on this apparently last weekend of the dilworth plaza encampment i feel lost and confused as occupy philly continues to decline into a morass of factionalism and egos. we weren't even able to hold it together enough to have an orderly and coherent GA last night at what is our biggest moment of challenge so far.
i keep my positivity about the occupy movement alive by checking out news from occupies in other cities. occupies thriving in nyc, chicago, oakland, denver and a slew of other cities keeps my head above the waters of despair.
from the moment we signed the permit with the city regarding our encampment things started to slip. the city ended up with an encampment in its front yard because they had been caught off guard by our arrival and had not yet organized a strategy against us. the first move in their quickly developing strategy was the permit. we did not request the permit and the city practically begged us to sign it.
immediately after the signing of the permit the city began to make demands - at first innocuous enough seeming. the demands continued to escalate from week to week. negrin and nutter and the police department had been almost eerily silent regarding occupy. They rather strangely allowed us to march, without permits, blocking traffic whenever we wanted to. all of those actions require, according to city law, prior permission well in advance. some began to wonder quietly what the heck was going on with this weird support and flexibility the city and the police department had shown us.
up until this fall the city of philadelphia had a long history of violent reactions to past protests and direct actions. for decades the city was quick to squash mass public dissent. the republican convention and its "free speech zones" was the largest and most recent example.
it is my opinion that the city had all along known exactly what its plans were for us. it was a grand experiment. in cities where the police crackdown was horrifically swift and violent the occupy movement immediately gathered massive numbers and a good deal of public support. our city government took a different and, admittedly, creative course. A: wait us out as the winter approached and B: begin a subtle campaign to create internal dissent and division among us by slowly but constantly turning the occupy philly movement's attention towards them and their demands and away from the movements message.
we took the bait.
i think we did so out of good intentions. we inherently like the word dialogue. they kept insisting we were increasingly moving away from dialogue. the fact of the matter was that we had begun to realize that every time we met the city for “dialogue” they never compromised but sent us another, expanded list of their demands.
being a relatively large group and sticking to our guns on the ideals of no leaders or hierarchy – a wonderful thing – the city had already begun their successful campaign to divide and conquer. each time they made demands we had to spend hours, days, weeks debating our response. There only 24 hours in a day and the city was getting us to devote an ever growing amount of those precious hours thinking and talking about city hall itself.
the demands the city made were inherently divisive and the first clouds or internal factionalism and division began to show up among us. GAs began to be not about consensus and unity but a soapbox for people's firmly held beliefs regarding matters of camp logistics and what we would say to city hall regarding each week's latest list of demands.
in conjunction with this change the numbers of people taking part in direct actions and marches began to drop off dramatically. we managed to pull off a couple pretty good direct actions but nothing approaching the numbers of our first two marches to independence hall. i had been at occupy philly's very first day but both my daytime and overnight visits began to become less frequent; frankly because every time I came down there was less and less to DO. I could sweep and pick up trash or attend a GA but on a lot of days there were either small direct actions which I was only minimally interested in or no actions that day at all. i had a blast at the independence hall marches, funk da banks and at the romney march. i thought those actions spoke the loudest and clearest about the real purpose and message of the occupy movement. corrupt money and corrupt politics.
a slow decline in the quality of the camp's conditions had begun to show up around week three or so.
our actions and intentions regarding including the homeless in our new neighborhood were stellar. However we forgot that we had no training in handling the mentally ill or running a shelter. running an indoor shelter is daunting enough let alone an outdoor one. we dropped the ball on handling the homeless issues; other than feeding and clothing those in need. we were unprepared and unacknowledged on how to deal with aggression, thefts and (potentially very) violent situations that arose as non-movemnt-active people moved in along side us. some homeless became quite involved in the community that had sprung up on dilworth plaza and the occupy movement's greater message. it is a well known, but little discussed, fact that the overwhelming majority of our new neighbors did not.
We were afraid to address the issue lest we accidentally say something politically incorrect or controversial on the subject. Even more so, we just didn't even know what to do to provide a safe and engaged place for the homeless to join us. Lets face it, we sympathized with the homeless but a great many of us were from the suburbs and had never engaged with any homeless person before beyond handing out some change or a cigarette as we shuffled by on our rare visits to center city to shop or go out to dinner.
Our mistake was not in welcoming the homeless and attempting to provide for their needs. Our mistake was in not having an action plan regarding how to best serve the deeper needs of those who had joined us. There are people who have had homelessness forced upon them by mental illness, addiction and by having no other real economic opportunities. We handed out tents, socks and food but those actions address the symptoms not the cause of the disease. There have been attempts to address the issues of the increasing number of closed shelters and decreasing availability of social services for the homeless but it seems most of those attempts have been statements, written or spoken, and nothing else.
Now we find ourselves on the eve of eviction. A shameful and insulting permit was offered by the city, who used the divisiveness they had so patiently been instigating to their advantage. The city played the RS faction for fools. The city, like a cheetah confronted with a heard of gazelles took advantage of the smallest gazelle and chased that one down. They ignored the larger and swifter entirety of the herd and took advantage of the member that was most obviously fighting for its life. from a position of great power the city overwhelmed and over ran that cheetah. A canopy and some signs is not an occupy. Free speech and assembly limited to the hours of 9am-7pm is not even American. The signing of that permit was in no way a victory for occupy philly.
And so now we find ourselves entirely in disarray about what to do over the next very short 48 hours.
We have no clear vision of what to do in response to the city's overall final attempt to go in for the kill. We have no strategy and even more so no tactical ideas regarding acts of resistance or even considered how we can best think ahead of the city, not only attempt to predict not their next move, but the one after that. The city knows this. The city has worked us over and is now enjoying the fruits of its labor: confusion, division and chaos.
The city cannot squash the occupy movement or its message. They have hurt us immensely but they also have no ultimate end move. They have decided to engage in an endless war with no definable victory for city hall. The occupy movement and its message will survive. But how in the world do we get from here to there?