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Philadelphia's Occupy Wall Street Protest
Occupy Philly is Philadelphia's version of the Occupy Wall Street protest or movement. You can visit Occupy Philadelphia's Facebook Page if you are curious about the official web presence of this movement.
I visited Occupy Philly because I was curious to see what was happening at the protest, and I was very surprised to find that the protest was very different from how it is being depicted in most of the mainstream media. In particular, the protest seems extremely well-organized. I would encourage you to check out my photo album of Occupy Philly, all of which are photos I have taken myself, with commentary on what is going on in each of them. If you are located in Philadelphia, I would encourage you to visit this movement for yourself to see what it is about, and what is going on here. I personally found it absolutely fascinating.
Effective Organization and Division of Labor:
What struck me (and surprised me) most about this movement was how well-organized it was. The protest is divided into a large number of sub-groups, each of which has their own tent or setup. The groups range from very large tents (such as Tech Support and Food) to a small table that is not always manned (Legal support). Some of the tents / divisions were:
- Information - The information tent is located prominently near the main entrance to the protest. It is the first tent visible when entering the plaza from market street, and is also located near and visible from the top of the two stairways coming up from the city hall SEPTA station. This tent is staffed by at least one person, and has a map showing where everything is located, as well as lots of information about what the protest and movement is about, and what is going on at any given time.
- Safety - This group, which was always staffed by a large number of people, informed me that they played the primary role of preventing escalation of conflict, and also preventing any sort of negative or hostile interactions with police. The people in the safety group told me that, unlike New York City's occupy movement, the occupy Philly movement has seen no arrests and no violence since it started. The safety team also said that they make sure that the stairways and throughways are not blocked.
- Training & Library - This tent has a large collection of books, free for reading, borrowing, or even taking. The books are surprisingly good in quality, and I found a number of books in there that I either have read or want to read. I'd recommend checking out the protest for this single tent alone; it offers what in my opinion is a much more selective offering of books than you will find in a typical bookstore. But it's also not a canned collection of left-wing books either. There are a lot of books about community currency and non-mainstream ways of thinking about economics.
- Tech Support - The tech support tent, in the same large tent as the media group, houses equipment providing wireless networking to the Occupy Philly movement. Outside this tent is a charging station so that people can charge their cell phones and other devices. The movement has a fairly large array of solar panels, and a lot of battery packs. There is a single extension cord coming from City Hall, running into the tech support tent. It is not clear to me what portion of the electricity used by the protest is provided by the city and what portion is generated, but given that the protest is only using a single regular extension cord, it cannot be drawing that much power.
- Media - The media tent was the biggest and most spacious of the tents. It had two people behind desks with laptops, and chairs in front of the desks for people to talk. There were large, professional-looking flyers up in the tent that reflected the ones I've seen posted about in the city. I wanted to talk more with the people here but someone was smoking in this tent and I found it rather unpleasant to stay in here very long.
- Food - The food tent feeds everyone present at the protest. Anyone can get in line, and receive food, free of charge. Because of the free food, shelter, and other resources available at the protest, a large amount of homeless people have begun congregating at the occupy movement. An interesting side-effect of this protest, or function that this protest has begun to fill, is that it is now feeding and providing other services to a large number of homeless people. The efficiency with which this is being done is impressive to me, as someone who has seen a number of charitable operations oriented towards the homeless--such operations are not always run efficiently, and they do not always create a safe environment.
- Message - The message tent and team is charged with organizing the group into having a coherent message. This is being done in multiple ways, both through discussion and voting at the general assembly, but also through a series of surveys. I took the second survey, and looked at the results of the first survey (which was not very detailed and was very general). I was impressed with what this group was doing, but I think it could also be better-organized...the survey that I was given did not seem to have the full choice of options that I would like to have seen, but perhaps this also just reflects my own personal political views, which do not necessarily reflect the mainstream concerns of all Americans.
This is by no means a comprehensive listing of what is going on at the protest. I would encourage you to go check it out yourself, if you live anywhere near enough to visit.
Things I did not like about the protest:
One thing that I really disliked about the protest was how many people were smoking. I found this made me less inclined to want to be in the protest and around the organizers who were smoking. There were cigarettes everywhere, and many of the main organizers or volunteers were smoking, including, smoking inside tents. Outdoors even, it's hard to get away from the smoke. I hate cigarette smoke and I hate having to breathe it in; this is a major barrier to me wanting to participate more actively in the protest. The protest seemed to attract far more smokers than any other events I regularly attend.
A clear no-smoking policy in main areas, with designated smoking areas would make the protest more pleasant to people like myself.
Not enough of a voice for working people:
Another thing I did not like was that the way the protest is structured gives more of a voice and more influence to people who do not have normal full-time jobs or other responsibilities. I work full-time, and although I am self-employed and have a very flexible schedule, I still need to get my work done, and I have other responsibilities outside of work too. This would limit my ability to attend the protest's general assembly and vote, as well as participating in committees.
Part of the problem with America right now is that so many people are squeezed for time and unable to easily participate in politics or engage in civic matters. If the protest is to be all-inclusive of the "99%" so to speak, it must give more avenues for working people to participate--including people who have very little free time. This probably contains a greater portion of the "99%" than the portion that is unemployed. I see this as the largest shortcoming and greatest challenge of the movement as it stands.
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