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Posts tagged ‘Occupy Philadelphia’

Specter of Economic Injustice Haunts the Nation

During our years working on the  Swarthmore College Living Wage and Democracy Campaign we used many venues, such as panels, rallies and lectures to advance the cause of a living wage for campus workers. For some of these events we incorporated street theater as one of the methods to bring attention to low wages at the College. Around Halloween in October of 2004 the Specter of Economic Injustice began wandering about the campus and town. Signs warned that the Specter was coming:

The Specter haunted the area for several weeks, sometimes showing up at events or just floating across the landscape. Over seven feet tall, the Specter, draped in black robes, carried chains intertwined with dollar bills. Piercing red eyes glowed in the night. Usually a sign carrier accompanied the Specter to clarify the message to those who were unaware.

We also distributed flyers stating . . .

Issues of unfair workers’ compensation have haunted the Philadelphia area. Many low-wage workers have difficulty putting food on the table, and food pantries have seen a huge increase in the number as working poor who seek their help. Swarthmore students have organized around this issue for years, citing their College’s commitment to Quaker values.  They believe Swarthmore College with its billion dollar endowment cannot teach students to improve the world while practicing social injustice toward campus workers.

This Halloween would be a good time for the Specter to appear again. I’m sure the Specter would be warmly welcomed  by  Philly Occupy. But just like the ghosts in Charles Dickens‘ Christmas Carol, the Specter would be visiting the Scrooges of the world.  So who are the Scrooges? The Specter might consider those who

  • block legislation for campaign finance reform
  • oppose universal health care
  • criticize workers for standing up for fair pay and benefits
  • support unregulated corporations
  • allow the public to suffer the consequences of pollution when companies make profits
  • thwart efforts to improve education
  • advocate for tax structures that give loopholes for the rich and hardships for the poor
  • profit from war

For us mortals we have to rely on other methods to further economic justice.  The Occupy folks have made the first successful steps. Now we must take up the banner and move forward. We can join with others who share our concerns to form a broader movement, run our own candidates, pressure the politicians with the vote, disengage from corporate control and encourage those who are making a difference.

Relying on the good will of the rich and powerful to relinquish influence and wealth will only result in the continued nightmare on Main Street.

Occupy Philadelphia: Suburbanite Ventures into the City

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:

Into Philly

While riding on the train, someone had scrawled a prophetic message on the inside of one of the overpasses:


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.

Rally at Temple University

What Worked

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.

Occupy Philadelphia.

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