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The Occupy Philadelphia protest kicked off Thursday morning at City Hall. Credit: Justin Cohen , Justin Cohen

Many Occupy Philly protesters arrived in the city on Thursday morning alongside bankers and lawyers on Market Street. But while those professionals headed home Thursday evening, many protesters planned to stay.

Occupy Philly, a protest sparked by the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York, has attracted young and old across the city with frustrations about the country’s economic and political climate.

At the protest’s peak around noon, organizers estimate around 1,000 people were outside City Hall to attend the first general assembly, a meeting to decide on logistics and clarify goals. Around 5,000 to 7,000 people passed the area around the protest throughout the day, organizers estimated.

Their strategy is to occupy the plaza outside City Hall indefinitely. Around 150 protesters camped along the street Thursday night.

Protesters held signs about ending wars, supporting socialism and preserving free speech, united by the idea that today’s society favors the richest one percent of the American population. Many signs were emblazoned with the message “we are the 99 percent.”

A handful of Penn undergraduate and graduate students stood alongside war veterans, the elderly and peace activists. However, they were outnumbered by students from other universities across the city.

VIDEO: What Occupy Philly means to protesters
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The one percent

Who makes up the one percent? “If you make $250,000 a year and you don’t pay taxes,” then according to Temple junior James Carlin, you are part of a wealthy minority.

“The argument is that 10 percent of $35,000 is less than 10 percent of $250,000,” but Carlin doesn’t see that argument as valid.

For La Salle University sophomore Darby Rowe, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s now-famous statement, “if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!” was the tipping point. “It’s not a good job market [out there], and it’s not like we’re not trying,” she says of current college students. She relates it to a Catch-22: people are told to go to college in order to secure a job, but all graduates seem to be reaping today is debt.

David Federman, an English professor at the Community College of Philadelphia who brought 22 students to the rally, went as far as to suggest that the Penn community is part of the problem.

“Do you see any University of Pennsylvania classes out here today?” he said, flanked by his students. “That’s right. That’s because Penn’s students are the children of that one percent!”

Soon after, he clarified that he “was only being cynical. It was a sarcastic remark, made in the heat of the moment.”

“I love Penn,” he added.

“Penn has a lot of privileged students but also a lot of students who come from very diverse backgrounds economically and culturally,” said fourth-year History and Sociology of Science doctoral student Peter Collopy.

“People think we live in some sort of Ivy League ivory tower,” said College sophomore Sarah Hendry, who joined the protest Thursday night. “That’s really not the case,” she added, pointing out that she and many fellow students have financial aid packages or loans to pay.

College senior Jared Dubin, who arrived at City Hall around noon, added that “the problem here is not that people have money. The problem here is that money is being made on the backs of 99 percent of the world’s population.”

Dubin, a former Daily Pennsylvanian staff writer, said he isn’t conflicted about the protest despite being raised in an affluent family. “Those people, even if they are that one percent, they are not the enemy. They just need to be co-opted to join us. They just need to understand that.”

Collopy said he chose to participate in Occupy Philly in the midst of writing his thesis to be part of a form of direct politics. During the first general assembly meeting at noon, Collopy joined in a call-and-response “people’s mic” to help organizers communicate details about the protest to a large crowd.

He said he wants to be part of “the underlying message of confronting economic inequality” and plans to join other Penn students who are organizing the protest’s education committee, which hopes to bring “teach-ins” to the protest.

Other student protesters from across the city also came with a vested interest in education issues, particularly student debt.

Holly Carter, who graduated from the Art Institute of Philadelphia last December, spoke about the pressure to repay her student loans. Even with “a good job” that pays about $40,000 a year, Carter said she can “barely afford rent and food.” She was inspired to join Thursday’s protest after hearing about Occupy Wall Street.

“The rich are the ones who have a say in government,” Carter said. People who are not rich “need to speak up.”

Anna Lockhart expressed similar frustrations. Lockhart graduated from Indiana State University in 2009 and now works at a coffee shop, earning eight dollars an hour. “It’s not fine that [Wharton students] are going to make a lot of money,” she said, in response to a question about the school, which often acts as a feeder to Wall Street jobs.

“I think [politicians] should be bailing out student loans instead of corporate America,” said Brandy Brouse, a graduate student at University of Sciences in Philadelphia. “The priorities are out of check. Education should be free.”

