Why I Photograph (and Support) The Occupy Movement.

Taken November 27, 2011 in Philadelphia, PA

“In the final analysis, Occupy Philly is not about eviction from Dilworth Plaza nor is it about jobs or a skating rink. The issue is whether or not we will remain free. We identify with the words of Lincoln about…the great test of our American democracy: ‘That this nation, under God, shall have new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’”

From “Eviction of Philadelphia from Philadelphia,” Occupy Philadelphia (accessed 11/27/2011)

Before I dig in, let me warn you. This is a long post, unusually long for me.

November 27, 2011 marked the sixth week that I’ve been photographing #OccupyPhilly in all its gritty and unpretentious glory. If you haven‘t been following along, please take a moment and check out the complete photo essay here and video footage on my YouTube channel.

Yesterday was a significant milestone in the arc of events that have been unfolding since October 6th here in Philadelphia. Just in case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s why yesterday was so important: The brave, enterprising, and forward thinking members of Occupy Philadelphia were supposed to be evicted (booted) from Dilworth Plaza, which for all intents and purposes, is a public space.

What’s troubling about this, and it’s discussed in the document entitled “Eviction of Philadelphia from Philadelphia,” is that, once again, the wishes of the elite minority (in this case, the plans to renovate and beautify Dilworth Plaza to attract more tourist and corporate dollars) holds sway over our government. And by extension, this means that our elected officials are in bed with the top 1% (because they have money and in this society, MONEY = POWER). And this means that they, our elected officials, could care less about truly enforcing and stewarding the rights and constitutional freedoms that should be enjoyed by all of us, regardless of those things that divide us, I.e., race, class, gender, sexual orientation.

So, to show how “serious” it was and how committed it was to seeing their threats all the way through to the end, the administration went to work posting notices all over the joint, making ultimatums, issuing warnings and beefing up security. However, after all the huffing, puffing, posturing and bluster from on high, nothing happened. 5:00 p.m. came and went. And we all watched.

It’s been suggested in certain online circles that the Nutter administration had no real intentions on following through on its threats to kick the Occupiers out. And to be honest with you, I went back to City Hall Sunday evening expecting to witness some gratuitous state-sanctioned violence against the protesters.

However, to my delight, surprise and satisfaction, the Occupiers of this city (and Los Angeles, I might add) stood their ground peacefully yet earnestly (actually sat or squatted is a better word, since they literally conducted a sit-in). And with their compelling arguments, idealistic vision and righteous anger and frustration channeled into a tightly organized forum (think “this is what democracy looks like!”), they drove yet another garlic-tipped stake into the heart of the parasitic 1%.

Of course, the Mayor’s handlers spun it to make it seem like they cut the Occupiers some slack, but I think that if the city had, in fact, rolled up on them as was done in NYC, it would have generated a groundswell of negative reaction. Remember, Philadelphia is the seat of American democracy. Think Benjamin Franklin and the Liberty Bell.

So what I suggest to you is this: Cracking heads here, in Philadelphia, under the pretense that these Occupiers are jamming up plans for a “economic revitalization project” that will cost taxpayers anywhere upwards of $50 million, particularly during a time when unemployment has never been higher and more people are living worse than hand to mouth, wouldn’t have looked good at all.

As a matter of fact, it would have made America look even worse in the eyes of a post-modern, 356/24/7 Internet news cycle world. I mean, let’s be honest. The world already views America as a bit of a hypocrite, incapable of managing its own human rights affairs. The world knows that we talk a pretty slick “democracy is good” game to people in far-flung places to support our own selfish ends, but do a piss-poor job of really and truly living up to the words of our Founding Fathers here at home. And the world knows that those who have dared to speak out or act decisively in support of what both the Constitution and Bill of Rights truly stand for has met an unfortunate fate.

During the course of the sit-in yesterday, it was said that several Occupiers from NYC, Boston and DC were present among the protesters, showing their solidarity and support. It’s very disappointing that the folks in NYC got a raw deal. Furthermore, the notion that mayors of several major cities “hosting“ these occupations got together and coordinated “raids“ on the Occupy sites is frankly disgusting. Think NYC, Atlanta, Oakland, the list goes on. Who does that? More importantly, why aren’t more people a tad bit bothered by this?? It’s scary to think that people would rather get excited about Black Friday than the fact that our collective inalienable rights are slowly being chipped away, right in front of us.

At any rate, I stood there, on the grounds of the city’s seat of power, with my little camera, clicking away and chuckling to myself and nodding my head at everything that was being said. At that moment, it became very clear to me that this work that I’ve taken on is vitally important, perhaps not to anyone else, but definitely to me.

