Activist cites Civil Rights Movement, offers encouraging message to protestors
Hoping to spur religious and civic leaders to help the Occupy movement become a mass movement, the Rev. Jesse Jackson visited with interfaith leaders on Monday during a trip to the Occupy Philly encampment.
“This is the lineage of Dr. [Martin Luther] King’s struggle,” Jackson said. “If we fight with discipline and non-violence — we win.”
Jackson made a brief appearance at Noon, stopping by the sprawling encampment on Dilworth Plaza, on the west side of City Hall. It was his third consecutive day at the tent city at a time when the fate of the encampment remains uncertain.
Occupiers are under increasing pressure to move as the city tries to push forward on a $50 million renovation of the plaza expected start any day, and will take more than two years to complete. Last week, city officials posted an eviction notice — but Occupiers have yet to vacate the plaza.
Jackson declined to be drawn into the fray over location.
“There’s enough space in the city,” he said when quizzed by reporters after meeting and praying with several of the Occupy Philadelphia spiritual leaders.
His main purpose was to continue to offer his support for the cause of economic equality by drawing parallels between Occupy and the Civil Rights Movement. He urged civic and church leaders to push for “mass mobilization.”
“We need to get more involved. I am reminded of Dr. King’s last campaign to bring the war on poverty home,” he said. “Dr. King’s last effort in Washington was to occupy the national mall.”
Not everyone welcomed the veteran civil rights leader’s support.
In addition to attracting the attention of the press, Jackson’s visit drew a number of hecklers. One young firebrand ran up to civil rights leader yelling, “Where’s your illegitimate child, Jesse?”
The heckler refused to be silenced as a couple of Occupy members moved him away from Jackson, he continued screaming, “we don’t want you here” until finally he quieted down. Though he was quiet he remained in the background — his right arm raised and his middle finger extended for the benefit of the news cameras.
Angry, incoherent youth was not the only voice of dissent.
Another man, Scott Strader of South Philadelphia, circled Jackson with a sign noting that 800 jobs were on hold as Occupiers decided whether to leave Dilworth Plaza to allow the renovation to proceed.
“I don’t think this cause supersedes that work,” he said, in a tone more rational that his fellow heckler.
The angry young man turned his heckling from Jackson to Strader.
“Why does his voice matter?” he asked the reporters gathered to ask Strader questions.
Jackson stuck to his message of support for the movement as a whole, taking in stride yet another outburst from a woman who kept screaming for her children.
“We’re all in this together,” he said, noting that budget cuts reduced services to the homeless and mentally ill who were suffering along with people facing foreclosure, huge credit card debt and towering student loans.
Strader, who said he had no ties to the construction project and worked as a server in a restaurant, said he couldn’t support the Occupiers.
“There’s a socialist bent here,” he said. “People have to become self-sufficient.”
Jackson predicted that the Occupy movement would prompt political change regardless of the local politics surrounding each individual chapter, or any attempts to shut any one organization down.
“Occupy is a spirit that cannot be arrested and Occupy is not about a place but about a space,” Jackson said. “The space between the rich and the poor.”