||[Nov. 7th, 2011|11:53 am]
|||||guns and roses: sweet child o mine.||]|
I've spent a week now at Occupy Philadelphia, doing Top Secret portraits and meeting people. It's been a weird and wonderful experience -- confusing, depressing, and uplifting all at once. Most everyone I talk to says that the best thing about being there is "talking to people I never would have met" -- and I think that's true. I've met people saying things that make sense to me, and people saying things that make no sense to me, and people saying things that make no sense to me at first that later begin to make some sense.
The dynamic in Philly is so different than most anywhere else -- the Mayor is meeting with protesters and the city has been "working" with them. I say "working" because there's not exactly a consensus on what Occupy Philadelphia wants from the city so the things the mayor is doing aren't necessarily the things everyone wants. Every night at 7:00 there's a meeting of the General Assembly where a leaderless collective tries, through direct democracy, to steer their movement. But unlike many other cities, the police haven't rolled in with tear gas and batons and rubber bullets -- I suspect that nobody wants to be the next Mayor of Oakland, so people tread softly. Police and protesters are seen leaning against lamp-posts talking about sports and sharing cigarettes. That makes me happy, or proud -- that in the City of Brotherly Love and the womb of American Democracy we still know how to have a political discussion. (However, when our sports teams win something we burn the place down.)
Philadelphia's also different from many of the other occupy movements in that the place the protesters chose to set up camp was a place where a number of homeless people were already living -- some for years, and some for decades. The success at which the homeless population has been absorbed, or at least, cared for by the protesters is relatively remarkable. Occupy Philadelphia is, the last I heard, providing 1,500 meals a day for both protesters and the homeless population -- it's sometimes very hard to tell them apart.
But therein lies the magic.
I've lived in a big city for years and years and apart from Omar I've never met any homeless people. My interaction is fleeting -- it's true that to most city dwellers these people are nearly invisible -- and I've long admonished photographers who snipe photos of the homeless with telephoto lenses from half a block away and think they're making a statement. But being down here has given me the opportunity to meet people and hear their stories and have conversations -- like the fox in Le Petit Prince people become unique au monde. I can't tell you how valuable that is -- and how often I've found myself uttering some variant of There but for the grace of god go i. I was lucky enough to be born who I was, where I was, to the parents I had, in the middle class family I was -- a lot of these people weren't -- and opportunities I had during difficult times -- to sleep on sofas or borrow money from my parents, or talk my way into living in someone's closet (true story) are opportunities that other people never had, and the things that kept me from sleeping in a park.
I've been trying to figure out who the occupiers are, and it's still a bit difficult. There's a contingent here that stays permanently, and there's one that gets up at 4:00 in the morning, goes back to a house or an apartment, takes a shower, goes to work, and returns at 6:00 in the evening to do it all again, and there's a contingent in the middle.
But I'm impressed at how this tent city has been able to feed and manage itself -- set up solar panels, charge batteries, police themselves, and, more or less, make things work.
Today two people I've now known for a week got married during the occupation by a Baptist minister whose also a college professor, whose also been staying here. And until whatever bulldozer eventually comes through here, whether iron or a cloud of tear gas or cold weather, snow and freezing rain -- as I suspect it eventually must -- visiting this experiment is my #1 recommended tourist stop in Philadelphia.
But don't just walk through -- talk to people -- find out why you agree or disagree with them, tell them your story -- become unique au monde.
And congratulations to Adam and Ally.
Donations of food, clothes, tents & blankets can be sent to: Occupy Philly, 1229 Chestnut St / PMB 248 / Philly, PA / 19107 -- if your conscious won't let you support their cause, you can stipulate that the items you send be used exclusively to help the homeless.
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For me one of the really amazing things watching this happen is really how diverse the protesters and their goals are. In one sense it's a sort of "angry people gather here" thing but in general they're largely concerned about the same big umbrella issue: corporations have too much control over the political system. And they're equal opportunity -- they chased both Eric Cantor and Bill Clinton out of town and they're planning on protesting President Obama today (if memory serves).
I was asking people "what would make you pack up and go home feeling like you'd achieved a victory" and most people said there was no one thing that would satisfy them -- the problems are vast.
Though in Philly the homeless situation has, I believe, really come to the forefront and that may eventually become more of a uniting cause. But they do debate a lot about what direction to take. It'll be very interesting to see how it plays out.