Occupy supporters open a five-day protest

Occupiers take free shirts given out for the gathering. "Everybody in the U.S.A. everywhere, you get the sense that something is horribly wrong," said protester Mark Dorazio.
Occupiers take free shirts given out for the gathering. "Everybody in the U.S.A. everywhere, you get the sense that something is horribly wrong," said protester Mark Dorazio. (LUIS FERNANDO RODRIGUEZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 02, 2012

Several hundred protesters with the Occupy movement gathered at Independence Mall on Saturday for the first of a planned five-day event to run parallel to the city's Fourth of July festivities, with authorities on guard given the absence of a permit allowing the group to set up an encampment.

One protester was arrested about 7:30 p.m. and charged with aggravated assault of a federal law enforcement officer after National Park Service Police tried to stop the pitching of a tent on park grounds near Fifth and Walnut Streets and a scuffle ensued, Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Joe Sullivan said.

The officer suffered minor facial injuries, according to Sullivan.

The protester reportedly refused treatment at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Sullivan said, and was taken to the federal building at Sixth and Market Streets. There were no other arrests even as protesters gathered at the nearby Federal Detention Center to express concern for the unnamed peer in custody.

Despite withering daytime heat, the few dozen who had first gathered on the mall in the morning had grown to a group of 200 by early evening, according to police estimates.

About 5 p.m., the group left a patch of grass next to the Liberty Bell and, with large numbers of National Park Service and local police looking on, streamed onto sidewalks and began marching in a loop near the National Constitution Center.

Sullivan said protesters were permitted to sleep on city sidewalks as long as they were not blocking traffic, doorways, or fire exits.

 There were, however, early tensions as rangers told protesters they could not bring tents, even unassembled ones, onto the lawn owned by the National Park Service.

Told also 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 person 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.

Tourists heading to nearby Independence Hall and other historic sites walked past in late afternoon as leaders such as North Kensington barista and artist Larry Swetman shouted chants and instructions to the crowd in repeat-after-me fashion.

"We're here to protest injustice, economic inequality, social inequality, and oppression," Swetman blared in a gravelly voice to a cluster of followers young and old, wearing backpacks or with sleeping bags strapped to sweaty backs.

Dustin Slaughter, a spokesman for Occupy, said the group's backup plan was to sleep on the sidewalk in front of a different bank each night.

The group worked its way to a Wells Fargo Bank location at Fifth and Market Streets in late afternoon, amid signs of business as usual: a Philadelphia Parking Authority tow truck removing a car from an illegal spot, tourists waiting in line for tours of Independence Hall, a Mister Softee truck on the corner ready to serve the protesters ice cream.

The protesters cited a wide variety of grievances, 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, referring to the Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations and unions to make unlimited independent political expenditures.

"Everybody in the U.S.A. everywhere, you get the sense that something is horribly wrong," said Mark Dorazio, who also goes by the name "Truth-seeker." He said he had walked across the country after leaving Albuquerque, N.M., on Jan. 9, believing: "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 his focus was 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.

A 16-page glossy program distributed by occupiers laid out a structured meeting process through which the group would aim to draft one list of visions by the end of the five-day gathering.

"What we're trying to do is gather the issues together to figure out ways to expand the movement and keep it alive," Korn said.

On Thursday, the protesters plan to set off on a 99-mile march to Wall Street, calling themselves the Occupy Guitarmy, with guitars in tow.

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

Just as Slaughter said he saw a diverse array of people among the demonstrators, including some hippie-inspired protesters, a tourist walked past and said, aloud: "There's hippies everywhere."

Formal events are scheduled for the next several days in Independence National Historical Park, said spokeswoman Jane Cowley, including a concert, a parade, and an appearance by the mayor and the governor. Tea party protesters and others obtained permits for formal demonstrations, she said.

Contact Julie Zauzmer

at 215-854-2711 or jzauzmer@philly.com.

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