New Book, "99 Nights With the 99 Percent," Offers Perspective on Occupy Philly

Last fall, Boston reporter Chris Faraone chronicled Occupations around the country.

By Michael Alan Goldberg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 3 | Posted Apr. 11, 2012

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Scenes From "99 Nights With the 99 Percent"

As a staff writer for the Boston Phoenix , Chris Faraone—an unabashed lefty—typically writes about the social and economic issues that affect Boston’s working-class and poverty-stricken neighborhoods. The arrival of Occupy Wall Street in mid-September dropped right into his wheelhouse.

“I’m unbelievably sympathetic to the movement and I was driven to cover it because when Occupy Boston started I looked around and it was my Rolodex from the past 10 years of covering shit in Boston—every activist, protester, community organizer,” he says. “They’re talking about things I write about and I care about.”

But Faraone didn’t find it difficult to maintain objectivity, and sometimes wield a critical pen, in his Occupy coverage. “I wasn’t just going to be a cheerleader for the movement.” In his book, 99 Nights With the 99 Percent: Dispatches from the First Three Months of the Occupy Revolution , Faraone documents his experiences covering Occupy encampments all across the country. Below is an excerpt about the beginning of Faraone’s journey along with his experiences at Occupy Philly. (Michael Alan Goldberg) 

Zuccotti Park was first. Dewey Square followed. By the time the “Phoenix” staff showed up at Occupy Boston to hold our weekly editorial meeting last Wednesday, the Boston squatters were no longer the new kids on America’s occupied block—and the protest was escalating before our eyes. Occupiers were facing off with cops wielding fistfuls of plastic cuffs, busloads of union nurses were arriving, and Cornel West parachuted in to lay down some throwback Civil Rights vocals.

I looked at my editors. They looked at me. This thing was live and spreading up and down the coast like red tide. I knew there was only one thing to say: “I’ll leave in the morning.”

I would fly down to Washington immediately, and train and bus my way back toward the heart of the outbreak in Manhattan, stopping every place along the way where the 99 percent has taken hold. I wanted to see where it all might be headed—if, in three weeks, Occupy Boston might look like Occupy Wall Street, and if the other mass actions spawning in the Hub’s wake might come to resemble the scene unfolding here.

PHILLY: SATURDAY, OCTOBER 8

Occupy Philly is like Occupy Baltimore without Ritalin, and with a whole lot more tents, people, and percussion. Just two days in, Dilworth Plaza outside of City Hall is already host to a 1000-plus Philly bash to rival Will Smith’s “Summertime” video, with teach-ins in mid-lesson, animated Hare Krishnas bouncing like deflated basketballs, and an overall mood that’s more festive than organized.

Even cops can’t help but nod to the drum circle’s rhythms, while cliques of pot crusaders, war veterans, and other breeds of radical proudly reflect on an earlier group march to the Liberty Bell. It’s the party of the week; a cadre of Temple co-eds, who are not at all involved with Occupy, tell me that they came to watch the freaks before going out clubbing. They’re drinking vodka cocktails out of not-so-clandestine Gatorade bottles.

This place already has the most sophisticated tech department I’ve seen yet – powered by eight slabs of solar thrust – and it’s a good thing that they’re wired. Already there is little chance of accomplishing much at Philly assemblies; tonight’s devolves into poorly projected mayhem at the get-go. Around the perimeter, dozens of punks with dirty dreads and painful piercings talk over the discussion, while emotions start to fly in the front as grievances are aired over permit issues and how to picket the imperialistic Columbus Day.

I cup my ear, attempting to hear what folks are saying in the frazzled assembly, but can’t make much out. So I ask a volunteer from the book table for a synopsis. He didn’t hear either, but assures me that’s okay. “As a group we’ve got no clue what the hell we’re doing,” he says while stroking his beard, “but there sure are a whole fucking lot of us.”

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1. Nik Z said... on Apr 11, 2012 at 01:36PM

“Mike,

We've talked, and I think the media should write whatever it wants, but I take issue with statements like "the movement thinks" or "the movement is trying to.." Dustin and I don't see eye to eye on a lot of things, but the fact is that many of us realize that we shouldn't be trying to bring in people to "the movement," especially people who do face the issues in a much more serious manner on a decades-long basis. Instead, a lot of us realize that we should be supporting the movements that already exist in these communities long before Occupy was an idea. Occupy is an outcry, not a movement, but there are a ton of things going on on a daily basis that may not be the most flashy things, but are beneficial in helping real people. The point isn't what we've accomplished, or whether a liberal reporter likes how things went. There was no predetermined outcome. It was, and it connected people who are now doing some hard work to try to make things better in a variety of ways.”

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2. JuliaAF said... on Apr 11, 2012 at 02:18PM

“Michael,

Overall, a great article. Thanks for the coverage. Just wanted to offer one correction. In the early days, we actually did seek out assistance from social service agencies, but they were just as, if not more, over taxed, under-staffed and under-funded as we were. I think if anything our camp highlighted the pathetic state of availability of social services in our city. I would have liked to see you interview a few more people from the group to get a more complete view. I don't think one person can ever be relied upon to tell a complete story.

As we are seeing emerging right now, the future of encampments seems to be more of a symbolic presence, small scale groups sleeping in front of banks and small "camps" in high profile locations.”

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3. Joseph said... on Apr 11, 2012 at 04:38PM

“Nice article. I think that the demonstration that there are people out there who still give a shit about other human beings, as the author puts it, is really the lasting effect of Occupy. That not everyone has been 100% brainwashed by consumerism, that there are people willing to get out of their comfort zone to have a serious discussion things that are still a problem (and might be for years to come), that's what will keep this going in some way or another.”

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