Though it’s not our usual type of story, we thought this morning’s Occupy Philly gathering at City Hall was the sort of representation of community solidarity that we look for here at Naked Philly, whether we agree with the protestors or not.

A group of a few hundred people ranging in age and diversity, some carrying signs, gathered this morning to bring attention and an end to what protestors call rampant corporate greed and a flawed American system that bails out the rich and ignores the poor. Last week, thousands occupied Wall Street in Manhattan in similar fashion. From what we could tell this morning, it seemed that most of Philly’s white collar types were busy at work, ignoring the protests and making money.

“We are all the people’s committee,” said Larry Swetman, 25, as he spoke to the crowd early on in the event. Swetman, a bottom-liner for the OP facilitation committee, is a barista who moved to Philadelphia from Atlanta, Georgia. “Lend your voice. Lend your energy. Be the change you want to see in the world.”

While a number of protestors, including Swetman, mentioned revolution, few had any idea as to what sort of system would work in place of our current government and economic institutions in the event their movement succeeded. But that did not deter their efforts or convictions. They maintained today’s gathering was the beginning, and about spreading the message and bringing people together in solidarity.

Protestors plan to occupy City Hall, they claim, some sleeping overnight, until their message is acknowledged by political leaders. Young adults collected several hundred empty cardboard boxes, many from dumpsters, they plan to use as beds.

Organizers communicate to the crowd using what they call a “mic check.” This is when someone stands at a high, prominent location, usually on a bench, and yells out “mic check.” The crowd repeats, and then the speaker disseminates his or her message in fragments of sentences the crowd repeats. One clever youth began to rap in the crowd about unrelated topics after someone yelled mic check.

We think it will be impossible for City Hall to ignore the message spread by today’s protestors. What they do about it is a different story. The fact that cities across the nation are holding similar occupations, might offer the weight of legitimacy to the event.

For now, the protestors’ message remains clear.

“One percent of the people squander all the wealth,” said Steve Ford, 56, who carried a sign that said one percent does not equal the people. “It’s just not fair.”
Ford and the other protestors maintain that their message resonates with 99 percent of the people in the U.S., and that the one percent is the group of rich people who benefit from the maladies of society’s institutions and structures.

“I always envied America, this was a dream,” said Wagaye Berhanu, a 41-year-old Ethiopian-born recent graduate of a University of Pennsylvania master’s education program. “I thought this was the land of opportunity. Coming here has been very disappointing… As I can see this is a fake democracy. Money is the master. The poor masses are the losers and the banks are bailed out and the system continues.”

For now, they will work on gathering momentum.

“Instead of being in our individual worlds and discontent,” said Swetman, “we are here together in discontent.”

–Lou Mancinelli