A lot has happened in the world of Occupy Philly since the alleged sexual assault last Saturday night.
With a push from the city, protesters have been mobile. Some Occupiers plan to move to another location while others intend to stay at Dilworth Plaza until what will certainly be a bitter end.
Whatever happens to what’s left of the splintering physical aspect, Occupy will continue as a media movement. Because that’s what Occupy is, after all: A media movement that was kick-started with a spectacular physical event that demanded media attention. It worked, and the concept of growing economic equality has been brought to the masses.
If the media movement phase of Occupy is going to be effective though, it needs to find some lessons in how the alleged sexual assault was handled.
To be clear, it is not certain a crime even took place yet. Charges have not yet been filed. It is, however, an ongoing investigation.
According to PPD spokesman Lt. Ray Evers, the man accused was detained but not formally arrested, pending a full investigation by Special Victims Unit which includes reviewing videotape of surveillance cameras surrounding City Hall.
“We’re not going to arrest someone for something [when] we haven’t had all the pieces of information in front of us,” said Evers.
Whether or not an arrest eventually occurs is beside the point, reaction to the allegations points toward a weak spot in Occupy’s command of media.
At an emergency press conference on Sunday, the alleged rape was the thorny peg on which Mayor Nutter hung his announcement that he is “re-evaluating” the city’s relationship with Occupy Philly.
Citing public heath and safety concerns—the exact phrase used by New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg to raid Zucotti Park late the following night—Nutter verbally bulldozed Dilworth Plaza. Then issued an eviction three days later.
The day after Nutter’s change in attitude, Occupy blasted back.
“We believe the cynical use of sexual violence and health concerns are opportunistic ways for the mayor to justify attacks on our movement,” retorted Occupy through a spokesperson.
Politicians politicize events all the time; the perspective is not completely outrageous. But it’s hypocritical: Occupy Philly politicized it, also.
To be sure, there was an appropriate response on the ground. On Tuesday, a new “safe space” for women was set up. It was just a white tarp tent with a bare mattress and metal chair inside, but it was something. The Women’s Caucus voted to meet more frequently and host training for “male allies,” including how to physically eject creeps in a non-violent way.
These are positive steps, but they will hardly matter in the long run, given the eviction.
The response that matters the most—the most public one—showed that the 99% needs to deal with the realities of sexism and sexual violence better.
Immediately following the incident, Occupy Philly did not acknowledge the alleged rape on its official Facebook or Twitter feed, despite public requests from supporters to do so.
What happened to all the talk about transparency, supposedly the highest value of the Occupy movement? Did that go out the window regarding anything that might look bad?
If Occupy Philly stayed mum of the incident because it would reflect poorly on the movement, then they are officially politicians or, at least, spinning information like them.