Occupy supporters open a five-day protest

Occupiers grab free shirts being given out Saturday for the five-day Occupy national gathering. (Luis Fernando Rodriguez / Staff Photographer)
Occupiers grab free shirts being given out Saturday for the five-day Occupy national gathering. (Luis Fernando Rodriguez / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 30, 2012

Several dozen protesters affiliated with the Occupy movement convened from cities nationwide on Independence Mall Saturday, setting off tensions with park rangers on the first morning of a planned five-day national Occupy gathering.

Rangers disgruntled occupiers by telling them that they could not bring their tents, even unassembled ones, onto the lawn owned by the National Park Service.

Told that they could not set up a card table to distribute literature on the Market Street sidewalk without a permit, protesters held out a "people's permit" that they had drafted.

One shouted, "I also have one. It's called the Constitution of the United States of America" and read the First Amendment aloud.

They removed the table.

A coordinator of the national gathering and an Occupy media representative declined to state the planned sleeping arrangements for the many out-of-towners who they said have come to historic Philadelphia during the busy Fourth of July tourist season to participate in the protest.

But Dustin Slaughter, the media representative, said that the group's backup plan is to sleep on the sidewalk in front of a different bank each night. First up, tonight, may be Bank of America locations on Chestnut, Locust, and Market Streets and John F. Kennedy Boulevard.

Discussing their grievances, the protesters mentioned a very wide variety of issues, ranging from bank regulation to overseas military engagements to the availability of organic food to safety concerns springing from Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster.

"The final straw was the Citizens United decision. It turned this into much less of a democracy," said Jerry Sklarow, a Philadelphia artist and photographer, speaking of his decision to join the protest.

"Everybody in the USA everywhere, you get the sense that something is horribly wrong," said Mark Dorazio who also goes by the name, "Truth-seeker." He said he has been walking across the country since leaving Albuquerque on January 9, telling people along the way that he was headed to the national Occupy gathering. "This could be a viable third party. . .. The Democrats and the Republicans are not working for the common people."

University of Pennsylvania graduate student Andrew Korn said that while the occupiers discuss many issues - his personal focus is on student debt, education, and the environment, all unified by a common theme.

"A lot of these issues we're facing touches corporate greed," he said. "I think the capitalistic epoch is done."

A 16-page glossy program distributed by occupiers said that the movement would try to offer each attendee three meals a day but might not meet the goal "because we have no idea how many people will attend."

The program also laid out a structured meeting process through which the group aims to draft one list of visions by the end of the five-day gathering.

"I don't think we'll have a clear definite plan at the end of five days. It's futile to expect that," Korn said. "What we're trying to do is gather the issues together to figure out ways to expand the movement and keep it alive."

On July 5, the protesters plan to set off on a 99-mile march to Wall Street. They call their brigade the Occupy Guitarmy.

Strumming a guitar and singing the words, "They put the mock in democracy and you swallowed every hook" as a park ranger told the occupiers to remove their card table, Josh Heltke, an occupier from New Haven, said, "Music is one of the most potent weapons you can come up with because it provides an anchor against human tragedy."

Though protesters disagreed over whether the Occupy movement has adopted a feeling more reminiscent of the hippie movement since it started last fall, they have used the phrase "Five Days of Peace, Love, and Democracy" in their publicity materials.

Just as Slaughter said that he sees a diverse array of people, including some hippie-inspired protesters, affiliated with Occupy, a tourist walked past. He said aloud, "There's hippies everywhere."

Visibility, of any sort, is the Occupy movement's greatest hallmark as it heads into a weekend in such a heavily trafficked area, Philadelphia occupier Matheau Moore said. "Our biggest success so far is to put the issues that are being ignored for so long right out in front, and we did that wonderfully."

Contact staff writer Julie Zauzmer at 215-854-2711 or jzauzmer@philly.com.

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