Philadelphia- It’s the fourth of July and hundreds of occupiers have descended upon the City of Brotherly Love from as far afield as Ventura, California and Madrid, Spain. Their mission: To discuss and frequently debate the future of Occupy in the United States and elsewhere.
Braving soaring temperatures and crippling humidity, many of those gathered spoke passionately and emphatically on the need for Occupy to achieve a concrete goal by year’s end. They assert that something is needed, some kind of event, or accomplishment that would be impossible for even mainstream media and political pundits to ignore.
However, the final form of such an accomplisment remains to be decided, yet most occupiers agree it would likely come in one of two forms: a direct action to shut down or significantly disrupt the functions of corporate America (sustained strikes in labor, rent or student debt; a general strike, or the occupation of business centers or buildings), or some type of legislative or executive victory (a bill for the cancellation of student debt, a moratorium on all home foreclosures, etc). Yet this is not as simple to get behind for occupiers as many readers might guess. One is as likely to find a different solution, target, or strategy with each new community member or occupier they speak to.
“We’ve changed the tone of the conversation” said one occupier, “but changing the tone is all talk. Now we need to get something done! We gotta get something done this year. I don’t know what that is or what it should be. That’s up to all the assemblies and affinities to decide… but we gotta do something.” In addition to the yearning for concrete change in an increasingly oppressive and disturbingly militarized state, occupations across the globe are undertaking numerous visioning exercises and meetings with the hope of ensuring healthy and sustainable growth within what is increasingly being referred to as “The Movement” or “The Struggle”.
Transitioning from the “igniter” identity of pumping energy, excitement, radicalism, and media attention into a host of localized and issue specific movements around the globe, Occupy has stepped back from the media fire-storm and into a role of bringing sympathetic movements and struggles into the conversation.
Drawing from the examples of Los Indignatos in Spain as well as the ongoing student strikes in Quebec, Occupy is repositioning itself as part facilitator of cross-movement dialogue, part world-wide media microphone. “Occupy is the biggest media stage in the world right now. It only makes sense that we start reaching out to all the interconnected struggles and try building new relationships” said one occupier who spoke at one of the intricately structured assemblies that took place throughout the week.
Quickly putting theory into practice, occupiers stood in solidarity before Independence Hall with members of Veterans for Peace as they were threatened with federal prosecution for setting up a canopy and meeting space at that location a few days before holiday celebrations were to begin. Ultimately, the occupiers ceded the location of the tent to the heavily armed Philadelphia Parks Patrol, but only at the insistence of the Veterans for Peace, whom the occupiers pledged to support no matter their decision.
Later that day, occupiers turned out to oppose the practice of mountaintop removal, the practice of using explosives to level off mountains in order to gain access to coal and other minerals within the terrain. Occupiers and supporters marched to the Philadelphia headquarters of UBS, a multi-national mega-bank that has provided heavy financial backing for the ecologically devastating practice in recent years. Afterward, the same march advanced upon the doors of another Philadelphia mega-bank to stand in solidarity with the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign in their fight to stop home foreclosures in Philadelphia area.
New Year, New Energy, Renewed Voice
In addition to massive assemblies, discussions, and debates about tactics and strategy, occupiers from across the board frequently spoke of renewing the energy that surrounded Occupy in the fall of 2011. Despite the dizzying activity of numerous occupations across the nation, many of those gathered at Franklin Sq. were concerned about diminishing energy and human resources within the movement.
Consciously aware of the approaching anniversary of the occupation of Zuccotti Park, one occupier proposed a solution before those seated around him: a renewed emphasis on the early messages of radicalism and revolution. The same original message that propelled thousands of people to make the journey to Zuccotti Park and Oscar Grant Plaza needs to be dusted off and re-emphasized.
“We need to say it up front!” he proclaimed during the final discussion circle in Philadelphia, “We need to stop watering down what we’re saying and say it like it is… we need to be upfront and transparent with people from the very beginning… ‘We are anticapitalists, we are anarchists, we are trying to overthrow the state.’ It’s time to get back to what we all started 9 months ago.”
For more photography by Dylan Kelley visit his photo blog here.