Occupy participants from around the country have converged on Philadelphia for the “National Gathering” June 30 through July 4. Organizers estimate the event will draw around 1,500 protesters and has been independently endorsed by more than 100 Occupy groups across the country.
From its very beginning, the convention was less about occupation and more about building communities.
“Tents more than likely won’t be necessary,” a statement on the group’s website reads.
Instead, the group plans to develop a list of grievances to take to legislators, presidential candidates, and Supreme Court justices in Washington, and the event will culminate with a planned march to Independence Halls on July 4.
“For me, this is a chance to finally meet face-to-face with people who are doing work in other cities and build real relationships,” said Jeff Rae, an Occupy activist who had his Twitter records subpoenaed by the New York District Attorney in March.
“In a much broader scope, I hope that at the National Gathering, we can have some real dialogue about what’s next for Occupy. New tactics and strategies.”
Rae said he believes the Occupy movement is alive and well.
“The conditions that created Occupy in the first place have not gone away, and if anything things have gotten worse,” he said, citing the 7,308 Occupy arrests since the movement’s inception, “and I think you have a lot of people dealing with that, along with working on other projects like eviction defense, stop-and-frisk, and banking issues.”
Rae emphasized Occupy’s fledgling status—the group will only be a year old this September—and stated it takes years for movements to hit their peak.
“Imagine if, after nine months of the civil rights movement, we didn’t see significant change. Would we have told civil rights leaders to call it quits?”
“I hope we get to know each other, so we can continue working together as a stronger movement through movement tools such as interoccupy,” said Tamara Shapiro, a National Gathering organizer. “Occupy has a mix of experienced and brand new activists, and I hope we can use this experience to share skills and knowledge.”
Shapiro recognizes that Occupy’s numbers have dwindled since last November, but insists that does not mean the movement is dying.
“There are still hundreds of people organizing every day in New York City, and consistent actions to challenge the power structures. But I believe we really need to look to the rest of the country to discover the true strength of the movement. The fact that there are activist communities from all over the country: from Wichita, Kansas to Charlotte, North Carolina, to Kalamazoo, Michigan, that didn’t exist a year ago is a sign of strength.”
Julia Alford-Fowler, another National Gathering organizer, said the “Occupy is dead” narrative is a total fallacy, and blames the peddling of it on the mainstream media.
“People are involved in local movements on a daily basis. The only thing that has changed is the absence of camps in most cities,” she said.
Occupy Philadelphia reports that twenty-eight people were arrested late Sunday night during a protest in Center City. Initially, activists reported they were unclear on why protesters were being arrested, but later Dustin Slaughter, a member of the National Gathering media team, said charges might be related to obstructing a highway.
Video footage of part of the kettle and arrests: