Occupy Wall Street, broader movement reach crossroads
As the movement reaches its two-month anniversary, occupiers look ahead to new challenges
November 16, 2011, 12:47 am·
As Occupy Wall Street reaches its two-month anniversary, the protest — with 4,049 arrests, countless police raids and three deaths to its name nationwide — was raided by police early Tuesday morning.
Police entered Occupy Wall Street’s Zuccotti Park site, using zip-tie handcuffs, spraying fire extinguishers and evacuating the 100 or so occupiers present — because, police announced, the city had “determined that the continued occupation of Zuccotti Park poses an increasing health and fire safety hazard.”
In Philadelphia, occupiers are carefully monitoring City Hall for hints of a similar raid order from Mayor and 1979 Wharton graduate Michael Nutter.
Conflict over possible evacuation of Dilworth Plaza — the site of Occupy Philadelphia — for a city construction project has strained municipal relations with the protesters.
“We just got some news that they’re probably not going to raid tonight,” School of Social Policy & Practice assistant professor and Occupy participant Toorjo Ghose said. “But we have a vigil going on to make sure that the risk times — 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. — are covered.” Ghose said a few Penn students and faculty members were staying overnight at City Hall.
Stanley Joseph, an unemployed information technology professional active with Occupy Philadelphia’s information committee, met city officials with a group of occupiers Tuesday evening. “They said they’d give us adequate time” if a raid were to occur, Joseph said. “[The city’s] worked so hard to avoid an Oakland incident, I can’t see them rampaging through here [and messing all that up],” he added, referring to the coarse and violent relationship between the city and protesters at California’s Occupy Oakland.
While Joseph was optimistic about the city’s attitude towards Occupy Philadelphia, Ghose disagreed. “We suspect there was a coordinated push” by mayors across the country “to demonize the movement,” he said.
While Occupy Philadelphia struggles with its logistical future, curiosity and interest in the movement seems strong inside Penn’s campus. OccupyPenn, which hosts general assembly meetings and teach-ins outside Van Pelt Library every Wednesday and Friday, has more than 100 people on its email listserv.
The Wharton Politics and Business Association also hosted a well-attended panel event Tuesday night. Three Wharton professors, an Urban Studies professor and media spokesperson for Occupy Wall Street William Buster discussed the role of the Penn community in social movements and examined the root causes of the Occupy movement.
At the panel, Buster both evoked and addressed the big problem critics have with the Occupy movement: its lack of cohesive leadership and clear demands. “We’re weeding out the real workers from the ‘hanger-ons’” at Occupy Wall Street, Buster said. “What we need are real workers … and not [people who] just sit in tents and strum banjos and smoke what they’re smoking.”
But when he was pushed to answer how a movement could both be “all-inclusive” and still discriminate between real occupiers and ‘hanger-ons,’ he replied with a hypothetical. A building could be on fire, he said, and some would ignore it because it isn’t on an agenda. “I’m a doer, not a talker. It’s for the good of the movement.”
Ghose framed the protest’s vagueness as a core strength. “Every movement faces questions of legitimacy — who is a legitimate part of this movement and who is not,” he said. But, he continued, “this is a natural part of the movement.” Opposition to the Occupy movement would love to see differences tear the movement apart, but “just because there are differences doesn’t mean a movement has a rift,” Ghose emphasized.
“I’m looking forward to see how we’re [going to] make larger goals of [Occupy] applicable to local issues,” Ghose added. “We are now in the phase of Occupy Next.”
This article has been updated to correct the name of the Wharton Politics and Business Association.