The growing movement, called collectively, Occupy Together, was inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, which claims that part of its own inspiration was the bravery and determination seen at Tahrir Square. Barbara Ehrenreich, in an interview on “Democracy Now” in August 2011, said that she was stunned at the lack of outrage in America. People were taking to the streets and town squares everywhere…where were the American protests?
Well, Ms. Ehrenreich, I am happy to say — here they are. The movement continued gaining force, even as it was ignored by main stream media. Occupy Wall Street is now a month old. Other occupations are a few weeks behind, but multiplying all across the nation.
As a Philadelphia resident, I am thrilled to be able to take part in Occupy Philadelphia, which has been recognized across the country as one of the most organized, well-run and peaceful occupations. Credit goes not only to those who are doing the occupying, the organizing, the activities, but also to the city’s mayor and administration, and to our police force. While a total absence of conflict is never possible in direct Democracy – the goal and determination of the Occupy movement — the commitment to peaceful demonstrations, to harmonious relations and the non-violent model have been demonstrated on all sides here. Perhaps we are, once again, earning our name as The City of Brotherly Love. But let’s be clear: we are seeing Sisterly and Brotherly Love. The Occupy population is determined that there will be diversity among us. That no voices will speak above others. Men and women stand side by side to speak. All races, all orientations, all walks of life, are seen at the Occupation sights; and this is clearly true in Philadelphia.
A walk around City Hall, where the occupiers are encamped, will present you with an information tent, where well-informed and engaged people will offer not only information, but help in whatever you might require. A legal tent is staffed around the clock. Two medic areas have staff and assistance available day and night. There is a food tent area which has grown as the occupation has grown. The last I heard, we served nearly 1500 people in one day. An education tent provides written information, schedules teach-ins and other educational events. The arts group works to provide help in making your signs and posters. It also works with the artists of the city to bring in performances, readings, live music. Howard Zinn’s play, MARX IN SOHO, was performed a few nights ago. The tech team keeps the very necessary technology running. The media team works with news outlets, reporters and journalists eager for information. There is a family area, where people with children can rest a while, enjoy some time to play with the games and toys that have been donated. The homeless outreach group is committed to taking care of those homeless citizens who have lived at City Hall long before the occupation began; they work to make sure they are fed, clothed and sheltered from bad weather. One of the homeless women who lives on Dilworth Plaza in front of City Hall said that, at first, she didn’t want the occupation. But now, she never wants them to leave. “I’ve never felt so cared for,” she said.
Demonstrators stand along the west side of the occupation sight with signs and banners, as the downtown traffic drives past on 15th Street. Many drivers honks and wave, and are greeted with waves and smiles by the demonstrators. Even the police here will honk and offer a thumbs up to the demonstrators.
Not everyone is thrilled about this occupation, obviously. “Get a job!” is sometimes heard. “Druggies, bums, scum of the earth!” was hurled at the people yesterday. But the occupiers smile and remain polite. The determination to remain peaceful, not only in action but in thought and speech, continues. This is the new generation. Some would say these are the Indigo Children and the Crystal Children, now in their young adulthoods, who are leading what many hope to be the dawn of a new kind of world. Idealistic? Of course. But whatever has been accomplished without idealism? This idealism is coupled with steely determination, don’t be fooled. There will be no backing down. There have been marches on the big banks in downtown Philadelphia. We’ve marched on Big Pharma and on the For-Profit Healthcare Companies. There have been demonstrations and walk-outs expressing solidarity on the area college campuses. Of course, there have also been marches to Independence Hall, and the area steeped in Revolutionary War history. The spirits of those who signed the Declaration of Independence is always felt here. The spirits of the Framers of the Constitution are nearby. Philadelphia is a city filled with revolutionary history, of which it is very proud.
Two weeks ago, a bride and groom walked solemnly into the midst of the occupation tents with a photographer. They stood, hand in hand, looking directly into the camera. I thought of those sienna photos from the 1920s of our great-grandparents. This couple knew that generations from now, their family members could show those photos, “This is your great, great-grandmother and grandfather on the day of their wedding, during the Revolution of 2011.” Am I over-reaching? I hope not. And, isn’t this what it is, ultimately, about? The wedding couple surrounded themselves with the signs and symbols of revolution. But they, themselves, are a sign of hope, of belief that a new kind of life is possible, and that love remains eternal.
Occupy Together is a global awakening of the 99% who have suffered for far too long in a system of growing inequality. Occupy Philadelphia is one city’s contribution to this movement.I’m proud to be a small part of what is happening here. I’ve waited most of my adult life for this. I will always be proud of what these remarkable people are committed to accomplishing. I pray for success.