Poetry News

Poets are very good occupiers: The Philly Edition

By Harriet Staff

In a follow-up to CAConrad's Huffington Post/Occupy Wall Street correspondence, poets have occupied Philadelphia! And talking about it! In the most recent HuffPo post, Deborah Morkun writes:

For the first time in my lifetime, people are beginning to stand up for themselves en masse with nationwide demonstration. OccupyTogether.org radiates a communal energy, which also indicates that enough people are finally fed up with the way things are run in this corporate country -- the way things have been - that we are willing to risk arrests and police brutality -- that JP Morgan funded NYPD which bears a connection to 700 arrests of peaceful marchers. We are here in a shared mission.

Occupy Philadelphia waves a very particular flag. Philadelphia is largely poor and working class. Because of this, it has a history of being very interesting politically. We are the city of Mumia. We are the city of MOVE. We are the city where this country was founded. The historical resonances of Philadelphia as the birthplace of this nation make an occupation of this city emblematic. There is also a very large and quite active Poetry Community in Philadelphia. Poets have always played an important role in helping to spread the language of dissent. I am confident that the Poets of Philadelphia will find new and invigorating ways to help Occupy by using the communal model we already share and utilizing it in an artful way to create change."

Frank Sherlock is also there. He's got the particulars:

The popular demand to make demands has taken hold in the City of Otherly Love. Beginning plans for Occupy Philly launched at a public meeting in a Center City Methodist church. The house of worship that opened its doors is in the shadow of William Penn. His statue atop city hall looks over those gathered outside in search of liberty and a better way of life, centuries after his own efforts helped found the city. Interest in the gathering outgrew the initial meeting space days before, which is the best kind of problem organizers can ask for.

As a sometimes poetry curator with extensive reading series experience, I can't resist the temptation to do headcounts in any given room. I'm guessing there were about 300 people gathered for a planning meeting. I'll say this again: for a planning meeting! There was a cross section of well-scrubbed university students, crunchy anarchist and a lot more older folks than I expected. Some were activist veterans from peace and justice movements, but others seemed like your everyday seniors unhappy with the ongoing kleptocracy.

In the wake of Seattle '99, I was energized and activated by a question from my old friend Greg Fuchs. As that fresh wave of radicalism swept across the continent, Greg wanted to know, 'Where are the poets?!? There should be poets!' I'm happy to report that times have changed, and our community was well represented at the kickoff meeting. Early in the night, we heard testimonies from those who've been part of Occupy Wall Street. Jacob Russell, the self-described 'Barking Dog' of the poetry world, reminded us that the general assembly process and consensus building strategies have been practiced in Philadelphia for hundreds of years by Quakers. When speaking of the democratic practices being used in the occupations, Russell insisted, 'You can't get any more Philly than this.'

Read their entire report here.

Originally Published: October 5th, 2011