Last fall, Boston reporter Chris Faraone chronicled Occupations around the country.
“[Occupy] should think about what it’s like for a dude like me ... listening to a 24-year-old white kid talking about being brutalized by the police when they started arresting people,” Crawford told Faraone. “Did any of them get killed? No. But where I’m from, people really do get brutalized and killed by police ... they need to realize that no matter what issue they’re worried about, my people probably suffer from it at an exponentially higher rate.”
That kind of understanding and education is “something [Occupy] needs to keep working on,” says Faraone, “but it’s getting better.”
Meanwhile, he sympathizes with Occupy Philly for its inability to handle the large numbers of homeless people who gravitated to Dilworth, as well as issues of mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, and sanitary conditions, and the movement’s difficulties negotiating with an increasingly fed-up city that wanted Occupy Philly gone. “It was such a debilitating, overwhelming thing, a huge challenge everywhere, so I salute Philly for trying to deal with it as best they could,” says Faraone. “But by the end, nobody was thinking about the bigger issues like banks and corporate greed. It became about the cops and the cities and the courts. A lot of the purpose got lost. A lot of money got wasted—city money, Occupy money—and that’s unfortunate.”
Considering how it all ended, the notion of a new Occupy Philly encampment popping up somewhere in the city this spring makes Faraone uneasy. “I’ve had people say to me that if there are new occupations, they’re not gonna be indefinite,” he says. “If it happens I think it’ll be short-term, more symbolic. I think people are still scarred from the camps and the bad parts of that experience.”
“I don’t like to comment on what they should or shouldn’t be doing, but after everything that happened, the thought of re-occupying seems so deleterious to the ultimate goal, which is to create change, perhaps affect legislation, perhaps do something much bigger in this election year,” he adds.
Looking back, Occupier Dustin Slaughter—who emerged as Occupy Philly’s primary point person over the winter as OP regrouped and planned for its resurrection—agrees with many of the points Faraone raises.
“We needed to go about it more smartly,” Slaughter admits. “We should have reached out to more social work organizations to help with medical issues, mental-health issues, homeless issues, drug treatment, all that other stuff that occurred at the camp. That would have been a really good first step. We jumped into Dilworth and we had no idea what was coming down the pike until it hit us in the face. Things were definitely chaotic, but we recognize that we’ve made some mistakes [and] we have the energy to rectify those mistakes and improve.”
Slaughter also understands the criticisms of the GA process and how that may have alienated potential Occupy allies, particularly in communities of color.
“When I went up to Wall Street I’d never heard of anything like the GAs, and I was sitting there, like, ‘This is stupid,’” he says. “For nine or 10 hours they weren’t doing anything except debating whether they should be putting up signs. But if you can get past the hand signals and the drawn-out discussions about miniscule things it really does have an empowering effect for people who tend to be marginalized in our society. It gives people a chance to be heard, and it does keep people from talking over each other.”
Yet Occupy Philly is learning to be more accommodating; since eviction, the group uses a town-hall model during some of its outreach efforts. “If we go to a community center in North Philadelphia, we’ll put the GA process aside and just have conversations with people,” Slaughter explains. “We definitely want to hold on to the [GA] protocols, but we need the flexibility to put that aside when we’re meeting new people so it’s not off-putting and aggravating.”
Much of Occupy Philly’s work over the winter months involved reaching out to the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods, and accordingly, many of the issues OP plans to spotlight and protest in the spring are ones that particularly affect those communities: Stop-and-frisk, police brutality, the youth curfew, failing public schools and home foreclosures. Slaughter says that keeping things Philly-centric will bring new people on board, particularly from black and Latino neighborhoods. “Addressing local issues is vitally important,” he notes, “but I also think that getting back to some of the themes that kicked off OWS—anger at the banks, corporate greed, campaign finance reform, the corporate state ruining our environment—those are the things we’re also putting into the messaging going forward in the spring, to let people know we haven’t lost focus of what Occupy is and what we’re trying to fight.”
One thing Slaughter profoundly disagrees with Faraone about is the need for another Dilworth-style long-term encampment.
“That visibility was absolutely crucial,” Slaughter contends. “Just being out in the open every single day and being able to have people walk into the camp and engage them in conversation—you can’t just rely on small news articles in the back of the paper about what Occupy Philly is doing. It just doesn’t work. It’s not enough. The signature thing that Occupy represents is occupation, taking over a space, exercising the First Amendment right to assemble in a public space for the purpose of petitioning government for a redress of political grievances. Somehow we’ve got to do that again.”
But given the eventual shitstorm at Dilworth, does Occupy Philly actually think Mayor Nutter will give his blessing to a new camp?
“No,” Slaughter laughs. “Absolutely not. And that’s the quandary, right? There’s no way the city would ever go through that again.”
Last week, Occupy Philly chose Independence Mall—a national park under federal jurisdiction—for a test run at re-occupation (sans permit). Slaughter reasoned that location was “much more appealing than taking a city park, where we’re guaranteed to get evicted within a couple hours.”
On Friday, about 100 Occupy Philly members—many of the same faces seen regularly at Dilworth and who’ve been part of the Occupy meetings over the winter—held a rally at Rittenhouse Square before marching over to the Mall. They hoisted signs, ate pizza, banged on bongos, played a rough game of touch football (perhaps an attempt to demonstrate they’re not elitist hippies), set up some tents on the concrete—symbolic, since they weren’t allowed, according to park rules, to sleep in the tents or anywhere else on the grounds (some slept on the sidewalk in front of the Wells Fargo building across the street), had General Assemblies and led discussions about the Constitution, women’s issues, racial politics and citizen journalism. For two days, a dozen or so park rangers kept an eye on things from a distance, but on Sunday evening the Occupiers were peacefully evicted.
Whether Occupy attempts to apply for a permit and return to the Mall and stay longer (and if so, how the feds might react) or find another space in the city to erect a camp remains to be seen. Meanwhile, thousands of Occupiers from around the country are expected to descend on the Mall for a national Occupy convention on June 30-July 4. Faraone plans to be there, and he’s curious to see if Occupy Philly, and other Occupations, can actually establish new permanent encampments before then. Regardless, he intends to hit the road again this spring to see how the next phase of the revolution materializes, because even though his book has been published, the story seems far from over.
“At the very least, Occupy has activated the next generation of teachers, social workers, journalists—people who give a shit about other human beings,” says Faraone. “That’s already happened. Maybe the [Occupy] brand doesn’t seem as hot as it was. But there are all sorts of people out there that are still a part of this, from raging grannies to raging anarchists, and when you see that, you realize there’s room for the movement to keep growing.”
“It only takes somebody losing their job to stop listening to Rush Limbaugh and start going to Occupy meetings.”