, Copyright 2012

Now Michael Mizner, a former Marine and Occupy Delaware transplant, carries a wind-battered tent up Market Street. Others carry sleeping bags and pull a wagon filled with supplies, including signs. This night march from the Mall consists of no more than 20.

This is Occupy Philadelphia adapting a tactic which initially was borne of necessity: unable to sleep at the Mall, the logical solution to avoid fines and possible federal charges was to sleep on public sidewalks, where “sleepful protest” is technically not illegal.

By the end of the occupation at Independence Mall, however, it was decided that outreach – which had suffered considerably during the Winter by some estimates – was going very well, but mainly consisted of interfacing with tourists. Moving into the heart of the city to begin continuous, small and mobile occupations on sidewalks outside the Stock Exchange, as well as banks throughout the financial district, seemed like a smart next step, in an effort to reach out to residents. It also fit nicely with the desire to refocus on messaging.

This “bank sleep” tactic appears to be taking off in other cities too – finding its genesis after the NYPD began evicting Occupy Wall Street protesters from Union Square on a nightly basis because of a park curfew. Once curfew rolled around, protesters would get pushed out of the park – so they took sidewalks outside of a nearby Bank of America. The idea then spread to the New York Stock Exchange. Occupiers in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Baltimore started their own too.

Could this be a tactical evolution for the Occupy movement as summer approaches?

“Occupy is built on memes,” says Mizner, repeatedly driving this point home to me as we march into Center City.

Memes, to paraphrase a Wikipedia definition, are cultural analogues like genes, in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.

This makes sense. Bank Sleep is a tactic that easily transmits itself to groups in other cities, because it rekindles the idea of constant public visibility and pressure against “Too Big to Fail” banks, for example, which have been a cornerstone target of the movement and which continue to evade one of the movement’s foundational themes: economic justice.

The feeling among these Philadelphia “bank sleepers” that a loss of focus on core messaging occurred during the winter – as well as a lack of outreach during the winter – was instrumental in launching, rather autonomously, the Independence Mall occupation.

However more widely Bank Sleep is adopted – and whether it will even attract more movement participants in Philadelphia, many of whom are pursuing a multitude of projects ranging from reversing urban blight (Occupy Vacant Lots) to fighting Mayor Nutter’s ban on outdoor food service for the city’s homeless – one thing is certain: Bank Sleep is a much more sustainable form of occupation than the initial sprawling encampment which started in October at City Hall.

The encampment created immense logistical challenges – as well as physical and emotional tolls on the “diehards” who held the space until occupiers were evicted in late November. The influx of the city’s homeless population to the occupation at City Hall forced occupiers into the role of social service providers, despite many protesters having hardly been politically active to begin with, let alone equipped to deal with people struggling with addiction and other mental health issues.

That was back in October, however, and Spring has arrived with warm winds and renewed spirits.

Photo by Timothy Kyle (@firstnightfree). Copyright 2012

The small march arrives at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange – purchased, incidentally, by NASDAQ in 2008, linking it ever closer to Wall Street. An occupier – clad in a dinosaur costume which doubles as pajamas – mic checks:

“Inside this building is the regional office for Goldman Sachs!”

The assembled crowd repeats this fact.

“You have THEM to thank for rising gas prices, due in part to commodities speculation!”

Across the street from the Exchange is a Bank of America branch. Some occupiers want to take the sidewalk there. Others want the sidewalk outside the Exchange. It is eventually agreed upon that bigger numbers in one location is preferable. A coin is flipped.

Bank of America.

I ask Mizner what he thinks of their new home.

“It’s perfect.”

The crew here begin making signs to greet morning pedestrians, before turning in for the night. One sign reads: “Bank of America was Sued $410 million for Overdraft Fees.”

A short while later, a woman and her child walk by, initially somewhat weary of this unusual sight. She takes note of the sign and suddenly gives the group a thumbs up.

“Keep it up!” she says. “I hate those damned overdraft fees!”


