Occupy National Gathering Brings Together Occupiers From Far and Wide
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“Where is our solidarity? I see solidarity for many great things—Bradley Manning, student debt, Trayvon Martin,” said Lorena Ambrosio, a New Jersey resident and an Occupy Wall Street participant. “But right now women’s rights are under attack by Republicans all over the country. We need clinic dense, feminist education, the state representative in Michigan who was shut down for just saying ‘vagina’—there should have been immediate action.”
The daily encampment at Franklin Square buzzed with discussion of how best to expand Occupy to cover the issues raised on the 4th at the Radical Convergence assembly. But the direct actions and pageantry held during the National Gathering were largely focused on issues of debt and unjust banking practices. Many of the participants sported red felt squares inspired by the massive student protests in Quebec. All in the Red, a new student group from New York, led a march on Sunday to protest the de-funding of public education and the ever-escalating student debt crisis.
While the activists would occasionally slip into well-worn protest nostrums (“Whose streets?” etc.), their education-centered chants clearly got the crowd revved up: “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white.” The march prompted some bystanders to cheer and honk their horns, a relatively rare event as most of the week’s events did not noticeably attract much outsider attention or support.
“Our main goal coming to NatGat was to do actions with Occupy, to show people we exist, that was our main goal,” says Janna Powell, a New York-based All in the Red organizer who “stepped back from Occupy because it’s a little unproductive right now.”
Powell described her efforts reaching out to other student groups at the National Gathering and those within Philadelphia more generally (she named Penn specifically). “[In that] we were really successful. We want to collaborate with researchers, students, educators, and bring [these issues] to the public in creative ways.”
Most of the week’s arrests, of which there were 28, were a result of a spontaneous march on Sunday night, which did not appear to have a particular issue focus. Participants simply described it as a “solidarity march,” although who or what they were in solidarity with was unclear. The small band attracted a police presence at least twice its size, which some protesters then antagonized.
“The march was largely young people from other cities who didn’t have a good realization of their surroundings,” says Amanda Schaikah, a medic and Philadelphia resident who was arrested. “Their occupations have become stagnant and they came to NatGat to go and do shit. It wasn’t smart. We could have been really, really fucked up. There was no knowledge of the city, of legality. You say 'fuck cops,' well, what do you think they are going to do?”
A total of 23 people were arrested at the march, with most released the following morning with fines. Another arrest occurred on the first day during a tense protester-police standoff on Independence Mall, where the National Gathering was initially going to be held. But the 4th and Arch Street Quaker meeting house was made available to the occupiers, allowing them a place to sleep where they would not incur the wrath of law enforcement.
“On Saturday [the police] looked like they were ready to bash some hippies,” said Tricia Shore, a member of the meeting house and a participant in Occupy Philly’s interfaith working group. “That we had a backup plan was a godsend. [This location] deescalated everything.”
Occupiers slept at the meeting house at night and held court in shady Franklin Square during the day. (Some of the protesters were reportedly doing some gardening for the Quakers to thank them for use of the space.) Occupiers from many corners of the country were represented (Occupy Kalamazoo!), bringing stories of the innovative tactics used, mainly, against big banks. Atlanta occupiers dumped the furniture from a foreclosed house outside the offending bank, while Occupy Buffalo, working in coalition with other groups, successfully lobbied the city council to disinvest millions from Chase.