Yesterday I took a bit of a walk at lunch and headed over to the Occupy Philly encampment at Dilworth Plaza, adjacent to Philadelphia City Hall. I have visited four times since the occupiers took root there in September.
There has been some news lately, as just after the election, Mayor Nutter took to the airwaves to declare that the Occupy Philly group had changed, and that given the change he was going to have to start dealing with them differently. Nutter noted issues with public health and safety as well as the group's refusal to move to an area across the street to allow a planned renovation of the Dilworth Plaza site to begin.
The Occupy Philly folks on the other hand have shot back that they have not changed, but rather it's Nutter that has been on the move. Various Occupy Philly members made statements in stark contrast to the Mayor Nutter's allegations. And, predictably, there were some folks in the middle, not sure who was right as the movement heads into the winter.
From my visit, I have to say that the encampment is distinctly different than it was in late summer. Then it seemed like a large portion of the group were college students enjoying the warm nights and permissive atmosphere rather than having to stay in their dorm rooms. When I visited during the day, the core group was a combination of aging hippies, some homeless people, a group of hard-core activists and a sprinkling of young people. All of those folks were there in the evening hours too, but there was also a night-time influx of vocal college aged-students, suspiciously clean for folks allegedly living outside.
Things have changed a lot in the last few weeks. The population of hard-core homeless is much greater. There are obviously people there up to no good. Most of the college students are gone. Many of the older folks have moved on as well. The police presences is decidedly more edgy. The place has the look and smell of a homeless encampment; it does not feel like a political movement from my perspective.
My photos don't show the change as much as they should. I didnt take as many this time and I definitely was careful who I shot. For the first time, I was subjected to open hostilty as I walked among the tents. There were areas where I not only didn't feel welcome, but I didn't walk though because they did not appear safe. It's also clear that there are concerns among those camping there about safety.
I am not sure what the future is for Occupy Philly. Will it be cleared away by force like Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Oakland? Will they move across the street to the area suggested by the city? With the movement continue to with as the temerature drop anonly those experienced with sleeping outside in a Philadelphia winter are willing to stay?
Whatever happens, I do feel like it will be happening soon.