Occupy Philly, inspired by Occupy Wall Street, began in September 2011. Their demand to elected and corporate leaders was simple: Do something about economic inequality.
“We, the 99%, demanded to be at the table with the rich and the elites who were driving the conversation about the economy,” says Occupy Philly member Jesse Kudler.
Bread & Roses Community Fund made a special appeal to donors and raised over $4,000 for a one-time grant to support Occupy Philly. Soon after, the city of Philadelphia forced them to shut down the encampment at City Hall.
“We had to work together, and it was beautiful, fierce, and grueling,” says Khadijah White, an Occupy member and recent doctoral graduate from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Public Policy. “Without the camp, we miss those moments of interaction.”
Where are they now?
Occupy Philly was always a decentralized movement. Decisions at the City Hall camp were made by a general assembly of all Occupiers. Various working groups formed to tackle different issues. Many of these groups are still organizing for change.
The Occupy labor group is focused on Philadelphia public schools. A new group is working on a “strike debt” campaign demanding forgiveness of consumer debt. Occupy members stormed Philadelphia City Council to protest curfew laws and the “Stop and Frisk” policy. Occupiers have even been aiding Hurricane Sandy victims hold the systems that are supposed to provide relief accountable.
“A lot of the stuff that the local and national networks have done has created an Occupy generation that met each other, started doing things, and got plugged in,” says Jesse, who now works full time at Fight for Philly, a grassroots coalition affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Occupy Philly’s greatest achievement so far might be its role in politicizing a new generation of changemakers.
“It’s really hard to make the argument that young people aren’t politically or socially active anymore—or that social media interferes with such engagement,” says Khadijah. “And if Egypt’s Tahrir Square is any indication, the policies used to eliminate the Occupy camps may have signaled a beginning, not an end.