Tag Archives: #OccupyOakland

Is Occupy Philadelphia Facing a Crossroads?

Occupy Philadelphia Sit-in at police headquarters. October 23rd, 2011

The march starts off right on schedule. A group of 40 or so protesters stage under the imposing shadow of City Hall at Occupy Philadelphia on October 23rd, and then cross 15th Street, winding through Center City, repeatedly chanting: “It’s a reality! Stop police brutality!” They then take the street, careful of oncoming traffic as they lock arms and maintain their path within the oncoming lane. Philadelphia Police cars escort them through the streets. Onlookers pop out of store fronts and pedestrians stop mid-stroll to record the small, vocal group as they move up Market Street past the Convention Center through Chinatown.

An Occupy Philadelphia group marches through Chinatown. October 23rd, 2011

Their purpose, eventually released in a statement later that evening, is to highlight the issue of police brutality. Protesters tell personal stories of police malfeasance: one girl talks about how she was essentially ignored by officers after she went to a police station to report that she had been sexually assaulted. Another woman, who had watched a late night news report on the protest, stops by to share another heart-wrenching story about Philadelphia police officers beating up her grandmother and son, and after realizing that they had entered the wrong house, lied about the law enforcement agency with which they were affiliated.

The protesters also include in their statement the belief that police forces across the country are used to crush nonviolent occupations, and in so doing, protect the interests of the elite. 16 are later arrested the next morning after a night long sit-in on 8th Street in front of police headquarters. It marks the Philadelphia occupation’s first act of civil disobedience since it began in early October.

The march only garnered less than a quarter of the occupation’s population. This could be chalked up to the last-minute nature of the march, and that many on site were not aware that it was National Day of Action Against Police Brutality. A low turnout isn’t necessarily surprising when these factors are taken into consideration.

Yet the controversial action highlights something of a dilemma for the occupation here in the City of Brotherly Love, and this stems from the much-lauded relationship the administration has forged with the protesters. On its face, this appears to be a very good thing. No one has been injured or killed and the city has not been disrupted in any significant way. It’s a very positive anomaly in a sea of reports about police brutality against protesters. But it may pose a problem for the growth of this movement here, as the number of occupiers appears to have leveled off and a potentially difficult winter approaches. There are some characteristics about this very different occupation worth considering.

The prevailing wisdom at Occupy Philadelphia appears to be: Do not disrupt the relationship with the authorities to avoid a crackdown and public backlash.

Oakland riot cops raid Occupy Oakland. October 25th, 2011

The history of the Occupy movement has shown, from New York City to Boston and Oakland, that nonviolently challenging police, be it through trying to hold ground staked out for occupation or other bold acts (such as taking the Brooklyn Bridge) tends to balloon the number of supporters and participants. Does this “model” work for Philadelphia, however?

Occupy Wall Street protesters on the Brookyln Bridge. October 1st, 2011

It is important to note that in every case, what went hand-in-hand with this nonviolent militancy, be it New York City or Oakland, was the brutal, sometimes violent tactics the police employed against protesters. This without question horrified many Americans, which likely grew sympathy and support from the public.

I have also heard speculation from a number of protesters here at camp that the city’s largely hands-off approach to the occupation is a tactic born out of a need to influence public perception of the administration itself. This is certainly not a far-fetched theory. By not acting in a reactionary manner, it’s possible city officials have essentially contained the movement here, and left the occupation in a difficult position: Do we nonviolently escalate and risk losing public support, giving even more support to the police, or take the chance that bolder, nonviolent direct action (challenging the police in the process) might just grow the movement?

So if the Philadelphia occupation decides to become bolder–not just marching, but holding sit-ins at banks and the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, as hypothetical examples–what would the police response be to such actions? One obviously can only speculate, but judging by how the police department handled the sit-in at their headquarters–allowing the protesters to stay for an astounding 18 hours–they may not employ the violent responses we’ve seen in Oakland, New York City, Boston, and other cities. Mayor Nutter is facing re-election soon and may not want to risk upsetting union support. It’s possible the administration has also taken note of what happens when occupations are antagonized, and may be fearful of major public backlash, unlike Denver, who launched one of the most brutal crackdowns since the events in Oakland. The administration’s tone may also change after Nutter’s re-election too.

Only time will tell how both the occupation and police move ahead.

The Project will continue to bring you reports and editorials on the #Occupy movement, with emphasis on events from @OccupyPhilly. If you have photos, writing, artwork or music with a focus on the Occupy movement or with protest culture in general, don’t hesitate to send it to DGP. We’d love to share it with the world. Thanks so much for your continued support and and if you’re new to the Project, welcome!

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What the Occupations Have Taught Me: Lose the Fear

Taken from my cell phone while on march across Brooklyn Bridge. October 1, 2011

I groggily awaken in my sleeping bag to a sharp nudge, followed by another.

“He needs to wake up. Get up, out of the bag.”

The bag is over my head to block out the park lamp light. I hear my friend Ghost, who is mere feet away in his own bedding, reply sharply.

“Fine. Fine, I’ll wake him up.”

I sit up from my bag to see a D.C. white-shirted Park Police officer walking away. As my eyes adjust, I glance at my cell phone: 3:30 A.M. I growl a profanity. All around me, people who have boldly asserted their right to occupy McPherson Park mere blocks from the White House, are standing up per Park Police orders.

I’ve seen variations of this harassment during my two visits to Occupy Wall Street. And by this time in D.C., it was frankly grating on my nerves.

I am inexcusably fearful of giving public speeches. During my month long trip to various occupations, from Wall Street to Boston to D.C., I had observed numerous General Assemblies and the powerfully moving Peoples Mic. Yet I had never actually participated in an Assembly.