The Captain, the Commissioner, and the Brotherhood

Retired Captain Ray Lewis at Philadelphia City Hall, 16 February 2012. Photo by Dustin Slaughter

Retired Philadelphia police captain Ray Lewis is in town for a day-long event focusing on First Amendment issues, including corporate consolidation of the media, organized by Occupy Philadelphia. One reason for his visit?

“I will not idly stand by while law enforcement is administered only to the poor and disenfranchised while the rich flaunt their immunity,” he says, standing next to a monument with the First Amendment etched in stone.

It’s on this blisteringly-cold afternoon when reports of veiled threats from the Philadelphia police department begin to trickle in: Lewis may be arrested for wearing his uniform if he leaves Independence Mall and marches through Center City.

Lewis decides “to call the city’s bluff.” Leaving the temporary encampment at the Mall, he begins walking with a small group towards that afternoon’s target – the towering Comcast Center, a corporation which refuses to include Al-Jazeera English (despite the 24-hour news channel winning multiple awards) – into their programming, instead planning to add a new P-Diddy music channel to their lineup.

I catch up with him as he heads up Market Street. He has a firm handshake and a hard, yet calm gaze when he’s not wearing his sunglasses. An elderly Asian woman pokes her head out of a storefront to watch this tall uniformed man carrying a protest sign.

It is this power – albeit a different power that one in a police uniform usually wields – that likely has the city’s police commissioner angry at the outspoken retired officer, while giving fuel to a somewhat subdued peoples’ movement during the winter.

“It’s like a river. I don’t know where it’s headed, but I’m going to remain on the raft,” Lewis says of the Occupy movement, for which he was arrested in Lower Manhattan during an act of civil disobedience.

Downplaying his arrest, he said he was inspired by “those kids willing to sacrifice their comfort,” to rail against corporate America, which is the principal benefactor of his ire.

Lewis feels that civil disobedience is necessary because it “draws attention” to grievances easily glossed over by mere picketing.

It was indeed civil disobedience which, Lewis asserts, allowed Commissioner Ramsey to achieve the position as Philadelphia’s top cop – because of the civil rights movement. It is also civil disobedience that Ramsey essentially accuses the former captain of committing by demonstrating in uniform.

There is one problem with that accusation, however.

In a press release included in a packet Lewis assembled for curious onlookers – as well as the media – he cites the statute which Ramsey is accusing him of violating:

Section #4912 Impersonating a Public Servant – Falsely pretending to hold a position in the public service with intent to induce another to submit to such a pretended official authority or otherwise to act in reliance upon that pretense to his prejudice.

Lewis also includes in the press release that, after contacting the Philadelphia police department’s Attorney Armando Brigandi on November 10th, 2011 about his intention to protest in uniform, Brigandi “fully concurred that Section #4912 did NOT pertain to my intended action, nor would I be violating any other laws,” so long as Lewis “did not express an articulable intent and act of having legal law enforcement power.”

Lewis isn’t just being threatened by Ramsey, however.

The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police’s board of directors voted unanimously on a motion to potentially take away Lewis’ pension.

FOP President John McNesby. Photo from Philly.com

FOP President John McNesby has publicly stated: “I champion him for going up there and pleading his case, but he shouldn’t have done it in a police uniform. When he put the freaking uniform on is when he crossed the fucking line.”

McNesby goes on to say that if were up to him, Lewis “would be booted from the FOP and lose his retirement benefits.”

These are the same police administrators who allowed Tyrone Wiggins, an officer convicted of raping a 13 year old girl, to keep his pension until August of 2011 – 9 years.

After the protesters – including Lewis – return to Independence Mall by day’s end, the Philadelphia Police Department issues a new statement: They will be taking a “hands-off” approach to Ray Lewis and his uniform. It’s certainly a radically different stance than the one issued by Commissioner Ramsey before Lewis returned to Philadelphia, which said the department was “prepared to take any and all necessary actions” to protect the Philadelphia police insignia.

In a city where police administrators pick and choose which officers receive threats and punishments, and where figures in the Nutter administration may have waded into ethically murky waters in dealing with early Occupy Philadelphia for the sake of political expediency, sometimes it takes one person to just step off the curb, and call their bluff.