Careful to fend off any public concern that Occupy will be rowdy or disrespectful, they said, "We do not intend to disrupt any of the festivities or rain on any families’ parades this Fourth of July weekend. We simply seek the space to gather and bond."
The point of the gathering, they said, is to continue to bring national attention to gross economic inequality and corporate hegemony.
"For 200 years, our rights have been eroded," said Larry Sweatman, a member of the National Gathering working group. "People were so disenfranchised, they didn’t know what to do." The local Occupy movement, Sweatman said, has learned that it needs to be clearer in demonstrating its goals.
During the last six months, the organizers said, they have been engaged in community-development projects such as planting gardens, helping support women’s rights, and advocating universal health care. But the movement’s overarching plan, they said, is to sustain a national dialogue about corporate greed and corruption, rouse citizens from their apathy, and reengage those disgusted over partisan bickering.
Occupy will not endorse any candidates for president. But it does hope to stimulate voter activity, said Anne Gemmell, political director of Fight for Philly, another organization participating in the National Gathering.
"What choice do people have when our very own governor gives away billions in tax breaks to gas companies while schools go under?" Gemmell asked before vowing to demand an increase in the minimum wage "so that all workers and their families can live with some level of decency."
In the news release, the organizers said, "We are not announcing the exact location(s) where protesters will be sleeping. We do plan on taking city sidewalks as a last resort."
With few details about the Occupy events, Mayor Nutter’s office said it could not specify how it would respond.
"We’ll deal with issues as they arise," said Mark McDonald, the mayor’s spokesman. "But the city will be prepared to have a good Fourth celebration."
The annual Welcome America festivities are an important economic generator for the city, drawing huge crowds. This year, they run from June 25 through July Fourth and include jazz and food festivals, fireworks, a parade, and a massive concert featuring the Roots and Queen Latifah.
As home to some of the most historic sites in the nation, Philadelphia is a natural gathering place for groups such as Occupy, said Melanie Johnson, city representative. "This is where America was born. This is the place and the only place to come to celebrate the Fourth of July. I can totally understand why a group that has built their whole movement around democracy would want to be here," Johnson said, adding, "I think we can all exist together."
Meryl Levitz, director of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corp., said she saw the Occupy gathering as yet another sign that the city is gaining in prominence.
"A lot of big events are converging here," she said. "It looks like Philadelphia is on the map."
As for the potential interference with tourism, Levitz said, "It’s too early to know how to respond. We have to get a lot more information from all the parties involved, but I’m not worried."
Contact Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590 or firstname.lastname@example.org