Some pack up, others protest as Occupy's deadline comes and goes

Posted: November 28, 2011

EIGHT WEEKS AGO tonight, more than 1,000 Philadelphians packed a church on North Broad Street with this crazy idealistic notion that an open-ended campout at City Hall could mark the beginning of the end for rampant income inequality and corporate greed.

They were schoolteachers and the hopelessly unemployed, Quakers and anarchists - all agreeing with 69-year-old Carol Finkle, who told a reporter: "This is the first time in my adult life I feel there's some hope."

Last night, on an unseasonably balmy evening that recalled those first hopeful nights of an American Autumn at 15th and Market, hundreds from Occupy Philly rallied one more time - this time ringed by police officers and a police wagon that signaled the imminent end of their fall encampment.

Like injury time in a World Cup soccer match, the clock ticked on through the night at Dilworth Plaza after their 5 p.m. eviction hour - with no final whistle.

Police Lt. Joseph O'Brien, of the Civil Affairs Unit, said there "never was" going to be any police action last night. Mayor Nutter, who'd ordered the eviction, was 1,000 miles away at a funeral for the wife of former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

About 6 p.m., a Daily News reporter counted 87 tents still scattered around the west side of City Hall, amid trash piles of bags, sneakers, mattresses, blankets and unidentified wet spots on the concrete ground. Some tents appeared abandoned, with their occupiers having gone elsewhere.

Meanwhile, a contingent of homeless who'd been at Dilworth Plaza loaded pickup trucks and headed for a lot by the Delaware River off Lehigh Avenue, according to Dennis Payne.

Payne, 50, who founded HAVOC, the Homeless American Volunteer Organization Coalition, in 1987, said he'd been planning the move ahead of the $50 million Dilworth Plaza construction that led to the eviction deadline, but now he wanted to move the homeless before Occupy's impending eviction. "We're not a part of Occupy Philly," Payne said. "I'm getting them out."

Meanwhile, the long goodbye gave Occupy Philly an extended chance to echo its unyielding message toward the corporate suites west on Market Street, over the chant of the human mic.

"Don't let anyone tell you!"

"DON'T LET ANYONE TELL YOU!"

"This movement has not been successful!"

"THIS MOVEMENT HAS NOT BEEN SUCCESSFUL!"

"This has changed the entire conversation of this nation!"

"THIS HAS CHANGED THE ENTIRE CONVERSATION OF THIS NATION!"

There was little mic-checking about the harsh lessons learned during the 54 days of the encampment - about how the inclusiveness and lack of a leader that helped Occupy Philly grow in its early days led to both the infighting and the less-desirable elements that led to the end of the encampment.

Few of the upbeat protesters eight weeks ago had a clue that feeding and sheltering Philadelphia's out-of-control homeless population would swamp their protest, or that their open City Hall encampment would become the place where an attempted-murder convict would head first after his release from prison, as the Inquirer reported.

In hindsight, the encampment phase of the protest felt doomed after Nov. 12, following news reports of a rape investigation involving a man who, it turned out, was also linked to a string of robberies in Michigan. The man has not been charged and the investigation is ongoing, according to a police spokesman.

Before then, most news reports dwelled on the positive, including surprising cooperation between the protesters and the Nutter administration, but afterward the focus shifted to declining conditions of the camp, and a homeless population that came for dinner, not protest.

Yesterday afternoon, David Anderson, 37, a homeless man who had been camping out at Occupy Philly in a tent given to him, was scrubbing the red-and-gray tent clean with soap and a rag in preparation for packing up the tent and leaving. He said a homeless-outreach group had told him it would help him find a place to stay. Otherwise, he planned to sleep where he had previously slept - places like LOVE Park, on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, in Suburban Station, in the subway concourse.

"I'm hoping they [the outreach folks] could help me get a house . . . somebody could," Anderson said.

Meanwhile, the tensions inflamed by the lengthy encampment boiled over when counterdemonstrators linked to the tea party dropped by in the late afternoon.

"We are relieved and delighted that Mayor Nutter issued an ultimatum to the Occupiers, given Occupy Philly's tainted track record," said Teri Adams, head of the Independence Hall Tea Party Association and co-founder of a new anti-Occupy group, as loud Occupy Philly members screamed "Bulls---" and "Slander."

Don Adams, Teri Adams' brother, told the rowdy, large and boisterous crowd gathered around him: "We also have a First Amendment right to free speech. . . . We congratulate the mayor in finally setting up a gauntlet."

His words were drowned out by people yelling, including one Occupy Philly man who wore a black Vietnam vet T-shirt, screaming: "Identify yourself!"

Last night, defiance mixed with resignation in the tense November air. As some Occupiers were dutifully taking down their tents, one protester was fortifying himself with a wooden barricade.

Steven Venus, 22, a hammer in his right hand, was building the barricade around his borrowed tent in the shadows of City Hall's west side.

"They're kicking us out of here, for what? A skating rink?" he said. "This is a protest, a revolution. . . . This is where we started, where we have everything built up."

"I plan to stay. This is a statement. This is my spot, my house."

Gwen Snyder, director of Philadelphia Jobs with Justice and a member of Occupy Philly's labor working group and its legal collective, said some protesters had nonviolent civil-disobedience acts planned for the eventual eviction.

After that, the way forward is highly uncertain. So-called direct actions - which so far have included a push for people to withdraw money from big banks as well as protest marches against big corporations like Comcast and Wells Fargo and in support of organized labor - are certain to continue.

Whether another encampment takes root either near City Hall or elsewhere is an open question. Some Occupy Philly activists have said that the "Reasonable Solutions" group that negotiated a permit with the Nutter administration for daytime protests across the street in Thomas Paine Plaza is a small faction, out of touch with the majority of protesters.

"Reasonable Solutions has a permit for Paine," Snyder said. "Occupy Philadelphia does not have a permit for Paine."

Snyder said there will be a meeting at 4 p.m. today at Rittenhouse Square to discuss the "next steps." Snyder said these could include a different site, moving the movement indoors to an abandoned building or having "flash occupations - sudden nonpermanent occupations" of businesses where the leaders of the 1 percent work.

For Occupy Philly, the new hope that this is just, as Churchill famously said, only the end of the beginning echoed along with their chants.

"This is the second American Revolution!"

"THIS IS THE SECOND AMERICAN REVOLUTION!"

"Let's get it right this time!"

"LET'S GET IT RIGHT THIS TIME!"

About five blocks southwest at Rittenhouse Square, the park surrounded by the penthouses of some of Philadelphia's wealthiest 1 Percent, nine police vans and cars and small bands of officers surrounded the square - uncertain of what comes next.

- Staff writer Morgan Zalot

contributed to this report.

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