I’m a GenXer, 39 years old and a bit of a clean freak germophobe. Those who know me know that I’m addicted to hand sanitizer and carry around a spray bottle of bleach solution and am not afraid to use it. I know, deep down in my heart, that I wouldn’t have had the guts or the patience to live in a tent, to brave the elements for one week, let alone six, or seven, no matter what the cause. As an early middle-aged woman, I freely admit that I don’t do well in the cold, even though I’m from the Windy City and am proud of the fact that I have ice-cold water flowing through my veins.

(Remember the freak snowstorm October 29th? Well, the Occupiers here in Philly not only braved the snow and cold, but 200 of them marched from City Hall to Temple University to give Bill Clinton the once over and Bubba stood them up! I went down to City Hall that morning to check things out and decided that it wouldn‘t be smart for me to shoot in the sleet. I only have one camera and no money to replace the body or my cheap kit lenses at this time).

Seriously, though, here’s the deal: I think a lot of GenXer types have been indoctrinated to not make waves about the injustices that have exacted against us. Think about it. More of us went to college (and took on evil student loans) than any other generation prior, so that means we are pretty damned smart. In exchange for a world-class education (remember, we were able to achieve a feat that few in previous generations were privileged enough to accomplish) we were expected to keep drinking the Kool-Aid and to be grateful for the little crumbs we were thrown from master’s table.

The reality was, we GenXers took on way too much student debt. We competed for, and obtained, soulless corporate or quasi-corporate jobs because we were promised that this would be the path to prosperity, the type of prosperity that our parents enjoyed. We learned, later in life, that we were fed a bullshit line designed to make a handful of people rich and the rest of us indentured servants (slaves may be too harsh of a word). But we remained silent and compliant because we believed that if we worked hard enough and long enough, our contributions, and more importantly, our loyalty and compliance would be rewarded. And frankly, we didn’t want to lose what we had, nor did we want to be seen or regarded as rabble-rousing ungrateful louses.

Well, in 2008, as we know, all that changed (for the worse or better, depending upon who you ask). Many of us were casualties of the recession or were sufficiently freaked out by the body count that we struck out on our own. But to be honest, by this point, many of us were so jaded and beat down and so deeply pissed off and cynical about losing “so much” that it was going to be hard to find the spark to light that fire in our bellies that was once there in our youth.

Fast forward to 2011, the Year of the Occupy Movement. After all the empty promises from government and snubs from the private sector (they refused to invest in jobs to jump-start the economy) I was glad to see folks (young people, old people, and even GenXers!) finally stand up and take action. I said, about fucking time!!! People are tired of being pushed around and its long past time for people to begin thinking for themselves.

Remember: This country was not founded on principles of mindless consumerism and rampant, unchecked greed and indifference to the suffering of the least among us. It was founded on the notion that we the people would be an enlightened and informed citizenry and that our rights to assemble and speak freely and peacefully, in opposition to state-sanctioned injustices would be protected, not challenged or rolled over, tear gassed and cracked upside our heads for speaking the truth.

So as I was reviewing my images from last night and reflecting on my own experiences, it became crystal clear why I’ve been drawn to the Occupy movement. I applaud the Occupiers and stand behind them because their idealism, bravery and commitment resonate deeply with me. I see in them the optimism, the youthful exuberance, the fearlessness, the fire in my belly that I thought stopped burning long time ago. And for as long as I’m able to and for as long as circumstances permit, I will continue to make the trek down to Dilworth Plaza with my camera.

And here’s the other thing: The train has left the station; the bottle has been uncorked, and sooner or later we will all have to come to grips with the idea that the system is broken and that we have to stand up for our rights even if we don‘t think we don‘t have a dog in the fight.

Silence equals consent and the longer we stand by idly, in fear of losing the little that we think we have, the more we‘ll be at risk of losing everything we do have. The bullies will keep pushing and pushing and pushing until you’ll be too afraid to come to the playground, and there will be no one around who will give a damn about it by that point.

If you see yourself as a proud American, and cherish your rights to speak freely and to go where you please, I hope that you’ll find a way to do your part to support this movement as well.

Peace and blessings.

One Comment Add yours

  1. las artes says:

    The permit proposal was designed to achieve everything that the Mayor could hope to get, but that most Occupy Philadelphia members could not help be find unacceptable; a neutered Occupy protest, the end of any encampment visible to most Philadelphians and a bonus payoff to political friends like Rep. Brady. It required that the protesters limit their presence to between the hours of 9am and 7pm on Thomas Paine Plaza (yes, limiting free speech rights in a place named for Thomas Paine; the irony is so thick it will probably collapse into a black hole.) It made any kind of structure except three pavilions (which had to be removed every evening) illegal and did not allow any overnight stays of any kind (persons or equipment.) This was, as you might imagine, rejected by the GA, who sought to renegotiate with the city.

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