Greetings from Occupy Philly!
Trumpets of change are being heard loudly all around the world. Our silence has been broken by the strength of solidarity and nonviolence. Two weeks of protesting, marching, and occupying have left our City of Brotherly Love buzzing with questions: Who are these protesters? What do they want? Please allow us to introduce ourselves. We are people first, diverse in belief and background, crushed beneath the burden of economic injustice. We are appalled by the greed of banks and corporations that steal wealth without regard. We are forced from the voting booth into the streets by the repeated failures of elected officials to represent our interests. The people have been promised change, and while patience is a virtue, we are wearing thin. We are working to make real the great dream of this city - the promise of freedom and democracy.
Philadelphia today is the poorest big city in the entire U.S., with over a quarter of the population living in poverty. Our systems of education, housing, and healthcare are failing. Many of us are trapped beneath mountains of student debt. We are struggling to provide decent lives for our families. We gather to address problems that can no longer be ignored. Our occupation shines, though faced with internal challenges, as a community where all are welcome to share, learn, and discuss the great issues that affect us. Some of us are homeless, and have been sleeping on Philly’s cold concrete for years. Others have voluntarily left the comforts of our homes. Some stop by between classes and working multiple jobs. Many are unemployed and can’t find work, but all of us have found a home and a place within the Occupy community. Meals are served three times a day by the food committee. Children play with their parents in the family zone, and creativity flows from drum to paintbrush in the art area. Critical discussion and compassionate action are alive throughout this space.
City Officials recently delivered us a letter through our legal team. The letter named a number of concerns, which we will publicly address here. First, we would like to thank city officials for setting a national example in support of free speech, and for allowing us to exercise our Constitutional rights to assemble peacefully and seek redress for grievances. We appreciate the City’s invitation to meet with our group. We welcome open lines of communication between the residents of Philadelphia and City Hall.
We may request a recorded meeting with city leaders soon in a neutral location. Please understand that lines of communication will not be instantaneous. We are practicing direct democracy, and decisions that affect us all, must be carefully considered, debated, and decided on by all. We believe we are operating in a manner consistent with the purpose for which City Hall itself was designed: addressing the needs of the people of Philadelphia, finding solutions, and taking action.
The city has cited some nuisances around our encampment. In terms of public urination, we strictly condemn that behavior. This problem could be solved easily by granting access to the City Hall public restrooms. Regarding graffiti, volunteers have scrubbed off all of the marker.
We share the city’s concerns about fire hazards and are contacting the fire union to provide us with training. We can monitor our own safety. Our technical experts consistently check electrical equipment, especially in our tech tent. We are acquiring fire extinguishers, have agreed to no open flames, and our safety team is constantly patrolling the grounds. In terms of the pallet structures, lovingly dubbed the City Hall Row Homes, we have determined they are not a fire hazard. They are occupied by disabled homeless people. When the city provides housing for the thousands of homeless in the city, we will remove the structures. Fire safety is important, therefore it is startling that city officials have closed fire stations and enforced rolling brownouts throughout the city - choices which directly led to the deaths of at least three children.
Police overtime costs are mounting. We will remind the city that we are nonviolent and there have been no incidents to warrant such heavy police presence. We are not fond of the undercover agents sent to profile activists. Being committed to transparency, we respectfully ask that law enforcement agents abstain from the use of hidden cameras, CC-TV cameras, morning patrols, youth curfews, and plain clothes detectives. Please understand we have our own internal security. If city officials or anyone else would like to watch us, we suggest they visit us in person or view our livestream online at [www.phillyoccupation.org]. We suggest these law enforcement funds be allocated for better use elsewhere, such as education. Pennsylvania has suffered budget cuts of over $600 million to education, while that money has been redirected to build three massive new prisons in the state. Philly has the highest incarceration rate in the entire country, disproportionately locking up people of color. We say fund education, not mass incarceration.
Finally, let us address the most critical issue, our end date. When our legal team submitted a permit application there was clearly no stipulated end date. However, when our permit was issued, to our surprise, it stated that our end would coincide with new construction at City Hall in November. Both the application and permit are available online for all to see.
In the poorest big city in the country, we believe that it is morally bankrupt to consider spending $50 million on the redevelopment of Dilworth Plaza. Who made that decision? To whom are Paul Levy and his Center City District accountable? We believe that money can be better spent on education, healthcare, and housing for the many in this city who are desperately in need. The people of Philadelphia did not vote for an ice-skating rink and more coffee shops. We refuse to allow the federal government, unaccountable local institutions, and the wealthiest 1% to privatize our city’s public spaces and control decisions that affect us all. We hope to discuss this matter with union workers whose jobs are affected by this project. We support workers’ rights, and condemn the city’s record of attacking workers. Union workers are within our ranks, and we know it is critical to have their input, participation, and support before finalizing our decision about whether to relocate.
We call on the people of Philadelphia to unite for change. We invite workers, students, the poor, the disappearing middle class, and all people of conscience. As residents of the historical birthplace of free speech, liberty, and democracy, we believe that we have a moral and social obligation to make this city finally live up to its noble creed. Like those peaceful demonstrators who stood in Tahrir Square, like those who marched in Montgomery, Alabama, like those struggling tirelessly worldwide, we know that change does not come easily, but requires sacrifice. It’s not enough to talk, it’s time to be courageous in our actions. Together we can win. We are the 99%. Join us and let freedom ring!