A late-night police raid pushed out the last of the protesters at Dilworth Plaza and resulted in arrests along Broad Street in North Philly.
Even during the earliest planning stages of Occupy Philly—when the idea of taking over a public space somewhere in the city in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street was still a nebulous dream—the 99 percent knew it wouldn’t last forever.
“I’m sure [the city will] try to shut us down,” facilitator Nik Zalesky said in late September, “but we’ll do it as long as we can.”
For nearly two months, Occupy held Dilworth Plaza, transforming the concrete space around City Hall into a colorful, controversial protest camp. They screamed about corporate greed, wealth inequality and social injustice. They marched through the streets, chased U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor out of town, and got arrested sitting on bridges and in bank lobbies. They weathered snowstorms, infighting, ridicule and shouts of “Get a job!” and “Take a fucking bath!” from passers-by.
They fed and sheltered the homeless gravitating in large numbers to the encampment, then struggled to deal with the deteriorating health and safety conditions that both the city and the movement itself blamed on the homeless.
They watched as occupations in New York, Oakland and elsewhere turned ugly, with violent police raids and mass arrests, and wondered when it would happen here—even though the PPD had been more benevolent to Occupy Philly demonstrators than just about any other police force in the country had been to their own Occupiers.
By last Friday, though, Mayor Nutter—who’d presided over the “most polite” occupation in the nation—finally had enough, and gave the shutdown order that Occupy Philly long expected.
But as 5 p.m.—the hour of eviction, as decreed by Nutter—loomed on Sunday, you could feel the electricity pulsing through Dilworth Plaza: A mix of tension, nervous anticipation and excitement that hadn’t reached this level since that first morning of the occupation on Oct. 6.
Hundreds of defiant Occupiers intent on spurning the order and risking arrest scurried around spray painting abandoned tents with final messages for city cleanup crews (“You’re drunk with power … it’s time to sober up,” read one), and sewing “unarmed person” patches to their jackets. The usual chants of “We are the 99 percent!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” sprung up repeatedly across the grounds. A new rallying cry cropped up, too: “Phase two, coming soon!”
“Trust me, dude, this is only the start,” said Occupier Shawn McMonigle, standing in the middle of the plaza as a fellow demonstrator dismantled his tent a few yards away. “People who think this thing is dead are completely mistaken.”
Nearby, other demonstrators drew slogans on pieces of cardboard, worn furniture and the backs of empty pizza boxes: “You can’t evict an idea,” “We’ll be back” and “Coming to a neighborhood near you …”
Another man walked around the plaza holding his sign aloft: “Where next? It’s a surprise!”
“Don’t worry, you’ll see,” he said when asked what the surprise might entail.
By twilight, more than a thousand people filled the plaza and more than a hundred Occupiers sat down, arms entwined, chanting and waiting for the cops to come in and enforce the eviction order.
Then, it happened. Late last night and into the early hours of this morning—when the Occupiers were sleeping in their tents—cops started circling City Hall. At about 1 a.m., they issued the first order to leave City Hall, and protesters started marching toward Rittenhouse Square. Chanting that they would be keeping the cops awake all night, protesters then walked north on Broad Street, where they were arrested en mass at about 4:30 this morning.
Now, people both within and outside the movement are waiting to find out what Phase II of the fledgling movement, following the demise of the round-the-clock encampment, will look like.
The city’s already extended one offer—a 30-day, potentially renewable demonstration permit at the adjacent Thomas Paine Plaza. But there are restrictions: Occupy Philly daily activity is limited to 9 a.m. until 7 p.m.; and no tents or overnight activity or sleeping is permitted.
“I have no idea what’s gonna happen next, and I don’t really like their offer,” says Lex, a member of Occupy Philly’s safety group, “but I know this is just the beginning for us.”
Of the many Occupations around the country, Occupy Philly is in the middle of the pack as far as dealing with the loss of 24/7 camping. Occupiers in Boston, Seattle and Los Angeles are still fighting eviction efforts, while those in N.Y.C., Oakland and Portland, Ore., have gotten a head start on that next phase.
On Black Friday, several hundred Occupy Wall Streeters packed New York’s Zuccotti Park—ground zero for the movement—to maintain their General Assembly, daily protests and working groups despite losing their encampment in a Nov. 15 raid marked by police brutality. Ringed by metal barricades and a couple hundred cops in a two-block radius, demonstrators dealt with the new rules. No blankets, tents or tarps. They’re allowed to be in the park 24 hours a day, and still are, but if they so much as lay on the ground (ostensibly to sleep) they’re subject to immediate arrest.
First Person Arts Podcast: Passing
Savage Love: About Ashley Madison...
First Person Arts Podcast: I Spy