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Occupy Philadelphia at Independence Mall: Same problems, new strategies

The group has set up a small encampment on Independence Mall, its first public showing since last summer. But participants say they've learned a lot since then.

After a fairly quiet winter of organizing and strategizing, Occupy Philadelphia reemerged into the public consciousness with a small encampment on Independence Mall this weekend.

The issues that first drew them out – record levels of unemployment, unequal concentration of wealth and a host of socioeconomic ills – remain, participants said. "Things are not better and they're not going to be," Michael Mizner said as he stood in front of the smattering of three to five tents this afternoon. "Nothing's changed to impact that decline."

The resurgence was a surprise to many who thought the movement had dissipated. "They took a winter break," joked homeless advocate Dennis Payne, who set up the recently dismantled Camp Liberty One in Port Richmond. "You can't start a revolution and take a vacation in the middle of it."

Though the movement's core issues haven't changed, organizers said the time out of the public spotlight gave them a chance to regroup. "I think they spent all winter trying to figure out what the current and future agenda should be," Payne said. "They're back out to show they're still here, still standing and still willing to help."

"I think the external emergence of Occupy Philly in public spaces on a regular basis will go a long way toward affirming that," Mizner said.

Mizner said that he and others have been working through the winter to clean up vacant lots, help families facing foreclosure, feed the homeless and raise awareness about environmental issues. Several participants created an affinity group to pressure City Council to pass resolutions condemning corporate personhood.

Occupy is also forging bonds with other groups. "A lot of people are feeling like one of the possibly successful futures for Occupy – which is not an organization, but a movement – is thinking how to use the movement to facilitate connections between existing organizations," Justin Audia said. "I think a lot of us are working toward building connections with existing groups and learning from them, which definitely qualifies as a different strategy."

It's unclear how long this particular occupation will last, as the group does not have a permit for the space and decided not to apply for one. Pressure from the National Park services seemed to be mounting yesterday. "There's not really been any pressure [to apply for a permit], but I think as of today, it's being turned up," Payne said.

Permit problems


Occupy Philadelphia voted Saturday to coordinate a four-day community-building conference featuring participants from across the country starting June 30 and culminating in an Occupy national gathering July 4 on Independence Mall.

But the movement also voted not to apply for a permit from the Independence National Historic Park for the event or for its current encampment.

The $75 document, which is issued for a maximum of two weeks, would hold whoever signs it accountable for the cost of liability insurance, monitoring, cleaning up and repairing the event area and could be revoked at any time.

The distribution of printed material, provided that it is not solely commercial advertising, would be allowed, but other merchandise including t-shirts and audio tapes would not. Also banned are public address systems, open containers and unattended equipment. The permit does have a First Amendment allowance that waives fees for "public expressions of views and opinions," according to an application.

"We are exercising our right as free people," Payne said. "We are the people who own the permit office. It's redundant to issue our own permit."

Currently without a permit, Occupiers are not allowed to sleep or raise funds on the park's grounds or to congregate in groups larger than 25. Though the movement has not put a time limit on their current occupation and plans to see how things pan out, no tents are permitted on site for more than 48 hours without prior approval.