GOP 2000 and Occupy Philly: A tale of two (tent) cities

Networking matters, which is why it blew my mind when I had a flashback to the Republican convention held here in 2000 as Ivan Boothe and I chatted at Occupy Philadelphia's protest site city outside City Hall Tuesday.

Both gatherings involved a Tent City. But there was another more important similarity and Boothe nailed it.

"I think this is a great space for people to come together and teach each other," Boothe, 29, said, as we hung out in the booth he was manning. "But more useful long term will be the connections that are being made here."

Boothe, of West Philadelphia, said he has spent the last 12 years as an activist in Philadelphia working on various projects, including Casino-Free Philadelphia. By now, he figured, he had met almost everyone in Philadelphia's activist community. But, at Occupy Philadelphia, he's getting to know other area activists, who like people in most endeavors, tend to focus on the task at hand and rarely get a chance to mingle in the larger community. 

I had an instant flashback to 1998, 1999 and 2000, when I covered the city's effort to land and then host a national political convention. The Republicans set up shop in what was then known as the FU Center (First Uniion Center), nominating George W. Bush. Outside in the stadium parking lots, the GOP assembled a vast acreage of tents, creating a much more sophisticated set-up than the tents being used by Occupy Philadelphia outside City Hall. (Better toilets at the GOP event, too.)

Between the marketing and logistics of the GOP 2000 convention, many politicians, government officials, civic leaders, law enforcement experts, and convention pros who didn't know each other and wouldn't have met ended up working together. Besides mounting a massive sales pitch, they had to create the equivalent of a new city within a city for more than 40,000 people. They had to build transit system, security protocols, parties, and yes, their mammoth tent city. many of those involved said that the opportunity to form alliances across disciplines was an unexpected yet beneficial outcome of Philadelphia's hard work in hosting the GOP convention. Cellphones numbers and email addresses were traded as back-door connections helped in projects developed around the region over the next few years. 

Boothe made the same point. Protests in 1999 in Seattle, he said, provided lessons in organizing that are still valued today and spawned the development of indie media. "Occupy Philadelphia," he said, "will have a similar effect. A lot of people haven't been involved in this kind of thing before, so this is their introduction. My guess is that a lot of things will come out of this."