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Are 'radical elements' hijacking Occupy Philly?

Stay-or-go vote reveals divisions in camp, raises possibility of strategic voting blocs.

Relations between Occupy Philly and the City broke down when the movement decided Friday to remain at Dilworth Plaza.

Managing Director Rich Negrin said that the group's decision was "incredibly disappointing and, we think, indicative of something of a betrayal of their original beliefs and cause."

But, perhaps even more concerning, Occupy Philly's infighting has become so obvious that many relative outsiders to the movement, including Mayor Michael Nutter, have noticed. “Occupy Philly is fractured with internal disagreement and disputes,” he said at a press conference yesterday.


“Occupy Philly has changed," he said. "We’re seeing serious health and safety
issues playing out on almost a daily basis … The people of Occupy Philly
have also changed and their intentions have changed … and all of this
is not good for Philadelphia.”

Radical 'hijacking element'

Nutter’s assessment of divisiveness within the camp is all-too-apt. While Friday night, a two-thirds majority voted to stay at Dilworth Plaza, some longtime residents said that much of the crowd consisted of interlopers who show up when important votes are taken, but largely do not participate in daily decision-making.

“At the Friday vote, you got a bunch of radicals to vote to stay when the majority didn't want to,” said Occupier Daniel Brouse. “They're looking for a fight. They're basically the same group of people who have gotten arrested so far. They're the fringe – socialists, anarchists and Ron Paul supporters."

“There’s this hijacking element that is anarchic and wants to basically raze all structures and burn everything to the ground,” agreed Fernando Salguero of the now-infamous warming station. “Those saying they’re going to dig in their heels and, 'Bring on the tear gas,' that’s keeping Occupiers from moving forward. Food wants to go, the safety committee wants to go … I could go on.”

“Votes are being stacked,” Salguero continued. “These are outside influences being brought in by a lot of anarchists, essentially to subvert the process,” he said, though he still believes direct democracy is the way to go. “There are puppet masters that have small movements of supporters that wave their hands [as a show of support] at certain times.”

"There is concern that the more radical element might be gaining control and that that element is less about social justice and representing the 99 percent and more about something else," Negrin confirmed last Thursday. "It’s just kind of anti-establishment, anti-government, anti-everything. That is a very real concern."

"I can't say this has happened," Kurtis Sensenig of the messaging committee carefully prefaced, stressing that it was only a personal observation. "But the dynamics have changed a little bit. I'm afraid moderates are being chased out by more radical extremists."

Some people wish the camp had just voted to move

"Hell, yeah we want to move across the street," Salguero said. "That's
why we built across the street in the first damn place." He initially
constructed the warming station at Thomas Paine Plaza last Sunday because he figured
the camp would soon relocate anyway, but was asked to leave by city
officials due to a lack of permit.

“It sounds like we screwed ourselves because now Nutter is not offering
the place across the street, either. We should have moved,” said Brouse,
who
claims he has contacted the police and the Mayor's press office
independently to discuss moving to Thomas Paine Plaza and is circulating
an online
petition advocating the same.

"I wish we moved and continued positive relations with the city," echoed
Sensenig. He said that his working group has attracted a lot of
philosophical discussion around the decision. "Everyone there was
frustrated with the decision-making process and with becoming more
confrontational with the city," he said. "It's worth noting that a lot
of people here wanted to maintain a working relationship with the city."

Brawls and needles

The camp has been home to several fights -- including one that broke out
next to the stage during Friday night's general assembly
discussing the proposed expansion -- and a sexual assault, which
occurred Saturday. EMS has been dispatched 15 times since Oct. 6., Nutter said.

Brouse was assaulted last week while videotaping a fight between
two participants. He said that, in his experience, the fights are not
generally perpetrated by other politically-active Occupiers, but by the
homeless and mentally ill. “We’re feeding them, but we’re not giving
them their medicine,” he said.

“There are verbal assaults. Thefts are rampant – everybody has pretty
much had stuff stolen," he continued. "There’s privacy issues – people
think they can just go into your tent if it’s empty. People think
private property is theirs to take.”

"The main thing to stay aware of is when you open a community like this,
with food, shelter, clothing -- it draws people," said Joe Polito.
"They are a part of the 99 percent, but not part of the movement. Their
actions are not representative of the movement."

Polito said that drugs have also become an issue at the encampment. "All
the junkies are coming into the camp to camouflage themselves with the
movement," he said. "I've been finding needles and crack pipes
everywhere. While everyone else is sleeping, drug dealers come." But
Polito said that he didn't think the element would pose a problem as far as resistance to relocation. "The
junkies and crackheads will flee before [police come], see what happens
and come back when it's over," he said. "They've always been here."

“Occupy Philly has the same problems as larger society,” said
Amanda Geraci of safety and security by way of explanation. “Occupy Philly is not a utopia –
it’s a microcosm."

Both sides swear violence is not an option -- unless someone else hits them first

Negrin said that, though the city has no plans to remove the Occupiers by force – "We’re Philadelphia. We’re not Oakland." – he is worried about the possibility of violence. "I know that’s not going to happen on our side, but that’s a growing concern, based on what we’re seeing inside the camp, what they’re capable of," he said, citing some of the above assaults.

At the same time city officials swear that no violent tactics will be
employed, so do proponents of staying, who are not are scarce by any
means. While many who wanted to relocate say they will simply vacate at any sign of
conflict, those who voted to remain are ready to fight -- peacefully.

"We have to escalate our tactics nonviolently," said Occupy fixture Ed
O'Donnell. "We should force mass arrests to protest. We need to stand
our ground Tuesday and force arrests. It will be a body blow to them."

Distrust lingered Sunday between the city and Occupiers, who did not have faith officials would keep their pledge of peace. "I think violence is a strong possibility, but I also
think that, no matter what, we're going to keep on being nonviolent,"
Geraci said.

"We're staying!" a protester who gave his name as Rel Freedman
triumphantly yelled as he walked past. "People are going to get
arrested. I just hope it's not me."

Many Occupiers echoed the city's sense of betrayal, claiming that the city's initial support was either a strategical ruse or a PR tactic. "We never had their support -- it was all lies," said Jesse Green of the facilitation
committee. "[Nutter] just got elected -- 'Vote for me, I'm on your side! I'm
elected -- now they need to go.'"

"I don't think we ever had the support of the city," Sean Case agreed.
"I think they just tolerated us. But the movement is not here for the
city. People are here for the movement."

"If they beat me up, I'll videotape it and make some money," he added. "I'm not afraid because I'm not doing anything wrong."

When asked what would happen if protesters did not comply with his mandate to move, Nutter merely responded, "They'll find out."

“This is our last bet for peaceful change in our culture," said Salguero, who continues to push for relocation. "And if we
don’t create it in our culture, things are going to get really, really
ugly.”

Read more from the city's point of view: officials fed up with lack of communication

 
 
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