To leave, to stay: Occupy Phila. weighs options

Posted: November 27, 2011

Members of Occupy Philadelphia met late into Saturday night to propose ways to react to the anticipated arrests of those refusing to leave Dilworth Plaza after Mayor Nutter's 5 p.m. Sunday deadline.

Earlier in the day, small groups had broken off to discuss how to respond to the mayor's decision to bring in police if the encampment continued past the deadline.

"There will be a rally outside the Roundhouse [the police administration building] if there are mass arrests," said Stephen Metzger, one of those organizing the discussion - and using a bullhorn to make himself heard over the shouts of a man who repeatedly interrupted speakers, demanding that people listen to him.

Among other proposals was encouraging a large contingent of homeless people who also have been staying in Dilworth Plaza to move to Logan Square before 5 p.m.

Officer Tanya Little, a police spokeswoman, said the department was prepared to make arrests if necessary. "It has happened in the past," she said. "We have taken action."

Little said that if demonstrators decide that they will violate the law, police hope it will be a peaceful resistance.

Buoyed by a sense of purpose and an air of expectancy, some among the Occupy Philadelphia group stressed the urgency of the mayor's deadline and warned that a coherent plan was needed to avoid any injuries. But they were also confronted by the difficulty of trying to organize politically meaningful action in an open-air forum, where a single counterdemonstrator could disrupt a meeting.

Many Occupy participants were clearly unsure if they should risk arrest.

A 3 p.m. meeting at the United Methodist Church a block from the encampment at Dilworth Plaza was closed to the police and the media, but those in attendance said it fostered spirited discussion - and disagreement about whether occupiers would evacuate Dilworth Plaza.

"As a group, I think there's going to be an agreement to support either side," said Ally Nauss, 24, of West Philadelphia, one of several members of the group's information network.

Nauss, who said she understands both positions, was particularly interested in hearing what Nutter planned to do about the homeless, many of whom have joined the protest.

"We've seen no evidence of any action so far," said Nauss, adding that she saw social workers at the site one day out of 52.

Asked where he would be on Sunday, David, a volunteer emergency medical technician who declined to give his last name, said: "I don't plan that far ahead."

Many tents remain

Although some tents had folded, nearly 200 remained Saturday evening. On Friday night, Mayor Nutter had announced that those camping out on the City Hall apron would have until 5 p.m. Sunday to exit. Some have indicated that they will have to be physically ousted by police.

Others have no interest in handcuffs.

Joseph Edward Riley, 54, originally from Lewes, Del., said he was released from prison a week ago after serving a term for attempted murder.

He ended up on Dilworth Plaza because he's homeless, he said.

"I don't know where I'll go, but I definitely don't want to be arrested," he said.

Michael Pierce, 50, of Mount Holly, a philosophy instructor at Burlington County College who has helped staff the compound's information booth, predicted "massive acts of civil disobedience in the next 48 hours."

'Committee of one'

Pierce said participants were committed to nonviolence, but he added that the protest was gaining momentum and was not likely to be silenced by an eviction notice.

One New Jersey resident, who described himself as "a committee of one," walked around the compound Saturday afternoon distributing leaflets critical of the U.S. government's monetary policies.

"They should be protesting in front of the Federal Reserve building," said Paul Wallowitch, 82, of West Deptford. "That's where the power is; they control everything."

Divergent views of the group's goals have cropped up within the movement as well, even producing splinter factions.

Consensus has proved to be a challenge with such a disparate group, running the gamut of age, ethnic, economic, and educational backgrounds.

Tessa Windle, 20, of Philadelphia, said that despite the different agendas, she believed a common theme of economic injustice had emerged.

"I think we've helped raise awareness; that's the first step," she said.

Pierce said that whatever happened, he thought the movement was in a good position to expand its reach.

"If the city's reason for making us leave is about the construction, it makes sense," he said. "But if they're just trying to make us go away, we're likely to attract more people."

'Exciting'

By spring, Pierce said, he thinks similar occupations will spread to thousands of towns across the country.

"We're in a no-lose situation; it's exciting," Pierce said.

Inspired by Occupy Wall Street, the Occupy Philadelphia movement has been demonstrating at Dilworth Plaza under a city permit since Oct. 7. That permit expires Sunday. Under a new permit granted to an Occupy splinter group Friday, activists may gather at Thomas Paine Plaza across the street but may not spend the night.

The permit at Thomas Paine Plaza runs for one month, starting Monday, and can be renewed for 30-day periods.

Demonstrators will be permitted on the plaza from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Phil Brookman, 88, of St. Davids, a retired Philadelphia business owner, visited the encampment Saturday afternoon, armed with containers of food - "conversation-starters" - and fliers urging protesters to "organize into cadres who will push a grassroots movement of voters.. . . "

Brookman said he was motivated to visit because he feared the group would be disbanded.

"I feel like everything these kids have done to gain attention will end up going nowhere if they don't mobilize and get some of the incompetents out of office."


Contact staff writer Kathleen Brady Shea at 610-696-3815, kbrady@phillynews.com, or @brandywinebits on Twitter. Read her blog, "Chester

County Inbox," at www.philly.com/chescoinbox.

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