Published November 28, 2011
PHILADELPHIA – A deadline set by the city for Occupy Philadelphia to leave the site where it has camped for some two months passed without scuffles or arrests Sunday as police watched and protesters sang and spoke of their dreams -- while some prepared for the possibility of arrest.
The scene outside City Hall was far different from encampments in other cities where pepper spray, tear gas and police action resulted in the removal of long-situated demonstrators since the movement against economic disparity and perceived corporate greed began with Occupy Wall Street in Manhattan two months ago.
Occupy Philadelphia has managed to avoid aggressive confrontations so far, and on Sunday night there was hope the City of Brotherly Love would continue to be largely violence-free.
"Right now, we have a peaceful demonstration," said Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Joe Sullivan, nearly 45 minutes after the 5 p.m. deadline. By 11 p.m., the crowd had thinned a bit, but the calm remained.
Along the steps leading into a plaza, about 50 people sat in lines with the promise that they would not leave unless they were carried out by authorities. For a time, they linked arms. But as it seemed that a forceful ouster was not imminent, they relaxed a bit. A police presence was heavier than usual but no orders to leave had been issued.
A few dozen tents remained scattered on the plaza, along with trash, piles of dirty blankets and numerous signs reading, "You can't evict an idea."
Several hundred supporters surrounded those who were prepared to face arrest for one of the Occupy movement meetings known as a general assembly.
The meeting started out with logistics -- making sure those sitting in had quarters to make calls from jail and that someone was gathering important medical information -- but it soon turned to big ideas.
The protesters described their many hopes for a better world. Among them: reparations for slavery and Native American lands, better and more inspiring schools, recognizing gay marriage, and end to homelessness, fewer TVs and better pay for artists. Some of those who spoke with hope and joined in rendition of "Lean on Me," had goggles with them, just in case pepper spray is used.
There was a sense that the occupation in front of Philadelphia's Gothic-style City Hall would soon be over, but hope that the movement would last.
"This is just baby steps," said R.W. Dennen, who said he felt a bit guilty that he wasn't preparing to be arrested.
Elsewhere on the East Coast, eight people were arrested in Maine after protesters in the Occupy Augusta encampment in Capitol Park took down their tents and packed their camping gear after being told to get a permit or move their shelters.
Protesters pitched tents Oct. 15 as part of the national movement but said Sunday they shouldn't have to get a permit to exercise their right to assemble. Occupy leaders said a large teepee loaned by the Penobscot Indians and a big all-weather tent would stay up.
The Augusta arrests came when police say people jumped a waist-high, wooden fence on the governor's mansion lawn and some climbed a portico to the building and unfurled an Occupy banner. As many as 50 protesters, some holding signs and beating a drum, gathered near the Blaine House gates.
In Los Angeles, another deadline was getting closer, too, for hundreds of demonstrators to abandon their weeks-old Occupy Los Angeles protest.
Although city officials have told protesters they must leave and take their nearly 500 tents with them by 12:01 a.m. Monday, just a handful were seen packing up Sunday.
Instead, some passed out fliers containing the city seal and the words: "By order of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, this notice terminates your tenancy and requires you to attend the Occupy L.A. Eviction Block Party," which the fliers' said was scheduled for 12:01 a.m.
Others attended teach-ins on resistance tactics, including how to stay safe should police begin firing rubber bullets or breaking out tear gas canisters and pepper spray.
Back in Philadelphia, Steve Venus was fortifying the area around his tent with abandoned wood pallets left over from those who had already packed up. He said the $50 million construction project, including a planned ice skating rink, was not a good enough reason for Occupy Philadelphia to leave the plaza.
Venus, 22, said that by enforcing the deadline, the city was essentially telling Occupy supporters "your issues are not important. The only issue that's important is the ice skating rink."
On Friday, Mayor Michael Nutter expressed support for the movement's ideals but said protesters must make room for the long-planned project, which they were told of when they set up camp Oct. 6.
Nutter was out of town Sunday, but his spokesman reiterated that "people are under orders to move."
Nutter's response: "I agree."
Members of the governing body of Occupy Philadelphia, the general assembly, previously approved a move to a plaza across the street after union officials stressed the hundreds of jobs being created by the Dilworth reconstruction. But that vote mistakenly assumed protesters would be able to pitch tents there.
Graffiti, lack of sanitation and fire hazards, including smoking in tents, were among the city's chief concerns at Dilworth, which had about 350 tents at the height of the movement. The encampment also attracted significant numbers of homeless, although the plaza had long been frequented by that population even before the camp was established.
The city did issue a permit to an Occupy Philadelphia faction called Reasonable Solutions that planned to continue demonstrating across the street beginning Monday. However, activities are limited to between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., and no overnight camping is allowed.