By Tim Collins
Philadelphia is the birth place of American independence, and holds one of the largest July 4th parties in the nation. Citizens of Philadelphia can expect quite a bit more visitors this year as the Occupy movement has announced their intentions to bring chapters from all over the country to Philadelphia.
That has Philadelphia officials preparing for extra people during a week that already brings more than 1 million tourists to town for concerts, fireworks and other celebrations. While the Occupy Philadelphia protests last year were largely peaceful, the city eventually became frustrated with protesters’ refusal to leave a City Hall plaza and police evicted those who remained in late November; several dozen protesters were arrested in the raid’s aftermath.
Philadelphia Managing Director Rich Negrin said city officials have been preparing for the Occupy gathering, a conference being held by a spinoff group known as The 99% Working Group and other events planned by tea party activists.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been better positioned to handle large events in Philadelphia than we are today,” said Negrin, adding that city officials have been coordinating with other agencies for months. “We’re being incredibly conservative and suggesting that any one of these events could bring thousands of people.”
Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel said the department will bolster its police presence downtown. They plan to use uniformed and non-uniformed personnel, mounted units and bicycle officers, but he declined to say how many additional officers will be on.
“Occupy can be very unpredictable in their movement,” Bethel said, adding that the “leaderless” nature of the protests also present a challenge to law enforcement. “We’re going to be all hands on deck.”
Mayor Michael Nutter has said that he supports the right to free speech, but that no one has the right to act like an idiot.
Residents have mixed feelings over the Occupiers arriving for what is generally the biggest day in Philadelphia.
“It gets so crowded for the concert and fire works, it would be easy for some one to start some really big trouble,” said one business owner.
The mayor is hopeful that the Occupy crowd will behave themselves and arrests will be on par with normal numbers for the event.
Larry Swetman, a member of Occupy Philadelphia, said the conference will feature teach-ins, workshops, and protests, including one in which participants will march to the Comcast Center. On the fourth day, Swetman said, protesters will come up with a list of priorities and goals that will likely cover a broad range of issues including health care and housing. Ultimately, a group of protesters plans to lead a 99-mile march to Wall Street on July 5.
The Independence Hall Tea Party Association is planning its annual celebration of “American Exceptionalism” on the mall on July 4 and expects up to 2,000 people, said association co-founder Don Adams.
- Starts Saturday June 30th: Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia (onthewilderside.com)
- Occupy Caravan to arrive in DC (coolrevolution.net)