Today I went into center city with Rob to follow the ongoing occupy movement and see the various organizations congregating in the Philadelphia area. While I had previously analyzed the Oakland, CA occupy movement in terms of media coverage for my Media in Society course at Temple University, I had never actually physically been involved or around the movement myself. I also had no previous strong knowledge on many of the issues being protested. I found it difficult to participate in discussions because I simply did not have the knowledge on the subjects to do so. To begin, this experience was extremely humbling to me. Many of the various groups showed up protesting different issues and they had clearly done their homework that could be seen through the signs they made, the demonstrations, and the facts that were often shouted in tandem with intensity. There were so many people marching and persisting in the harsh heat believing in the movement while I simply had nothing to say. Some of the issues such as ending the war conflicts in the middle east, the 99% versus 1%, and ending corporate greed in general were recurring. Between actively participating in a march down Market street and hearing countless passionate speeches from guests in Franklin square, I witnessed and experienced a lot of new things today.
On the train to center city, Rob and I also just happened to be sitting next to a fellow member of the Occupy movement. He had brought bags of gear and supplies as he was planning to stay with the other occupiers. He began to tell us about the differences in protest with Brazil, where he was originally from, and the United States. In particular, he pointed out how lucky protesters have it in America versus other countries where protesters are met with even more aggression and in some cases shot by the authorities. That being said, Philadelphia met my expectations in regards to police presence.
In covering the occupy Oakland movement, I noticed many examples in social media such as youtube videos of police brutality that were being ignored and framed by political mainstream media. This knowledge had me observing the response of the law enforcements in Philadelphia to compare the two, throughout the day. As soon as I arrived at one of the first public displays in front of the Philadelphia stock exchange, I noticed the police had already sent a significant amount of officers and vehicles to the area. In fact it was overkill. The group out front of the stock exchange was not that large at all and yet there were many police.
The next march I ran into while heading back to 15th and Market. I had received a text update from the natgat stating another protest was underway at 15th and market. I had received many updates directly sent to my phone throughout the day. This helped direct the occupy participants to the various events and important information. The marching group was already heading towards me when I decided to follow it for a little while. The entire march was followed by police officers on all sides. From what I saw fortunately, there was no brutality on the level previously witnessed in the social media coverage from Oakland.
Many of the demonstrations and activity was located in the Franklin Square park. I walked around and saw great diversity. There were many people from all different backgrounds and walks of life. Many of the occupy activists were all sitting in organized groups often in the grass in circles, simply discussing the issues with one another in a very calm and rational manner. Everyone waited patiently for their chance to speak and everyone went one at a time. This behavior proved another habit of the mainstream media wrong: portraying the occupy activists as violent and aggressive anarchists. A common theme among the demonstrators' speeches revolved around the idea of the movement itself: people coming together, to be unified with a common cause. The group of veterans for peace and a free Mumia group demonstrated just that. The veterans were informed that their permits to protest were up. The Mumia group agreed to share the space so that the veterans could stay and protest.
The only previous experience I had with public protest was during my freshman year of college when i marched with several of my fellow students to protest the Pennsylvania education budget cuts. While this march was also large, it did not have as significant of a police presence. There seems to be extra tension between the police and the occupy movement. I compared both of these experiences and found both of them to be ultimately rewarding. As one of the guest speakers stressed today: it is imperative that the people stand up for something. It was a good experience and one where you can feel like you are part of something bigger and greater than yourself.