All is calm as deadline passes for Occupy Philadelphia

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Linking arms in anticipation of arrest at Dilworth Plaza are (from left) Diane Isser; Brianna Murphy; Shawn Grant; and, hidden by a scarf, Barry Cade. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)

About 100 Occupy Philly protesters sat down on the cold concrete of Dilworth Plaza at 5 p.m. Sunday and waited to be rousted for violating a deadline Mayor Nutter had set for the group to leave.

But the expected police eviction had not happened by late Sunday evening, and city officials continued to avoid saying when, or whether, they would throw the Occupiers and their tents off City Hall's so-called front lawn.

"We are expecting people to pack up and leave," said Mark McDonald, spokesman for Mayor Nutter. "I'm not going to speculate about what the city might do at any time down the road from now."

For about 90 minutes, protesters chanted slogans such as, "What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like."

They served squash soup in paper cups, handed out bottles of water, and railed against what they believe is excessive corporate greed and power.

All the while, police looked on calmly.

Police had no plans to evict anyone, Chief Inspector Joseph Sullivan said about 6:30 p.m.

"We look forward to working with Occupy Philadelphia and a resolution of the problem. Confrontation is never good. Anyone who is being fair would have to say that there is a big difference between the police reaction to Occupy Philadelphia than in other cities," he said.

"I definitely, definitely want to really stress that the vast majority of people participating in this movement have been cooperative, nonviolent, and very respectful," he said.

Sullivan cautioned, however, that protesters would be prevented from setting up another camp elsewhere in the city unless they got a permit.

The city has said it needs to erect fencing this week for work at Dilworth Plaza, including renovation of the SEPTA tunnels and the addition of grass, a cafe, stage, and winter ice rink.

Over the last few days, Occupy Philly participants, many homeless, had begun to take down their tents. By 7:15 p.m. Sunday, roughly a third of what originally was about 300 tents were gone.

Darrin Annussek, an unemployed career counselor, and William Tuttle, a student, were folding up Annussek's tent Sunday. Someone had stolen Tuttle's tent, and the men, who got married at Occupy Philly last month, said they probably would move to the Occupy site in Washington.

"I wanted to protest the fact that corporations have too much control and government hasn't done much to stop it," Annussek said.

He said he believed Nutter had exaggerated the health and safety concerns the mayor cited in explaining why he could not issue protesters a permit for a new location once the $50 million renovation project began.

"I really thought this would become one of the longer occupations," Annussek said.

Ellen Rogovinhart of Elkins Park said she thought the city could have done more to help the Occupiers find a new location, possibly in a church.

"I know the city has work to do," Rogovinhart said. "But I think this is a very important movement."

She was hoping Philadelphia police would not use force, as police in Oakland and other cities have, to get Occupiers to move.

Rogovinhart held a sign that read, "The eyes of the world are watching to see if we are the city of brotherly and sisterly love today."

At times it seemed the whole world were watching. On Sunday night, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, using the screen name @Uncle Rush, went on Twitter to ask Nutter to "remember this is a nonviolent movement - please show restraint tonight."

Nutter tweeted back that he agreed.

On the west side of City Hall, several hundred people gathered to observe what would happen to those risking arrest. The crowd used its "human mic" system of amplification, in which others repeat what each person says so all could hear.

"I went to college. I graduated with honors," Marcel Williams Foster yelled, and the crowd repeated. "I work three part-time jobs with no benefits and I have $50,000 in student loans."

Lauren Keiser, 26, a student from Audubon, said she was willing to get arrested because she believed homeless people, who are a constant presence on the plaza, deserve more help. She thinks the money that will transform Dilworth could be better spent on housing, addiction programs, and other services.

"It's disgusting that a $50 million skating rink is going to be put here," she said.

The City Hall encampment, which has drawn sharp criticism for its lack of sanitary conditions, faces Christmas Village in Love Park, an open-air market modeled after clusters of outdoor shops in large German cities at the holidays.

One speaker at a news conference earlier in the day sought to draw a sharp distinction between the movement at Dilworth Plaza and the festivities a short distance away.

"I can see from here a place called Christmas Village," said the Rev. Robin Hynicka of the Arch Street Methodist Church. "I can honestly say that if there is a Jesus, he would be here [Dilworth Plaza], not there."

The city has given Reasonable Solutions, a group that splintered from Occupy Philadelphia, a permit to use Thomas Paine Plaza, the original space considered as a Dilworth replacement. Occupy Philly has not received a permit to protest elsewhere.

Some protesters did not think that mattered much.

"We've already won our first fight. . . . We've changed what newspapers are talking about, what media is talking about, what people are talking about around the dinner table," said Gwen Snyder, executive director of Jobs With Justice and a member of the Labor Committee of Occupy Philly.

 


Contact staff writer Miriam Hill at 215-854-5520, hillmb@phillynews.com, or @miriamhill on Twitter.

Inquirer staff writers Chris Mondics and Melanie Bavaria contributed to this article.