Stu Bykofsky: Whatever its roots, peace is preferred

Posted: October 13, 2011

IN NEW YORK CITY and Boston, "Occupy" protesters have clashed with police, followed by numerous arrests.

In Philadelphia, despite our national reputation for sharp elbows and flat heads, everything has been calm as a lily pond.

What's up with that?

More than three decades ago, Penn prof E. Digby Baltzell wrote Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia, a book theorizing that Beantown is more dynamic than Philly because elite Boston Brahmins were movers and shakers who took the reins and whipped the horses, while our Quakers required consensus (which takes as long to make as a baby).

Brahmins are pushy, Quakers are polite. (Tell that to J.D. Drew.)

Um, how many Quakers do you know? How much of Friend philosophy really coagulates in our culture?

Same is true for the Brahmins. Their tradition might have left some residue, but I think Boston is more agitated than Philadelphia because the Red Sox got eliminated before the Phillies.

Occupy Philadelphia's nonviolent tactics do show Quaker fingerprints, and footprints left by Gandhi's sandals and Martin Luther King Jr.'s brogues.

From 9 a.m. on Thursday, when O.P. opened shop on Dilworth Plaza - part civil-rights rally, part circus - it put out the word and the word that was heard was "peaceful."

A first-to-speak "facilitator" said "the city has been welcoming, the police have been welcoming; we should be welcoming back." Raised fingers waggled in approval and agreement.

In New York, when protesters shut down the Brooklyn Bridge and threw feces at police, cops tore into them. In Boston mass arrests followed protesters' expanding their turf. It could happen here, but it hasn't . . . yet.

Back in 1968, in pre-Democratic convention Chicago, radical elements of the antiwar-protest movement used foul language and bags of urine to goad cops, who responded unprofessionally by beating the snot out of them (and others). Protesters got what they wanted - worldwide bad press for cops, a/k/a "pigs." They also got Richard Nixon re-elected, which was probably not part of their Grand Design.

Occupy Philadelphia understands that if you break windows, flip cars or even stop rush-hour traffic, you lose Middle America, whose support you need to build a mass movement.

"They are careful not to go down the road to property destruction or to disturb the citizens in the area they are occupying," says Fordham University's Dr. Heather Gautney, a political sociologist who has visited both the New York and Philadelphia encampments.

As a native of West Chester who used to hang out on South Street as a teen, Gautney knows us and doubts our Quaker tradition explains much. "The big difference hinges on the fact that there is police cooperation in Philadelphia," she says, and "city cooperation in allowing them to occupy that space."

That will continue until November, when it's time to start construction on the remake of Dilworth Plaza.

Everett Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety, says O.P. has been told about that and plans for relocation are being discussed.

It's his theory that our Philly tranquillity flows from the city's early attempt to reach out to, and communicate with, the organizers. They were told the city would respect their rights, but "there are rules and there are expectations." So far, both sides have played by the rules.

For a change, we're not the one getting the PR black eye - it's New York and Boston. The Nutter administration deserves a "like" for dealing with O.P., using light-handed tactics. More Quaker than Brahmin.

I know some on the right don't see it that way, but as long as O.P. is peaceful - and it has been determinedly that - it should have the support of every Constitution-loving Philadelphian.

And if you "like" the First Amendment - including the peoples' right to "peaceably assemble" - you should "like" O.P. Not its ideas. necessarily, but its good citizenship.

Even if demonstrators' goals are diffuse and not clearly articulated, they are conducting themselves as, yes, patriots.


Email stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. See Stu on Facebook. This column usually appears on Monday and Friday. For recent columns:

www.philly.com/Byko.

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