As Independence Day approaches, fireworks and parties aren’t the only big events in store for the city. Occupy groups from across the country gathered in Philadelphia for a national gathering on Independence Mall.
The Occupy event began Saturday and runs through the Fourth of July. Organizers say about 1500 protesters are expected for marches and gatherings in support of the group’s push for economic equality and other causes. The group says they’ll spend five days creating what they call a blueprint, a list of social issues they want to tackle.
“The general consensus was that we should bring our demands and our fight to the place where the constitution was signed and where the Declaration of Independence was formed,” said Occupy activist Julia Alford-Fowler.
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In addition to the marches, speakers and workshops will take place on the mall as well as protests at undisclosed locations. The biggest march is expected to take place on July 4th, a day when 600,000 people are expected in Philadelphia to celebrate the nation’s birthday.
“We’re trusting people’s best judgment,” said Occupy activist Dustin Slaughter. “This is a smart movement and people really don’t want to be violent.”
Philadelphia is preparing for extra people during a week that already brings more than 1 million tourists to town for concerts, fireworks and other events. City officials say they’re ready for the Occupy gathering and other events planned by other groups.
Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel says the department will bolster its presence to keep tabs on the protests, using uniformed and non-uniformed officers, mounted units, bicycle patrols and other personnel.
Occupy protesters also took to the Philadelphia streets last May in a march against corporate greed in which police had to get involved. Last winter was a more violent scene in which police arrested dozens of protesters who they say refused to follow orders after being evicted from Dilworth Plaza.
“Like everybody else, come and enjoy all Philadelphia has to offer,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “Follow the laws, have a good time and everything will be okay.”
So far police have reported one arrest, which they say took place on Saturday. Investigators say one person was arrested for the alleged aggravated assault of a federal officer.
You can view the Occupy National Gathering website for more information on the event.