On Sunday night, a middle-aged black man roamed through Philadelphia’s Dilworth Plaza proclaiming that “the Occupy Movement is only moving to phase two.” Despite a tremor of anxiety in his voice, he sounded optimistic. It was Occupy Philly’s fifty-sixth day in existence, and multiple longtime participants observed that more supporters had assembled there than ever before.
They came in response to Mayor Michael Nutter’s unambiguous mandate: Everyone out by Sunday at 5 pm. “You must remove all of your possessions and yourself from that location within the next forty-eight hours,” he decreed at a news conference Friday afternoon. But ultimately, nothing much came to pass. As the deadline approached, between 160 and 190 tents remained erected in the plaza, according to Richard Ross, a deputy commissioner with the Philadelphia Police Department.
The first thing I saw upon arriving at the encampment on Sunday afternoon, when the threat of forcible eviction still loomed, was a group of homeless people scrambling to load their belongings onto a pickup truck. They seemed to have a plan, but I couldn’t discern the details; most were very circumspect about answering questions. When I asked where they were going, three or four either responded very cagily, or not at all. One woman said they were headed to Delaware, but she didn’t know where in Delaware.
The pickup truck, I learned, belonged to Scott Allison, a middle-aged man from nearby Broomall who thought he’d come and help with eviction preparations. Allison said he was currently occupying his own home, which had recently been foreclosed on. “I have no power. My own situation with the economy is what it is,” he told me. “I’m just one of the guys that got hit by the bullet, shall we say.”
I asked David, an unemployed EMT working at Occupy Philly’s medical tent, where all the homeless people who’d been living at the plaza—which lies in the shadow of City Hall—would end up after that night. “The same places they went before,” he said. “Subways and shelters; corners, alleys. The places they’ve been living for decades.” David, who asked that his last name be withheld, spoke softly, almost ruefully.
“I’d like to think that we’ve gotten some folks some legitimate help, but it’s hard to say,” he added.
While the homeless Occupiers coordinated their exit, many newcomers were gathering at the other end of the plaza. Demonstrators sat on the ground in rows of twenty, preparing to peacefully resist any coercive removal by the Philadelphia police. They held an impromptu General Assembly–type session, during which participants described their dreams for the future. Three facilitators took the lead. As the night went on, supporters filled the surrounding area. Occupants who’d been working with the Safety subgroup ensured that avenues of entry were kept unobstructed for police, should they decide to move in on the encampment.
Throughout the evening, sanitation workers hauled debris into dump trucks, and a number of police personnel—including officers with the department’s Homeland Security unit—lingered along the perimeter. In general, law enforcement were quite subdued and respectful, in stark contrast to the aggressive mania that has characterized the NYPD’s response to Occupy Wall Street.