It was about time that Occupy Philadelphia protesters were evicted from Dilworth Plaza. They could not have been allowed to remain outside City Hall indefinitely.
Having taken over the space for a total of 55 days, they were accomplishing little of substance. They were, in fact, impeding a job-creating construction project that had long been planned for the site. A Sunday deadline from Mayor Michael Nutter came and went without the protesters leaving the site.
Nutter and the Philadelphia Police Department handled the eviction, which came in the early hours of Wednesday morning, very capably. Executing a plan weeks in the making, the city deployed hundreds of officers to the site, which the protesters vacated after being given three warnings. As Nutter put it, “There were no fights, no injuries, no confrontations and no incidents on the plaza.”
After the eviction, however, disjointed groups of protesters marched throughout the city, returned to the plaza and broke through police barriers several times. During this time, 52 people were arrested, including four Penn students and a School of Social Policy & Practice professor. The entire incident was much more orderly than some confrontations between police and Occupy groups in other cities. (The PPD was much more restrained than, for example, the officers who attacked protesters with pepper spray at the University of California at Davis.)
But now that the circumstances of Occupy Philadelphia have changed, the movement itself must change too. Its initial occupation did well to raise awareness about the economic and social inequities that exist in this nation. Many members of the Penn community also played a commendable part in shedding light on the very real frustrations against which the protesters are rallying.
The problem now is that this movement has failed to move; an endless occupation of a physical space will change nothing. And now that the space itself has been restricted by the city, the movement is in effect being forced to transition into the next phase of its development.
Occupy Philadelphia must seize this opportunity to make the transition on its own terms. The protesters’ concerns are genuine, but they need to introduce a pragmatism to their approach. They must work within a framework that engages the entire 99 percent that the movement claims to represent — including those who aren’t comfortable with the idea of an illegal occupation of property.
As Occupy Philadelphia moves into its second stage, protesters can take inspiration from the movement’s very first meeting, in which more than 1,000 people packed the Arch Street United Methodist Church to come up with ways to take action. Just about two months ago, they sang “solidarity forever” in that church and planned ways to show Philadelphia residents the true meaning of a democracy. Occupy Philadelphia must keep gathering and talking in this manner — and with an eye to making realistic political change. Through their occupation of Dilworth Plaza, protesters made it very clear what they are against; in this new phase, it is time for them to tell us what they are for.
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