Occupy movement remains active on campus, in city
Participants believe Occupy's structure will evolve to fit new circumstances
January 18, 2012, 11:11 pm·
Although the Occupy movement is no longer occupying physical space, both OccupyPenn and Occupy Philadelphia still remain active.
OccupyPenn — made up of undergraduates, graduate students and professors — has not changed with Occupy Philadelphia’s eviction.
“Since a lot of us weren’t actually encamped, I think that a lot of it is still business as usual,” Neha Sobti, a graduate student in the Graduate School of Education, said.
“We have kind of spread out and started pursuing more detailed and more active ways of community organizing, so in some ways [the eviction] is positive.”
“I don’t think we changed at all,” Max Cohen, Wharton senior and OccupyPenn member, said. He added that although OccupyPenn was in solidarity with Occupy Philadelphia and supported them, OccupyPenn was an autonomous group.
OccupyPenn’s goals include reaching out to faculty and students on campus who support the cause. They joined Occupy Philadelphia’s march on Martin Luther King Day and are working on effecting change within the University.
Some of their problems with Penn include the fact that they believe some University engineers use money from the Department of Defense to make parts for drones, in addition to the University’s expansion into West Philadelphia, according to Cohen. He added that many of OccupyPenn’s current projects are in the conceptual stage and that working groups are doing research and asking questions.
“A lot of our actions are focused on the University and West Philadelphia, so those projects … just continued after the eviction,” Sobti said.
Occupy Philadelphia, however, has been severely impacted by the eviction.
After the encampment, the activist group has been spending more of its time planning, rather than occupying.
On Jan. 17, Occupy Philadelphia became a financially independent organization. Previously, the nonprofit organization Jobs with Justice had been sponsoring it.
Gwen Snyder, a member of Occupy Philadelphia, believed that the eviction did have some positive effects on the movement. “I think we have a little bit of a luxury in that we get to sit down together and think more about where we’re going,” she said. She added that the logistics of the encampment took a considerable amount of time and energy.
Valerie Whithouse, also a member of Occupy Philadelphia, agreed with Snyder and noted that Occupy’s structure is evolving to fit its new approach. She added that currently, the number of new members is declining due to its decreased public presence.
At a general assembly meeting on Jan. 17, Occupy Philadelphia discussed its upcoming plans, including an anti-police brutality march and a new partnership with PhiladelphiaCAM — a public-access TV station. A proposal for the movement to support voter registration efforts provoked heated reactions and was then voted down. They are also marching against SB732 and SB3, two bills in the Pennsylvania legislature related to health care and abortion.
However, without the encampment, Occupy is having more difficulty getting funds.
“When we were in the encampment, people were constantly dropping off donations, and I think that was easier for the general public than it is to give hard cash to a brand new organization,” Anne Gemmell, the political director for Fight for Philadelphia, said.
Fight for Philadelphia is organized around social justice issues and built a relationship with the Occupy movement when it began. Gemmell explained that Occupy Philadelphia’s horizontal structure might contribute to people’s new reluctance to donate: it doesn’t provide much specificity about where the donors’ money will go.
Occupy provides free legal services and helps post bail for its members, according to Gemmell.
Both OccupyPenn and Occupy Philadelphia, however, claim that they will maintain their momentum through the winter months.
“I think that winter is really an incubation period,” Gemmell said. “I think that people really have a little more time and energy to evaluate how much that want to commit and how they can make Occupy better.”
“We are not entirely a self-made movement,” Cohen said. “We didn’t start the momentum. It has been going on and will continue to go on.”
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