A lot has happened in the world of Occupy Philly since the alleged sexual assault last Saturday night.
With a push from the city, protesters have been mobile. Some Occupiers plan to move to another location while others intend to stay at Dilworth Plaza until what will certainly be a bitter end.
Whatever happens to what’s left of the splintering physical aspect, Occupy will continue as a media movement. Because that’s what Occupy is, after all: A media movement that was kick-started with a spectacular physical event that demanded media attention. It worked, and the concept of growing economic equality has been brought to the masses.
If the media movement phase of Occupy is going to be effective though, it needs to find some lessons in how the alleged sexual assault was handled.
To be clear, it is not certain a crime even took place yet. Charges have not yet been filed. It is, however, an ongoing investigation.
According to PPD spokesman Lt. Ray Evers, the man accused was detained but not formally arrested, pending a full investigation by Special Victims Unit which includes reviewing videotape of surveillance cameras surrounding City Hall.
“We’re not going to arrest someone for something [when] we haven’t had all the pieces of information in front of us,” said Evers.
Whether or not an arrest eventually occurs is beside the point, reaction to the allegations points toward a weak spot in Occupy’s command of media.
At an emergency press conference on Sunday, the alleged rape was the thorny peg on which Mayor Nutter hung his announcement that he is “re-evaluating” the city’s relationship with Occupy Philly.
Citing public heath and safety concerns—the exact phrase used by New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg to raid Zucotti Park late the following night—Nutter verbally bulldozed Dilworth Plaza. Then issued an eviction three days later.
The day after Nutter’s change in attitude, Occupy blasted back.
“We believe the cynical use of sexual violence and health concerns are opportunistic ways for the mayor to justify attacks on our movement,” retorted Occupy through a spokesperson.
Politicians politicize events all the time; the perspective is not completely outrageous. But it’s hypocritical: Occupy Philly politicized it, also.
To be sure, there was an appropriate response on the ground. On Tuesday, a new “safe space” for women was set up. It was just a white tarp tent with a bare mattress and metal chair inside, but it was something. The Women’s Caucus voted to meet more frequently and host training for “male allies,” including how to physically eject creeps in a non-violent way.
These are positive steps, but they will hardly matter in the long run, given the eviction.
The response that matters the most—the most public one—showed that the 99% needs to deal with the realities of sexism and sexual violence better.
Immediately following the incident, Occupy Philly did not acknowledge the alleged rape on its official Facebook or Twitter feed, despite public requests from supporters to do so.
What happened to all the talk about transparency, supposedly the highest value of the Occupy movement? Did that go out the window regarding anything that might look bad?
If Occupy Philly stayed mum of the incident because it would reflect poorly on the movement, then they are officially politicians or, at least, spinning information like them.
While the Twitter and Facebook page remained silent, the Occupy Philly Media website did publicly acknowledge the incident.
In light of what they posted, maybe they should have stayed silent, too.
Very late Saturday night, an Occupy blogger who goes by the handle “gadget” posted on on the Occupy Philly Media website:
“I am deeply saddened to have to report an incident that just occurred on site. According to two police officers, a sexual assault was reported on the north side of the camp.”
For full text of original statement, click here.
Beneath that, Gadget posted a comment titled “Update.”
“The accused man came into the media tent after being released by police. Officers told him the DA ordered him released pending investigation and to keep in touch. He said he willingly submitted to DNA testing and offered to take a polygraph, and the woman recanted her statement.”
Announcing that an accused is walking around claiming that he’s innocent and the alleged victim recanted—she made it up, man—doesn’t sound at all like revolution.
In fact, it sounds a lot like the status quo. And that pissed other Occupiers off.
“I hadn’t actually seen it, but I heard it secondhand but I was … very disgusted and surprised … It was kind of revolting, honestly,” says 21-year-old Gia B., a protester who says she’s been on the Plaza since the beginning. “There’s been very heavy dialogue about that.”
“[The comment] is another reason that our group was formed,” says Amanda Geraci of the Women’s Caucus. “We are acknowledging that Occupy Philly’s participants are not immune to the sexist society they were raised in.”
Another post by regular Occupy blogger Cory Clark stated “the alleged perpetrator was released late last night due to insufficient evidence.”
Read the entire post here.
“Spoken like a true dude,” commented “Mattack.”
In an interview, Clark said his posts are his own and do not reflect the movement, but posts are written on the official site in the plural. Occupy Philly Media bloggers do speak for the movement, whether the individual bloggers realize, or admit, it or not.
Clark says he was in the media tent when the accused came by Saturday night.
“He showed us reports that he had been released due to insufficient evidence and reported that the victim had recanted her statement,” said Clark. “My position is that it is still an ongoing investigation, and I’m not prepared to make any definitive statements one way or the other until I have all of the facts.”
But as a critic already commented beneath his post, announcing there is a current investigation would’ve been sufficient, accurate and neutral. Posting the accused commentary on the veracity of the alleged victim’s statement is not.
Clark says he’s aware that the posts have upset people.
“My response to them is if you’re going to be making judgments about stuff that you don’t know about then you need to have yourself checked,” he says.
PPD spokesman Lt. Evers says he isn’t sure what paperwork the accused could have been showing the bloggers. “We don’t give ‘we dropped the case against you’ paperwork,” says Evers.
Responses of some Occupy supporters are straight out of spin city, too.
First there was the rumor that it was a “fake rape” planted by the city to give an excuse to raid. As evidenced in other cities, such an excuse is unnecessary. Then came questions about if the accused was a transient or a longtime Occupier, another attempt to politically distance Occupy from an assault that may have happened on its watch.
The answer doesn’t matter. The accused’s home address doesn’t change the safety hazard of sleeping in a tent on the Plaza, or Rittenhouse Square, Thomas Paine Plaza or wherever else the next physical incarnation of Occupy may wind up. It wouldn’t matter much to a victim.
It’s unfortunate that Occupy is spinning away from the alleged sexual assault.
Hasn’t the Penn State scandal, unfolding bit by morbid bit in the background, shown exactly how dark things can get when members invested in an organization’s reputation try to rationalize themselves away from the sins of the few?
Perhaps the most cynical response of all has been the attempt to normalize violence within Occupy.
“Rape happens everyday, murders happen everyday, theft happens everyday,” said an Occupy rep during the press conference. “These are not symptoms of the Occupy movement nor are they exclusive to the occupy movement.”
Fair enough. Except, the goal of Occupy was to create a better microcosm.
This rationale was taken to its logical conclusion by an online commenter that posted an elaborate mathematical equation to deduct how many sexual assaults per month an Occupy gathering can “expect.”
It’s sad to think that people optimistic enough to believe that marches and sit-ins can dismantle greed in the hearts and minds of bankers and politicians they’ll never meet think it’s impossible to help the women working every day alongside them to protect themselves.
The alleged assault is still an open investigation.