by Lou Mancinelli
It’s been about one month since protesters first occupied Dilworth Plaza in Center City, and the Occupy Philadelphia (OP) movement has evolved into a 400-plus tent colony around City Hall. On Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 2, the Local made a trip to City Hall to speak with protesters.
During an interview with an occupier, the subject received a call that protesters were being arrested at the Comcast Center at 17th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard. Nine protesters were arrested at the building.
Protesters had marched to the building from City Hall around 12:30 p.m. to call attention to the media giant Comcast in solidarity with Occupy Oakland and its representatives’ call for a general symbolic 99-minute strike beginning at noon on Wednesday. “We are the 99 percent,” has been a constant call from occupiers.
While the 10 persons arrested – the first arrests connected with Occupy Philly – were booked by authorities inside the Police Administration Building the next day – a crowd of more than 30 assembled outside the doors chanting and offering support. Dozens of workers in surrounding buildings watched the scene from their windows as members of media outlets converged on the scene.
Occupy Philly protesters reported on their Facebook page that the group had targeted Comcast for several reasons, among them was that for locating its headquarters in Center City, Comcast was given more than $42 million from the state, and pays no property taxes for the first 10 years. In addition, protesters said Liberty Property Trust, the construction firm that built the headquarters, received $30 million dollars from the state.
These subsidies and tax cuts, they noted, could have saved the AdultBasic program that Governor Corbett has gutted, which provided more than 45,000 low-income Pennsylvanians with health insurance, according to a post on the OP Facebook page.
Since convening at City Hill on Oct. 6, protesters and facilitators have began to discuss more of the issues affecting them. They have also worked to develop more than 25 working groups to help facilitate the process. There are tents for health, media, food, clothes, outreach, labor concerns and more.
“A major focus the past month has been infrastructure stuff to solidify our occupation and make sure we can stay there,” said John Laing, an OP media outreach facilitator and technology support facilitator.
On Oct. 31, OP representatives presented their first proposal: a call for a constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood as allowed by an interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
A major issue facing the hundreds of people camped outside of City Hall is what to do on Nov. 15 when construction work on a $50 million project that includes an ice skating rink, open lawn, fountain and cafes and tree groves is set to begin.
That is a conversation protesters are having during inter-community meetings, which take place in the Dilworth encampment during the afternoon, and general assembly (GA) meetings, which take place under the arch of City Hall at a homemade library facing 15th Street, at 7 p.m. each evening.
At the Dilworth colony, in addition to campers and tents for a variety of interests, there is a Ron Paul tent, labor and union organizers and a tent in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was sentenced to death for the 1981 killing Philadelphia Police officer Daniel Faulkner – a sentence recently declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We want this to be an indefinite occupation,” said Cory Clark, 32, a media outreach coordinator and OP online radio station host, a father of two and former marketing employee who was homeless before the occupation began. “We want to be a leader of the democratic movement.”
During our afternoon walk-through, Dilworth Plaza was slow and quiet. Passers-by stopped to look at what was happening.
At the information tent on Dilworth Plaza, there are countless informative documents and an official yet non-binding set of bylaws for “Direct Democracy and Facilitation [of the] Working Group[s] of the Philadelphia General Assembly.”
It defines a facilitation working group as a group of anyone willing and able to take responsibility of providing the Philadelphia GA with an infrastructure by which direct democracy can efficiently and effectively function and lists facilitator roles. There is a pamphlet that illustrates how someone can present an idea at the GA.
If someone has an idea for a proposal, it begins with that person presenting the idea at the GA and is followed by an informal discussion. It then goes to a working group for more discussion and refinement before it is heard by a coordinating committee for more of the same. It is then placed on the GA agenda.
At the GA, a member of the working group presents the idea, where it is discussed and perhaps amended before a decision is made by a straw poll. Often, there are numerous straw polls and further discussion before a final decision is reached.
That is how occupiers have been debating what to do come Nov. 15.
“It’s really been a dividing issue,” said Ally Knauss, 24, a West Philadelphia resident who previously worked in the corporate world.
According to Knauss, there are three options. To remain on Dilworth Plaza “in solidarity and protest the construction in a real physical way,” to relocate to a place where occupiers still have symbolic visibility or a combination of both.
“We don’t need to clash with police to get a message across,” Clark said.
According to Laing, there are people who feel strongly about staying and just as many who feel the same way about finding another suitable location. Occupiers have discussed moving their tents but returning to Dilworth during the day.
“It’s still an open debate,” he said.
In the short to long term, occupiers are working on getting through the winter. For this they are accepting donations and have raised around $10,000, according to Jordan Mueller, 27, a media outreach facilitator.
Upcoming events, which are posted online, include a second march from City Hall to Comcast on Saturday, Nov. 12. Occupiers also plan to withdraw their money from large banks and to open accounts at smaller institutions and credit unions.
For more information visit occupymedia.org, OccupyPhiladelphia on Facebook, and @OccupyPhilly on Twitter.