About six months after their Dilworth Plaza encampment disbanded, Occupy Philadelphia is again taking to the streets today in a highly visible series of May Day rallies and protests held throughout the city.
In Center City, they have been focusing on an issue central to the movement since day one: bank bailouts. Demonstrators marched around Rittenhouse Square and stopped outside the Wells Fargo branch on the 1700 block of Walnut Street, demanding the bank shut down and let out its workers – with pay.
"This is the unofficial labor day," participant John Philips said. "We're dominating the streets."
Protesters laid down in the street, blocking vehicular traffic between 17th and 18th streets, and police formed bicycle blockades around them. Two demonstrators were arrested following a scuffle in front of the bank's ATM. Ralliers allegedly blocked a businessman trying to withdraw money, words were exchanged and the man sought help from the phalanx of cops.
Officers handcuffed two men and loaded them into the back of a police van. A spokeswoman with the department said that one man was charged with disorderly conduct, the other, assault on a police officer.
According to participants, the confrontation was sparked when the businessman shoved an ATM card in one of the female protester's mouths. "He obviously provoked us," Philips said.
Other issues the marchers addressed in their chants included home foreclosures, the prison-industrial complex and the state of the school system. "Our school district is in peril, it is in debt," a Cheltenham high school student announced into a bullhorn. "But next year they're cutting things like bus services and extracurricular programs. ... Where is the federal and state government?"
Reactions from onlookers ran the gamut from annoyance to empathy. "To tell the truth, it's a waste of time to me," said Rick Wilson, who lives on 18th Street. "I don't think anything is going to be accomplished the way they're going about it. It seems like they're doing anything and everything to accomplish something that's not going to happen."
But at least one passerby was enthused. "I think what they're doing is right – they should be marching," said Philadelphia resident Charlene Scott. "I am a United States disabled veteran, wounded in Vietnam, and I can't even get in the hospital for the treatment I need."
"By no means should the government be held responsible for what Wall Street is doing," she continued. "It's 1929 all over again looking like something different."