As Occupy Philly’s 7 p.m. General Assembly formed in front of City Hall last night, paramount on everyone’s mind was the encampment’s imminent eviction.
“We plant the seed that one day will grow,” intoned a facilitator who kicked off the proceedings, as the others repeated the chant via “People’s Mic.”
But within moments the GA was disrupted by sign-carrying Occupier Michael Blas (pictured, in white T-shirt)—one of the movement’s higher-profile demonstrators (and whom many in attendance told PW has been a “troublemaker,” “agitator,” and “divisive person” over the past two months). For nearly 90 minutes Blas shouted his concerns about the rift between Occupy Philly and the homeless community that’s become part of the demonstration, and accused Occupy Philly of making off with donations meant for the homeless.
The scene was chaotic.
As Blas screamed and paced back and forth, the other 200 or so demonstrators on hand tried to drown him out with People’s Mic chants and songs. Many Occupiers tried to calm Blas down; others shouted at him to “fucking leave.” Some of Blas’ supporters, including several homeless people, demanded the group let Blas speak. “Mob mentality! Mob mentality!” Blas screamed. Several loud verbal skirmishes broke out among various protesters. There was some pushing and shoving. At one point Blas took a fist to the face. “What happened to the peaceful protest?” he yelled.
Several Occupiers told PW Blas’ accusations were baseless. “He just likes to hear himself yell,” said one man. “He’s ridiculous. He doesn’t represent Occupy Philly in any way.”
One Occupier brought out a bullhorn to try to reign in the chaos and continue the GA agenda. An older woman asked to speak—when she was given the bullhorn she started loudly singing Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love Of All.”
“You gotta be kidding me!” yelled one exasperated Occupier.
Finally, close to 8:30 p.m., a facilitator announced that the GA was moving to the Arch Street Methodist Church. The group walked over there (sans most of the GA’s homeless participants); so did the worked-up Blas, who continued screaming that he “would not be silenced.” But several demonstrators managed to distract him while the rest quickly filed into the church and locked the door behind them.
Calm and quiet was restored as for the next two hours the 150 people inside the church agreed on several proposals: Helping Occupy Philly’s homeless community relocate to Logan Circle ahead of today’s eviction. Meeting at Rittenhouse Square at 4 p.m. the day following the eviction (so, perhaps tomorrow) and then marching to PPD headquarters (aka the Roundhouse) at 8th and Arch to protest any arrests and hold a GA. And using the Friends Center as a site for future GAs.
There was no vote on whether or not Occupiers should leave ahead of the eviction or defy the order and risk arrest. It was clear that the decision will rest with each individual demonstrator, though it was suggested that those deciding to remain should sit down and lock arms in silent protest and maintain a non-violent stance.
At the end, one facilitator began to tear up. “Remember what solidarity is about,” she said. Others hugged, and some sang “Solidarity Forever” as they shuffled out into the night.