Around 11 p.m., Fox 29 sent out a Tweet saying a police sweep of Occupy Philly's Dilworth Plaza space was “imminent.” That made sense. One night earlier I’d asked two police if it was worth staying at Dilworth for the night. “Are you guys going to break this up tonight or what?”
One told me they wouldn’t know until the last minute. The other said he and his partner were just “peons…they don’t tell us anything.”
“Yeah, well so am I,” I said. “Why do you think I’m out here waiting for some action?”
“I tell you what,” he said. “Go home, get some rest, and maybe try your luck again tomorrow.”
So, this had to be it. I just hoped I hadn’t missed anything important while I rode my way to Dilworth Plaza. (I didn’t.) It was around 11:15 p.m., and 15-or-so Occupiers moped around the main tent site. Several police vans, as well as those from Fox, ABC and CBS idled on the edge of City Hall.
There were rumors that police had been building up numbers behind the Art Museum, getting ready to move in, but nothing I could really confirm. A parade of bike cops glided by around midnight, and police sedans, lights blaring, drove by a few times. “It’s starting to look like Christmas,” said one Occupier, watching the lights.
Soon, two lanes of Market Street were blocked off and a couple news vans backed up into spaces evidently being provided by those police. I had a conversation with one Occupier who said the Occupy movement is evidence of Jesus Christ’s spirit. We talked about Jesse Jackson and Christmas Village. He said he was willing to get arrested.
I walked over to the fort that I’d witnessed being constructed a day earler and asked if anyone was inside. One woman was. Did she think the police would raid tonight?
“Cops are comin’?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Cops are comin’,” she said. “I’m getting the fuck out of here.”
She asked if I wanted an interview with her, too. I said sure, but never saw her again.
As the police presence steadily grew, more Occupiers—many familiar faces—began showing up in droves. “Wake up, Occupy Philly!” one chanted as he walked through the tent area. I followed him for a bit, but no one was waking up. Or, more likely, very few were there to be woken up.
Around 12:30 a.m., it looked as though police had circled the entirety of City Hall. But Occupiers were showing up, too. And there finally seemed to be more protesters than press on hand. Captain Fisher of the Philadelphia Police gave the protesters their first warning. If they stayed, they’d be arrested. A few Occupiers grabbed a sign which read “Capitalism is an organized crime,” and brought it to the center of Dilworth Plaza. After the second warning, Occupiers began repeating the law hotline to each other in case of arrest, and writing it down on their arms. The Broad Street Line could be seen below the main plaza area, cordoned off with yellow Caution tape.
As more police showed up, Occupiers began dancing and banging the drums on hand louder and louder. Two SEPTA buses full of police showed up and parked at the Southwest end of City Hall. Those Occupiers planning to get arrested lined up and locked arms.
Fisher said the press needed to vacate, as well, and move to the clothespin. “If we’re gonna take over Rittenhouse,” mic-checked one protester, “now’s a good time.”
One press photographer who I didn’t recognize started screaming at the police about his first amendment right, and how you can’t kick out the press. The third warning was issued and a wave of people ran down the Dilworth stairs, marching south on 15th, toward Rittenhouse Square.
Following them, I turned my head toward the south side of City Hall to see about 100 police lined up in riot gear. What the fuck? I thought. Everyone had already left. What were they for? Two fire trucks showed up. Matt Petrillo and I tried to get in for a closer look and were firmly told to get the fuck out of there and never come back. Dozens of police cars were lined up on the south side of City Hall, too. “Holy shit,” said a passerby as he removed his cell phone from his right ear, “how many cop cars does this city fucking have?”
It has a lot.