Northeast Times

After weeks, Occupy Philly not losing its voice

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.

CRE­AT­IVE EN­ERGY

“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 hmit­man@bsmphilly.com  

You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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