I’ve checked the news reports, watched the videos and read the Facebook posts, so it was time to head down to City Hall to see what is going on and lend support. Armed with two cameras and a protest sign I boarded the train, transporting me out of the suburban bubble to downtown Philadelphia. My goal: to give balanced coverage for those watching on the sidelines who might be debating the merits of this protest. Now some might say how can you give balanced coverage if you are carrying a sign and participating in the demonstration? My question is: how can you give balanced coverage if you are not carrying a sign? Objectivity is a strange animal. When one remains neutral, that is a position.
Some news reports stated that this movement lacks a central theme, but their website states their mission clearly enough: the one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.
So back to my protest sign. The sign actually belongs to my son, given to him by my sister about seven years ago. A woman painted this poster after becoming severely disabled from an accident and then subsequently denied benefits from her insurance company. Her fury resulted in this creation:
While riding on the train, someone had scrawled a prophetic message on the inside of one of the overpasses:
HOW CAN I MAKE A LIVING WHEN ALL I DO IS WORK?
I arrived at City Hall and found a rag-tag but well-organized occupation zone. News vans from ABC and CBS were parked along the street. Even with few economic resources to draw on, the protestors created a mini-town with an information booth, medical tent, security station, speaking platform, tent city and a democracy resource center, to name a few. I didn’t have much time to visit each area as I joined a smaller group for a march to Temple University. Given that I’m an alum, I thought it only fitting that I should join that protest.
Before we headed down to Temple, the leaders led the group in recitation. One person would shout a few words at a time and then the group would repeat the words. Surprisingly, this communication method was an effective way for everyone to hear the message. The leaders informed the group of their legal rights and gave them a number to call, which was a smart approach to protesting.
We “occupied” SEPTA, riding on the ell while chanting and singing. We joined with the Temple students who were holding a protest on mountaintop removal. Together we marched orderly and quietly into the Board of Trustee’s Meeting. Our instructions were just to be present. The Trustees had agreed to meet with Temple students after their meeting to discuss the demands, but at the end a student stood up and read their demands. At this point the Occupy folks stood in support.
Civic Affairs and Police Presence
During the protest actions at Temple, a fairly large contingent of officers from Civic Affairs were present. These officers, dressed in shirts and ties, wore pink armbands. They didn’t seem to be armed. Civic Affairs is part of the police force that serves as an intermediary between protest groups and the police. Years ago ACT-UP sued the police for $8 million for brutality during a protest. The city then established the Civic Affairs Department to mediate these encounters.
A couple strategies made the protest a success:
- working with the Temple students ahead of time to coördinate a joint protest
- observing the letter of the law
- commingling with crowds in such a way that it would be extremely difficult for authorities to differential between protestors and bystanders
- energizing, yet reasoned and calm presence
Chants sometimes included, “We Are The 99% and so are you!” The citizenry of this country is at the mercy of the corporate behemoths. I congratulate the Occupy protestors for confronting the power and greed of Wall Street.