City: You Can Occupy But Not Really

Posted on November 22, 2011 by

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The Occupy Philly Legal Collective reported to the General Assembly (GA) Monday night that both the permit applications submitted for the Municipal Services Building Plaza, or Thomas Paine Plaza, have been denied.

Both the Collective and the Reasonable Solutions Working Group submitted applications separately for Thomas Paine Plaza.

Rather, the City of Philadelphia has provided Occupy with its own permit requirements, essentially turning the Occupation into a day camp. The operating hours of the camp would be from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Campers are no longer permitted to stay overnight.

Any water used would be billed to the camp. Campers, of course, would not be able to pitch tents. Reportedly only one standing structure would be allowed: a 10-by-10 canopy for technology. These are only a few of the requirements necessary to maintain the City’s cooperation. You can seen them in their entirety here in the GA notes from Monday  night.

The GA did not vote to respond to the Collective’s reportback.

The Collective also announced the City would provide 48 hours notice prior to eviction, and the City has not given notice yet. Some concerns at the GA focused on the homeless population, which comprises roughly 40 percent of the population at Tent City. The response from the Collective was that the City is legally obligated to help those who are homeless to find suitable living arrangements.

In a press release on November 17, 2011, the City stated it would continue helping the homeless in the People’s Plaza relocate due to the upcoming renovation.

Tomorrow, members of the City’s homeless outreach team, with the assistance of homeless advocacy organizations, will increase efforts to provide assistance to any homeless person who needs help in relocating from Dilworth Plaza. In recent weeks, the outreach team has visited the Plaza three times a day, offering services to homeless people who are camped on the Plaza.

Sadly, recent articles indicate the City seems overwhelmed with issues relating to the homeless. This article from December 31, 2010, indicates the City’s largest shelter on Ridge Avenue is set to close on December 31, 2011. This article from September 15, 2011, documents issues with a surging homeless population in a City that has faced massive budget cuts. Clearly, these budget cuts have affected not just shelters but services addressing other issues such as domestic violence. Oddly, many of the issues that Occupy has faced have involved violence against women.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter cited “dramatically deteriorating conditions” as one of many concerns during a press conference on Sunday, November 13, 2011. His press conference came on the heels of both a GA vote to stay in the People’s Plaza, and the report of a sexual assault the following night. His other concerns included public health and sanitation issues previously stated to Occupy in a letter from the City dated October 11, 2011.

When Nutter and City representatives met with Occupy Philly two weeks later, Working Group representatives presented the Mayor with a response. The structured discussion provided each group the ability to air concerns about the movement. Occupiers asked about possible solutions for fire hazard concerns, which went unanswered. Nutter restated concerns about graffiti and public health issues.

But Occupiers also had concerns. With the enormous police presence and so many complaints about the cost to the City, Occupiers felt the police were unresponsive to consistent concerns with sexual harassment and assault. While Occupiers have made attempts to keep peace at the camp, they were also baffled by this response when they asked on-site police officers for help.

Deputy Mayor Rich Negrin responded, “We’ve given the police a hands-off policy.”

Nutter acted responsive to a working relationship between Occupy’s Safety Working Group and the police department:

On the first part, the safety committee, if we could develop protocols, we want you to be safe on the plaza and we want to make sure we respond in an appropriate fashion. We don’t want a bunch of folks jumping over the rails and searching for one person with a knife.  Establishing protocol if we’re going in everyone knows what’s going.

The meeting adjourned, and it seemed the lines of communication were open. They were not.

Occupy Philly’s Legal Collective has said on more than one occasion it has attempted to contact City representatives with questions concerning the permit, questions concerning the necessary repairs that required Occupiers to move their tents away from City Hall, and to notify the City that Occupy voted against meeting with the City every week.

With the fear of eviction looming, Occupy passed several proposals in an attempt to address City concerns, including a regularly scheduled camp-wide cleanup and moving across the street to Paine Plaza. The City has successfully left Occupy with different options, among which are either operate as a day camp or act in civil disobedience with imminent confrontation.

During breakout sessions to discuss the why we came to Occupy, Occupy’s goals, and the future of Occupy Philly during Sunday night’s GA, the diversity of tactics included coalescing with the city as well as occupying abandoned buildings and breaking communication with the City completely.

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