Occupy Philly Has Overstayed Its Welcome

You don't have to go home, folks, but you can't stay here

The Nutter administration’s slow dance with the Occupy Philadelphia protesters has gone from the sublime to the absurd.

After weeks of playing nice with the protesters, the mayor has finally laid down some rules regarding where and when Occupy Philly can operate. It’s about time. I was starting to wonder who was in charge at City Hall: the unemployed hacky sack players or Nutter. Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

But give Nutter this: the new permit the city has issued to Occupy Philadelphia is fair and appropriate.

For starters, the protesters must move to city property across the street from City Hall to make way for a planned $50 million renovation of Dilworth Plaza. No more overnight camping will be allowed. The protesters can make all the hand signals they want from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Then it is time to go home.

The permit also requires Occupy Philly to pay for any “costs for services for the purpose of staging and conducting the demonstration.” Nice idea, but good luck collecting that bill.

Last night, Occupy Philly held a “general assembly” meeting and voted to appeal the Nutter administration’s new permit rules. That appeal should be denied on the spot. Dilworth Plaza should be cleared before tomorrow’s Thanksgiving Day Parade begins.

Occupy Philly has overstayed its welcome. The tent city where campers have been for almost two months has quickly turned into a health and safety hazard. There have been reports of fights, graffiti painted on city property, public urination, buckets of feces and a rape.

I’m all for free speech and the right of people to peaceably assemble, but Occupy Philly has abused its rights. There is nothing in the First Amendment that allows any group to live on public property and receive around the clock police protection. The camp has already cost taxpayers almost $500,000 in police overtime. The city is projecting the costs for the fiscal year could be $2 million.

In a cash-strapped city that has been raising taxes and doesn’t have enough cops on the street, taxpayers should not have to pay to babysit hipsters and the homeless.

Occupy Philly has made its point – whatever it was. Yes, people are mad, scared and angry. Life stinks for many who are struggling to make ends meet while the rich get richer and leaders in Washington bicker. It was refreshing to see people come together in cities across the country to shine a light on the economic injustice.

But the movement quickly devolved into Woodstock without the music. Most days the protesters just hang out as the homeless line up for the free coffee. An occasional march snarls traffic.

Initially, the Nutter administration welcomed the Occupiers. Mayor Nutter even visited with the protesters the first night. Administration officials Tweeted electronic pats on their backs for their efforts to appease and befriend the Occupiers. Meanwhile, the police overtime meter keeps running, while the camp has turned into a hovel.

It became clear weeks ago that the movement was going nowhere and needed to be brought to a close before things got out of hand. In New York, where the Occupy movement began, Mayor Michael Bloomberg took stern but appropriate steps to end the encampment. Police arrived unannounced late one night and cleared Zuccotti Park. The effort was quick, easy and painless.

Contrast Bloomberg’s swift action with Nutter, who has basically told the Occupiers that he is going to count to three. At some point in the not-too-distant future, the Occupiers better be gone. It is understandable that Nutter wants to avoid confrontation. But dragging things out is a waste of time and a growing distraction. The Occupiers are now talking about going to court, which will only cost more time and tax money.

More than a week ago, Nutter said Occupy Philly had “changed,” prompting the city to reevaluate its relationship with the protesters. (No word if the mayor has changed his Facebook status.)

Then the city posted signs saying that renovations would soon begin at Dilworth Plaza, and that the Occupiers should “take this opportunity” to gather their belongings and vacate the area. The notice gave no date on when the work would begin. Time is up. Maybe Nutter should ask Johnny Doc to send some guys from Local 98 to clear Dilworth Plaza.