Today, however, would be different.

Later that day, I get “on stack,” which is a term used to describe the process of addressing the Assembly on specific agenda items. After two days of harassment by Park Police, the issue of whether to comply with the McPherson Park “no-sleeping” ordinance at last became an agenda item, reportedly with various opinions on the matter. Ghost, myself and others had decided before dawn that we would get arrested before obeying another order by Park Police to not sleep. I wanted to get a “temperature check,” essentially, on how people felt about defying the order.

I stand before the General Assembly now, shaking inwardly as I begin to speak to the 50 odd people sitting in the grass on this beautiful day.

“In New York, I and others witnessed–”

“IN NEW YORK, I AND OTHERS WITNESSED–” repeated the Peoples Mic (the crowd).

“Police use intimidation tactics–”

“POLICE USE INTIMIDATION TACTICS–”

“Such as random arrests of media team members–”

“SUCH AS RANDOM ARRESTS OF MEDIA TEAM MEMBERS–”

“And tearing down tarps during rainstorms, day and night–”

“AND TEARING DOWN TARPS DURING RAINSTORMS, DAY AND NIGHT–”

“To break the will of the occupiers–”

“TO BREAK THE WILL OF THE OCCUPIERS.”

I then shared my opinion that this sleeping ordinance is designed to wear us all down.

“Do not let a ridiculous sleeping ordinance trump our Constitution.”

“DO NOT LET A RIDICULOUS SLEEPING ORDINANCE TRUMP OUR CONSTITUTION!”

A banjo player in the back shot his fist up in the air and bellowed:

“WHOSE PARK?! OUR PARK!”

The Assembly broke out in whoops, magic fingers and claps.

The passionate banjo player clearly understands what much of mainstream media has failed to grasp. Enough talk about demands and one clear message. This movement is so much bigger than one or two lines the media may or may not choose to digest. At its heart, the Occupy movement is about summoning the courage to use public space to begin a revolution to not just reform a hopelessly broken system, but to create a new one. The movement is the message. And revolutions don’t start when people stay within the confines of legal and physical boundaries set up by authorities. Revolutions start when the people recognize that these paltry confines are implemented by forces who either don’t understand the democracy inherent in the First Amendment or are simply determined to maintain the status quo, and quash the spirit of a people and idea whose time has come.

We are seeing it across the country and all over the world: shortly after I left Boston, a brutal Boston Police Department raid launched when the growing occupation attempted to move to a larger space. Riot police beat up Veterans for Peace members and punched college kids. The police cut off the expansion effort to protect expensive, newly-lain grass–this directly from BPD’s own Twitter account–and the raid nonetheless destroyed much of the grass:

@Boston_Police
Boston Police Dept.
@Occupy_Boston: the Greenway Conservancy recently invested over 150k in new plantings 4 all to enjoy @ 2nd site. Pls return to original.
10 Oct via Twitter for BlackBerry®

The veneer of law and order falls away and reveals the absurdity of a morally bankrupt police state, who stray from their duty to protect and serve 1st Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution, when they are called upon to crack down on the citizens whose rights they are sworn to uphold.

As occupations spring up, carrying the spirit of the 1st Amendment ignited by Occupy Wall Street with them, the crackdowns have commenced, resulting in some estimates of nearly 3,000 arrests in just under a month. Cities like Philadelphia, who have an extremely agreeable relationship with the police, have prided themselves on cooperation with police, but as Boston shows us, occupations will only be tolerated for so long. This is a battle of wills.

After the brutality in Boston, the following evening’s General Assembly, according to contacts there, had doubled. This development is indicative of a larger lesson that occupations like Boston and New York have learned: confronting the police state with nonviolent defiance grows the movement. Naturally, no better example of this exists than in New York, where protesters stood their ground in Liberty Plaza (without a permit, knowing full well that they had every right to be there under the U.S. Constitution) against continued NYPD harassment, where marchers took to the streets, Union Square and the Brooklyn Bridge, boldly but nonviolently challenging the wishes of the police. In so doing, the New York occupation has helped to eradicate the fear of standing up to authority and to assert citizens’ rights, a concept we’ve continue to lose even before President Bush, when President Clinton began the policy of “free speech zones.” But don’t take my word for it. If you don’t believe that Occupy Wall Street has made this country bolder in demanding their 1st Amendment rights be respected, just look at the direct results of their Union Square and Brooklyn Bridge victories: nearly 1,000 occupations sprung up across the country in a matter of weeks, followed by solidarity marches and occupations internationally.


Oakland Police Department attempt to stop #OccupyOakland from retaking Oscar Grant Park on the night of October 25th, 2011.

Yesterday, three American cities and a number of smaller towns launched raids against their occupations: Oakland, Atlanta, Albuquerque,and Eureka, CA. Being speculative, one may conclude that these operations were coordinated, perhaps by a federal agency. This would not stretch the imagination, as we know that the Department of Defense, for instance, considers protests “low-level terrorism” and that the Department of Homeland Security maintains an active presence at numerous occupations (I personally witnessed them in New York City as well as Philadelphia.) What isn’t speculative, however, is that the elite’s instrument of control–the police state–cannot extinguish the idea of the 1st Amendment at these occupations, as Oakland–facing tear gas, rubber bullets, and sound cannons last night–regroups today and begins rebuilding their movement, shaken but resilient.

And so the second American revolution continues.

The Project will continue to cover the #Occupy movement as it unfolds, with some emphasis on #OccupyPhilly. Please follow us at @DavGolProject and @DustinSlaughter for updates. People who have artwork, video or writing celebrating or analyzing protest culture should feel free to submit any work to the Project, and we will gladly promote. Thanks for your continued support and for those of you new to the Project, welcome!