Filed under: Analysis, Immigration, Northeast, The State
Friendly Fire Collective offers up some thoughts and critiques on the ongoing occupation in Philadelphia. This article was originally published on Philly Anti-Capitalist.
We are two weeks into #OccupyICEPHL. We have ceased occupying the ICE offices since July 5 and the current encampment at City Hall has lost a lot of its original momentum. The Left in Philly united on July 2nd for the original occupation, but it has been fractured by burnout and internal conflicts. A lot of us are wondering, how did we get here and how do we move forward?
The Encampment at City Hall
After the camp was dismantled on July 5th by homeland security and Philly cops, a meeting took place in the evening. Hundreds gathered, sharing reflections and potential strategies for moving forward so that we could effectively pressure Mayor Kenney to not renew the Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System (PARS) contract, which allows ICE access to the PPD’s database.
Following the meeting, an autonomous group decided that one strategy in continuing the fight was to begin a camp at City Hall in order to be a confrontational presence for city officials, and to educate the public about both PARS and ICE. Within minutes, they set up at City Hall, bringing yoga mats, signs, umbrellas, chairs, and food.
Picking up on the momentum of the previous camp, many came around to provide support. The camp was quickly built up with a medic and food storage tent, as well as a table of leftist literature, including flyers on both #EndPARS and #AbolishICE. Participants were flyering; workshops and teach-ins happened throughout the day; food and water and other supplies were consistently being dropped off; chants were constant; and general assemblies were held twice a day (and they still are).
That being said, within the past week, the energy at the camp has been fizzling out. I was at the camp this morning and counted around 15 present.
Skepticism of the New Camp
A number of leftists in Philadelphia have expressed skepticism of the camp.
This is fair.
More than half of those present at most general assemblies are white, and a majority of the principal organizers are white. Whiteness is a destructive force for all, with material consequences for those that cannot access its privileges. For those who are white or can access whiteness, it hinders empathy and results in moral deterioration to those who reap benefits from whiteness. We need to see and combat the way whiteness operates among us, making it a priority to center the needs and the voices of POC. In my experience, this is a constant struggle in leftist spaces, and in this sense the encampment is not unique.
It seems that a major reason why people have either backed away or have chosen not to support this camp is because they see the occupation as ineffective and believe greater action is needed. What should be noted is that this camp began with this in mind. A diversity of tactics is sorely needed and this camp was never envisioned as THE tactic for all to take. This camp was started to agitate at City Hall as part of a larger project which would include the continuing work of the original #OccupyICEPHL coalition as well as autonomous actions.
There is also skepticism because of the camp’s independence from the original coalition. Those in the camp desire to work alongside the coalition but are intentionally not bound to the coalition, structured so that those on the ground and actively involved decide the direction of the camp.
Some skepticism feels neither political nor strategic, but personal.
Infighting among leftists has been present throughout the whole occupation, even prior to the new camp. The first night of the occupation included coalition organizers squabbling with a few anarchists of a more illegalist, insurrectionist tendency. This was aired out very publicly through a zine that was published online and passed out at the final assembly at the previous occupation.
Tensions between those of a more anarchist orientation and those of a more Marxist orientation were heightened.
Some smaller orgs, especially those with a more autonomous bent, have expressed that they felt unheard and even shut down by the larger coalition.
A skepticism of anarchist organizers continues, leading some to view the new encampment as an anarchist project. Though the organization of the new camp is more horizontal, it is not solely anarchist-organized. Such thinking dismisses those houseless folks who are actively flyering, chanting, and keeping the camp smoothly operating – that do not identify as anarchists – as well as the presence of Marxists.
Again, I think some of this skepticism is a projection of people’s personal issues with specific organizers.
The stress of the original occupation, where participants were constantly surrounded by cops and federal officers, exacerbated disagreements among organizers. I cannot blame individuals for withholding their support because of being made to feel unsafe by certain organizers, but it would be strategically unwise to fully dismiss this camp because of that.
In the past week hundreds have come together to publicly agitate at City Hall. This camp is not meant to last forever, but it would be wise to not let it sputter and die out on such a sour note in such a public space. The forces-that-be want our inactivity and burnout so that the PARS contract can be renewed without a fight.
This occupation ending in such a way will reflect badly on all of us, and even more importantly, could hinder and even sabotage the campaign to #EndPARS.
Last week, running off the energy of the first encampment, the camp became a base for activity.
Occupiers were constantly talking to those passing by, providing information on the PARS contract and getting folks to sign the petition put out by Juntos. Media and public attention on the camp highlighted the PARS contract. Mayor Kenney and other officials were flooded with phone calls.
This base is limited, as action-planning cannot occur in such a public space. That said, it has been a space for educating, connecting organizers and people of good conscience, and most importantly, a very public way of getting Kenney’s attention.
I don’t think as much energy needs to be put into this project as the first encampment, but I think it is worth actively supporting this camp in order to strengthen our message. If more people were out on the ground, more people could take shifts. The burden of this camp would not remain on the same 20-30 people, many of which have slept in their own beds only a handful of times since the original occupation.
But, again, we need to do more.
We need to continue calling city officials, handing out flyers, flooding social media with information on PARS; but we also need to begin agitating with more creativity. Perhaps also at other strategic locations – maybe not to the point of occupation, but at least picketing. We need to be creative in finding ways to get our message out to the public and to our so-called “leaders” as well as hinder ICE operations. We cannot afford to waste time on infighting. We cannot lose sight of the goal, and therefore we must not lose sight of our current moment. Upset over ICE continues, despite the media trying to move on. The time is ripe. We must act.