Occupy Philly Activists Go to Trial, Maybe to Jail

Philadelphia's "City Hall 31" in court tomorrow.

On April 26, 2012, several defendants could be sent to prison for what they did outside a government facility on November 29th last year, prior to the police arriving and catching them in the act. Sounds like a gang of terrorists caught red-handed, doesn’t it? But words, like appearances, can be deceiving. These were no terrorists. And they weren’t gangsters either. They weren’t even criminals. They were simply a group of nonviolent and selfless activists who, in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., social reformer Maggie Kuhn, homeless advocate Mitch Snyder, and labor leader Dolores Huerta, did what justice demanded.

Known as the “City Hall 31,” the group was doing nothing more than exercising their First Amendment rights of free speech, peaceful assembly and government petitioning. They all, past and present, did so to expose the greedy corporate pimps and their shameless political whores who have impoverished the masses, destroyed the environment, advocated constant warfare, condoned racism, ignored police brutality, and jailed Americans to historic proportions. And for that, the “City Hall 31” were arrested. And for that, several of them could be jailed.

These men, these women, these whites, these blacks and other people of color, these straights, these gays, these old folks, these young folks, these employed, these underemployed, and these unemployed—in other words, these 99 percenters—decided they could not stand idly by and watch the corporate and political criminality of the one percenters to continue to run amok. Accordingly, they took justifiable action as part of the Occupy mobilization.

I could say more about these selfless, non-violent and progressive members of the “City Hall 31,” but they said it much better in their recent press release.

(W)e will stand trial … on charges of obstruction, failure to disperse, and … conspiracy for our participation in peaceful protests on the night of Occupy’s forceful eviction from Dilworth Plaza at City Hall … This constitutes the largest group trial yet to result from police actions against Occupy Philadelphia, and one of the largest trials to date in the international Occupy movement. We believe that our arrests, like those at other Occupy sites across the country, are an organized attempt by city governments to dissuade people from assembling, protesting, and making themselves heard in public spaces. … [When we were arrested], we were declaring our solidarity with the Occupy movement and all that it stands for. We were calling attention to the manner in which corporate greed … has impoverished this nation and undermined the natural resources of the planet. We were calling attention to how the military industrial complex has instigated, supported, and profited from wars that have resulted in the loss of countless lives. We were calling attention to the excesses of a state that undermines the ability of marginalized communities of color to engage in civil society by surveilling them constantly, unleashing brutal police actions on them on a daily basis, and incarcerating them in numbers that have never been matched in the history of the human race … We reject the charge that we were “purposeless,” “obstructionist” or “criminal conspirators.” We reject the charge that resisting injustice nonviolently is in any way illegal … We assert our right to channel the currents that have energized Arab Spring and the Jasmine Revolution and connect Philadelphians to global movements for social justice …

That’s all these activists were doing and are doing, just constitutionally demanding social justice. What could be criminal about that? Absolutely nothing. But several of them nonetheless risk conviction and incarceration. And if that happens, I know what they’ll say when you visit them in prison and ask what these good and reputable folks are doing in jail. They’ll tell you what the imprisoned, non-violent, anti-slavery, boycotting activist Henry David Thoreau reportedly told Ralph Waldo Emerson when Emerson visited him in jail and asked “Henry, what are you doing in there?” Thoreau replied: “Waldo, the question is ‘What are you doing out there?’”

Even if you’re unwilling to risk being “in there” (which is perfectly understandable), I, as one of the proud members of the pro-bono legal defense team representing these justice-seekers, encourage you all to at least play a role by not being “out there” on the sidelines but instead by being “in the fight.” And you can easily do that by attending the trial of the “City Hall 31” in Criminal Justice Center courtroom 305 on April 26th at 9 a.m.

To paraphrase Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men and good women do nothing by ignoring this trial for economic, social, and political justice.”