On the cool autumn evening of Sunday, Oct. 16, hundreds gathered outside City Hall to discuss the state of the world.
Just as they had every day since Occupy Philly began on Oct. 6.
For weeks, people from all walks of life — from college students with freshly made signs to some who spent many nights on the street before Occupy Philly — have gathered in an effort to bring attention to a number of humanitarian efforts and causes.
In some way, they’re all hoping to effect change.
And while it has been a common complaint that the ongoing movement has unfocused goals, members in attendance last weekend said the patient, inclusive nature of the movement means that, to be fair and democratic, people who support a variety of causes have come together to share a common voice.
Right now, that common voice is calling for change in the economy and in the country’s political system.
It would seem the point is: We, the people, exist and we want to be heard.
“It’s an amazing community. This is the newest neighborhood in Philly,” said Chris Goldstein, a member of Occupy Philly’s media team and communications director of PhillyNORML, an organization that advocates for reform of the state’s medical marijuana laws.
It’s an organized community as well. The site outside City Hall has tents for meals, first aid, supplies, media affairs and there’s even a charging station for mobile devices.
Discussing the gathering of hundreds — there are more than 330 tents scattered throughout City Hall’s Dilworth Plaza, “and no one’s sleeping alone,” he said — Goldstein said in an effort to be completely democratic, the group holds nightly “People’s Mic” and “General Assembly” events.
These meetings allow anyone in attendance to address the group, discuss issues and share goals for the movement.
The events are open to the public and he invited anyone who wants to learn what the movement is about to attend a General Assembly — held every night at 7 p.m. in front of City Hall.
“This is the ultimate assembly,” he said. “Here, nobody feels left out. And, in this country, so many people are left out … this is the juxtaposition of that.”
SMORGASBORD OF CAUSES
The Occupy movement that began on Wall Street and has spread throughout the country — one woman interviewed was at a similar event in Tucson, Ariz. last week — is something of a smorgasbord of causes.
While Goldstein commented that many are here looking to tackle big concerns like wealth disparity in America, corporate greed, and fighting homelessness and hunger, he also pointed out tents throughout the gathering with other motivations — a noticeable one was evident from a tent covered in slogans for Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-Tex.).
“By the virtue of free speech, it should be like this,” he said, noting the movement embraces all motivations.
Stopping to comment as she wandered through a scattered collection of protest signs, Denise “Vitamin D” Witkowski, of West Philly, said the inclusive nature of the gathering was Occupy Philly’s greatest strength.
“We are all part of this world,” she said. “I’d like to see it all more of a community.”
Saying she just returned to the city after spending time at an “occupy” gathering in Tucson, Ariz., Witkowski said she’d personally like the movement put a face on the victims of corporate greed.
“It’s exciting to see how far this has gone,” she said. “I’d really like to see if there could be less corporate greed. I’d like those people to see what we are doing here.”
Locally, residents have come out in support of the Occupy Philly movement through donating to the cause and spending time down at City Hall sharing ideas with others.
One man, who asked simply to be called “Psalm,” made an “Idea Wall” and asked passersby to submit ideas the group could work towards to make the world a better place.
Originally from West Philly, he broke down in tears when asked why he was part of Occupy Philly. He didn’t want to give his name because he’d been homeless for several years after he lost his home to foreclosure, he said.
“Only now can I afford to live in Center City,” he joked.
“There’s a lot of creative energy there and a lot of creative people,” said Matt Ruben, a Northern Liberties resident, who has been often spending his days at the gathering. He even celebrated Yom Kippur there.
“It may look like there’s no focus, but, the vast majority of people in this country are ignored by corporations and [political] policies benefit those at the very top, while others are suffering,” said Ruben. “I don’t know how people can’t see that.”
Asked why he wanted to support Occupy Philly, and why others might want to support the movement as well, Ruben said that it’s something people need to visit for themselves to see the positive changes that members there hope to achieve.
“There has never been a more unequal distribution of wealth in America than there is right now,” he said. “It’s very organized down there. I say people need to give it a chance and see it for themselves.”
Stephanie Marsh, of South Kensington, also supports the movement, and said even without a bullet-point outline of goals, the Occupy Philly movement has been successful while growing steadily.
“I feel like this is starting discussions all over the country,” she said. “The possibilities are endless … It’s not just one thing. “
She said that her support of the movement lies in a belief that politicians need to “stand up for what people want, not just the corporations.” She hopes it could be a peaceful force for positive change.
“I think it’s really positive,” said the 31-year-old Marsh. “It gave me hope in people. It finally feels like, ‘Okay, we can do this.’”
Just how long Occupy Philly might last seemed a point of contention on Sunday.
In November, the city plans to begin a $50 million renovation project that would see subway improvements, green space and an ice skating rink added to the plaza outside City Hall.
The members of the gathering would need to move for that to happen.
“I think that the money the city is planning to use for that rink could be better used on books for our schools or to make shelter for the homeless,” said Jeff Ruffet, a 25-year-old from West Philly who was working as part of Occupy Philly’s media team.
“We can’t leave yet. We haven’t changed anything in this city yet and our goal is to create long term change in Philadelphia,” he said. ••
Want to be part of Occupy Philadelphia, or help members there? Everyone is welcome to attend General Assembly events held at 7 every night at the grounds of Occupy Philly. Also, there are tents for donations. For more information or to find a list of items members of Occupy Philly need, visit www.occupyphilly.org.
Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org