Temple sophomore Evan Hoskins, however, decided to skip class to attend the protest with his university’s Democratic Socialist group. “I personally felt it was more important to be here than in class,” he said.

Hoskins, however, noted that the movement needed more focus and structure to be successful in the long term.

“Right now it’s just a group of angry people expressing discontent,” he said.

“I have mixed feelings about [the movement]… everyone here has their own agenda and maybe some aren’t as informed as others,” said Greg Kamprath, who works at a hotel.

“I don’t know if anyone has an agenda, [like] ‘I want this law passed,’” Federman added. “I think people just want to know, ‘Oh my God, I’m not alone.’”

Organizing an occupation

Since its meeting at the Arch Street United Methodist Church on Tuesday, where more than 1,000 people gathered, Occupy Philadelphia has mobilized its social media outlets and created various work committees to help run the occupation.

Facebook groups were created for Occupy Philly’s Public Relations and Media, Medic Support, Outreach, Carpool, Agenda and Food committees, and its website has hosted active chat rooms since 3:00 p.m. Wednesday. Organizers and visitors used the chat rooms to share questions, answers and logistical updates.

Erika Bell, a Philadelphia college student currently on leave, is working with the food committee and plans on being at City Hall from Thursday until at least Monday.

She noted that she’s felt a positive response from the local community towards the movement. “Even talking to the police [yesterday] … when they were warning us about what we should and should not do, we [still] had a lot of positive feedback and not a lot of negativity,” she said. Bell mentioned that Occupy Philly is getting help from surrounding establishments, like the Arch Street United Methodist Church and local unions.

“I’ve usually been the kind of person that’s tagged along, that’s never got my hands deep into organizing things,” Bell said. But on Tuesday, when she saw that a meeting of 200 people from the week before had turned into a gathering of over a thousand, “just the energy that you could feel in the room — you can’t not feel the adrenaline rushing in you.”

The Occupy protests began Sept. 17 on Wall Street and have since spread across the United States to major cities like Boston, San Francisco, Denver and Chicago. The website,, lists events in more than 45 states.

“No one can really ignore cities across the United States all being a part of this. People are going to acknowledge this is going on. Although things might not change tomorrow, or next week, the fact that we’re doing this is making a statement itself,” Bell added.

Occupying Philadelphia

At 8:30 a.m., protesters and organizers marched to City Hall from four corners across the city: Logan, Franklin, Rittenhouse and Washington squares.

Philadelphia Police set up barricades and deployed additional personnel but did not expect crowds to turn violent.

At noon, protesters convened for the first General Assembly, the decision-making body of the occupation, to discuss plans for the remainder of the occupation. Twelve committees and working groups — from food and comfort to legal and media — were created to secure donations and acquire supplies for the occupation.

A second general assembly was held at 7 p.m. Protestors passed a proposal to process donations through Jobs with Justice, a national group with networks among Philadelphia labor unions and community groups. This would allow the occupation to accept donations without being accused of tax fraud.

According to an American Civil Liberties Union representative, the movement needs a city permit to continue occupying City Hall. She said the city will waive insurance fees that normally apply. Protesters are also requesting the $20 application fee to be waived.

However, many at the first General Assembly meeting wondered what would happen if the city denied the application.

“If the city denies [the request], you could sue in federal court for your right to remain here,” explained the ACLU representative. The crowd responded with cheers.

The protest saw a second swell in numbers after work at 5 p.m. Public Relations and Media organizer Jon Laing estimated 600 people were at the second General Assembly meeting.

At the second meeting, protesters postponed a vote on whether to apply for a city permit, since the group could not reach a consensus. Some protesters pointed out that Occupy Wall Street does not have a permit to protest.

Committee members were chosen at Tuesday night’s meeting at the United Methodist Church.

“People say this is a leaderless movement,” Laing said. “I disagree. I’d say this is a leader-full movement.” He said leaders naturally stepped up on Tuesday and throughout the movement.

The movement is receiving support from a number of local unions. The Philadelphia Central Labor Council will be issuing a statement in support of Occupy Philly, according to an organizer.

A sense of excitement surrounds the City Hall area as protesters are gearing up for the road ahead.

“We have gathered here in discontent from all corners of the city, races and social backgrounds,” said one of the speakers at the general assembly to a cheering crowd. “The people, united, will never be defeated.”

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