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.
“Watch this,” says “Mad Mike,” a burly 26-year-old with a Guy Fawkes mask perched on the back of his head who proceeds to sprawl out on the concrete. Indeed, within seconds, three scowling NYPD cops approach, but back off when they see he’s being interviewed by a reporter. “It’s ridiculous and unconstitutional,” says Mike, getting back up. “This is what you have to look forward to in Philly. How else are they gonna keep people from sleeping there?”
Other OWSers said Occupiers in Philly, post-encampment, will have to deal with further hindrances in the coming months. “It gets pretty fuckin’ cold in the winter, so good luck if you can’t have any kind of shelter,” says Roman Reznichenko, who spent a week at Occupy Philly in late October. He adds that there are transportation issues, too. “If you’re not camping down there, you gotta get there and I know I couldn’t afford that,” he says. “I know a lot of [Occupiers] who are from Jersey or out in the sticks and they don’t have the money to go back and forth every day.”
And if the encampment itself has been part of the message, then having to pack up shop every night could kill the momentum. “Out of sight is out of mind,” says Zuccotti Park mainstay John Nicholson, a 25-year-old EMT worker. “The press isn’t gonna cover it nearly as much without the camping and some of the drama that’s gone along with that, so if people aren’t devoted to sticking around all night and keeping it going and challenging them when they say you can’t be there, then this could all fade away pretty fast,” he says.
Other Zuccotti demonstrators say that the forced removal of the encampment has actually been a blessing—one that Occupy Philly may come to understand going forward. “Things needed to change here, so taking all that away and forcing us to rebuild has helped,” says Melissa, 25, who was arrested in the Nov. 15 raid. “Everyone who’s still here really cares about the movement.”
Hristo Boynob, 18, agrees the raid helped weed out the less committed and took away one of the main sources of scorn that’s been heaped on the movement. “There’s no more free food, no more parties and whatnot, so a lot of the provocateurs and the homeless and the crazies are gone and the people left are the true believers,” he says.
Crucial for Occupy Philly’s survival over the next few months, say N.Y.C. protesters, is for them to cultivate the same type of support network that’s sustained Occupy Wall Street over the past two weeks. Melissa says she and other demonstrators have linked up with people living near Zuccotti Park who let Occupiers crash in their apartments for a few hours at a time. Nicholson says that pizza joints and other local restaurants continue to donate food. “We respected those places and didn’t trash their bathrooms, so they’re still willing to help us,” he says.
There’s been talk that the attention-grabbing encampments and accompanying sit-ins and marches have already served the purpose of kickstarting Occupy, so the next phase of the movement should involve giving up the protest sites and migrating to the Internet, where information can be more efficiently disseminated and the movement’s energy redirected into more pragmatic pursuits like voter education and mobilization.
Chris Faraone—a reporter with The Boston Phoenix who’s been covering Occupy Boston and has spent time at a dozen more Occupy sites around the country the past two months—disagrees. “Whether it’s occupation-camping mode or not, I see a physical presence being the watermark of this movement,” says Faraone. “People really need to get together in person to make plans for these events and marches, which I really think are working. I think it’s now in the back of these CEOs’ minds that, ‘Fuck, 3,000 people are gonna show up at my office.’ The head of Bank of America in Boston does not like the fact that 500 people show up at his house once a week. That kind of thing isn’t gonna happen if you move everything to the Internet.”
One likely evolution of Occupy Philly is a de-centralization of the movement, where participants break off into smaller occupations all around the area.
In fact, it’s already happening. On Saturday, a dozen members of Occupy Norristown set up their “99%” banners outside the Montgomery County Courthouse and stood along Main Street holding their signs—as they have every week for about a month—as passing cars honked their support. Several demonstrators, like elementary school teacher Karen Rosenberg, started out at Dilworth Plaza before trying to bring the message closer to home.
“This movement has to spread out beyond the big cities—you gotta get people in the ’burbs on board if you want real change,” says Rosenberg, who holds a large sign that reads, “Save the American Dream.”
“The middle class is getting squeezed to the point where I have to come out here into the street,” says Hank Finkel, a chiropractor who says he’s recently taken two other jobs to make ends meet. “I’m not an activist. I’ve never stood anywhere with a sign. In fact, I kind of resent that no one’s looking out for me, so I have to do it myself.”
They’re not camping out at Occupy Norristown, but Finkel says they get anywhere from 20 to 50 demonstrators in front of the courthouse each Saturday. They’ve also been coordinating with similarly sized occupations (some of which are encampments) in Bucks County, Phoenixville, Lansdale, Lancaster, Easton and elsewhere in Eastern Pennsylvania, as well as with Occupy Philly, to plan marches and events. They’ve scheduled a Dec. 17 regional General Assembly in Valley Forge. And some may take part in Occupy Bucks County’s “March for Good Jobs” scheduled to go down this Saturday in Bristol.
“It’s the networking right now that’s important—meeting other activists, setting up the infrastructure and coming up with new ideas for the movement,” says Finkel. “I think come springtime, when we have everything in place, you’re gonna see bus trips to D.C., big and little things, flash mobs here and there, lots of things to keep this rolling.”
“The camping in Philly sparked the fire,” he says. “Now the genie’s out of the bottle and there’s no putting it back.”