Annette John-Hall: Occupy Phila. offers a peace sign

Occupy Philadelphia members' tents on the west side of City Hall. After 46 days on Dilworth Plaza, and with a project pending, it seems as though the protest has reached a turning point.
Occupy Philadelphia members' tents on the west side of City Hall. After 46 days on Dilworth Plaza, and with a project pending, it seems as though the protest has reached a turning point. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)

There have been lots of arrests here, but no violent clashes with the city police.

Posted: November 22, 2011

Give yourselves a hand, Occupy Philly.

Or better yet, flash the world a peace sign.

Because if there's one big thing that our local movement has taught us, it's that Martin Luther King Jr.'s template of nonviolent protest works.

Not that it's ever been easy.

You can go back to the oppressively resistant days of the civil rights movement to see why.

But you really don't have to look any farther than what happened at UC-Davis over the weekend. Students sitting in protest, their arms locked and heads bowed, were engaged in peaceful civil disobedience when campus police in full riot gear pepper-sprayed them at point-blank range. The assault was so egregious that the campus police chief has been placed on administrative leave.

And just down the road at the Occupy Oakland encampment earlier this month, two Iraq war veterans suffered serious injuries at the hands of baton-wielding cops that put them in the hospital.

And we can't forget the already-iconic photo of a young woman receiving a full-on blast of pepper spray from a Portland officer, or journalists being roughed up and arrested at Occupy Wall Street. The list of incidents goes on.

Thankfully, Occupy Philly isn't on the list.

Forty-six days in and plenty of arrests, but no clashes with police, thank God. That's a credit to the protesters, who have kept their vow to exercise their First Amendment rights peacefully and orderly.

Props should also go to Mayor Nutter and the Philadelphia Police Department for keeping their batons in their belts and the lines of communication open.

Still, with scheduled construction of Dilworth Plaza forcing the mayor to negotiate terms of a move across the street to Thomas Paine Plaza, it feels like the movement has reached a turning point.

Something's got to give, and I can't help but wonder who or what that will be.

Nasty Newt

"The Occupy movement starts with the premise that we all owe them everything," sneered GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich over the weekend. "That is a pretty good symptom of how much the left has collapsed as a moral system in this country and why you need to reassert something as simple as saying to them, 'Go get a job right after you take a bath.' "

(Of course, Newt is really the one who's stinking up the joint. Who needs a real job when you've got millions of unrevealed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac payments lining your pockets?)

If it doesn't already, Occupy's general message of economic justice should resonate with at least 99 percent of us. The fact is, while the incomes of the top 1 percent of Americans skyrocketed by 275 percent during the last 30 years, the incomes of the rest of us have remained flat.

At the very least, we should be pitching a fit, if not a tent. But here's the honest truth: The people who would most be attracted to the movement's message are too busy trying to hold onto their jobs than to join in.

And without a focused agenda, most working folks may sympathize with the cause but aren't likely to be down for it.

That sentiment was expressed through an observer I met down at the Occupy encampment the other day, a 40ish unemployed West Philadelphia man who didn't want me to use his name because he's actively job-hunting.

"I think this demonstrates they've been effective in drawing attention, but outside of that, it's not effective," he said. "Where is the middle class? Where is the working class? I see people disenfranchised because they choose to be or disenfranchised because they want to be."

I'm not so sure about that. While I did talk to a bunch of apolitical homeless folks with no agenda other than to get food and shelter, there were also loan-burdened students, principled Quakers, and unemployed protesters just like the man I spoke to.

Whether they can coalesce and continue to be a viable movement as winter sets in remains to be seen.

But I'll continue to root for them, especially since they're putting up a fight for us - and giving peace a chance.


Contact Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986, Ajohnhall@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @Annettejh.

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