Occupiers Snarl Traffic in Downtown Philadelphia

Occupiers Snarl Traffic in Downtown Philadelphia

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Temporarily paralyzing Center City, about 500 members of Occupy Philly seized the John F. Kennedy Boulevard Bridge Thursday evening at rush hour as they voiced their anger at the prospect of being evicted from Dilworth Plaza.

Chanting “We shall not be moved,” Occupiers took to the streets.

It was the largest march yet in the 44 days that Occupy Philly has taken to camping in the plaza. Escorted by an enormous contingent of police, with the sound of police and news helicopters beating the air, demonstrators, including members of several local unions, marched from Dilworth Plaza to the bridge at about 4:30 p.m. stopping traffic for little more than an hour.

The march was largely peaceful, though organizers anticipated arrests as the group brought traffic to a stop on the bridge. None had been reported at Tribune press time.

It was crucial that the group leave its encampment raising its visibility, as it attempts to maintain its support, said one group member.

“It shows the whole world we’re here,” said Marvin Robinson, 45, of West Philadelphia, who was marching as part of a group called Fight For Philly. “What we’re trying to do is send a message to both the politicians and the people. Our voices need to be heard.”

Though there have been at least two other marches, Occupiers for the most part have remained in the plaza.

That might be changing.

“It’s time for the average person like myself to wake the hell up,” said George Webb, 42, of South Philadelphia. He characterized himself as poor and said he always had been, but he hoped by joining Occupy Philly that he could force the system to change.

“If enough people are watching, things are going to change,” Webb said.

Something will soon change for Occupiers – most likely their location.

On Tuesday, city officials posted official notice the group would have to vacate Dilworth Plaza “immediately.”

“Be advised that the Permit for Demonstration on City Property issued by the City of Philadelphia effective 10/6/11 expires at the start of the Dilworth Plaza construction project,” read the notice. “This project’s commencement is imminent. Accordingly, you should take this opportunity to vacate Dilworth Plaza and remove all of your personal belongings immediately.”

Yet, the tent city remained Wednesday. Members continued to debate the best strategy.
“We’re definitely at a crossroads,” said a man who declined to give his name. “”If we don’t move, I think we’ll lose a lot of support.”

Staying could delay construction of the plaza, which is expected to employ 800 people.

Just this week the Daniel J. Keating Co. was awarded the contract for the $50 million project, which will employ about 800 construction workers and is scheduled to take about 27 months.

Members of Occupy Philly have known since they started their occupation that the construction project would eventually force them to make a choice: move or be forcibly ousted. It was unclear at Tribune press time Thursday which path the group would take. Last week, members voted to remain despite the project.

City officials said they would work to accommodate a move – among the suggestions has been Thomas Paine Plaza adjacent to the Municipal Services Building across JFK Boulevard from City Hall.

“The city continues to work with representatives of Occupy Philly regarding an alternative location, and we’re optimistic that we can come to an agreement on a reasonable path forward,” said Managing Director Richard Negrin.

Like hundreds of Occupy demonstrations the world over, protesters in Philadelphia started out voicing their concerns about corporate greed and government corruption. Unlike other demonstrations, some of which have been wracked by violence, the Philadelphia movement has remained peaceful. There have been 25 arrests in a couple of incidents where protestors have been charged with trespassing or obstructing the street, but Philadelphia has avoided the kind of violence that has marked the protests in Oakland, Calif. and Portland, Ore.

Occupy movements across the nation appeared to be a state of flux this weekend.

Occupiers in New York City, where the movement started, were evicted from Zuccotti Park this week. Police in Portland and Oakland cleared out Occupy encampments on Sunday and Monday. In Salt Lake City, Utah, 19 people were arrested on Saturday when protesters refused to leave a park a day after a man was found dead inside his tent. Twenty-four people were arrested in Albany, N.Y. when they remained in a state-owned park after it closed at 11 p.m. In Denver, Colo., authorities arrested four people as they forced protesters to leave a downtown encampment. In San Francisco, police said two demonstrators attacked two police officers in separate incidents during a march.

Contact staff writer Eric Mayes at 215-893-5742 or emayes@phillytrib.com.