Former President Bill Clinton and Mayor Nutter canceled a joint campaign appearance as snow and freezing rain pelted the region - and as Occupy Philadelphia prepared to confront them with what demonstrators said would be a powerful silent protest.
About 200 soggy, cold demonstrators, many wearing gags, had lined up outside a hall at Temple University early Saturday afternoon when word began to circulate that the event was canceled.
Leaders of Occupy Philadelphia claimed credit, saying that Nutter, Clinton, and other political leaders did not want to face an audience packed with opponents.
Representatives for Nutter and Clinton said the sole reason for the cancellation was that the weather impeded the former president's travel plans. He also had to cancel an appearance in Minnesota, spokesman Matt McKenna said.
Low cloud ceilings and bad weather forced the delays and cancellations of flights in New York, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. At Philadelphia International Airport, weather forced the cancellations of 85 departing flights, and incoming flights were delayed up to three hours because of conditions elsewhere.
Still, Occupy Philadelphia claimed a victory.
"They canceled this at the last minute when they realized that the only people who showed up, despite the weather, were there to protest," said Alan Sable, a member of Occupy Philadelphia's Direct Action Working Group.
Earlier this month, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor canceled a speech at the University of Pennsylvania when it became the target of Occupy and other groups, Sable noted.
The mayor's reelection campaign dismissed Occupy's claims.
"The only reason for President Clinton not being here is the inclement weather - nothing else," campaign spokeswoman Sheila Simmons said. "President Clinton has been enthusiastically looking forward to coming to Philadelphia to support his friend Mayor Nutter."
Nutter said in a statement that given the snow, sleet, and rain, "we did not want to drag people out still for an event that didn't include the featured guest."
Some people who had hoped to see the former president were disappointed.
"Oh, no!" cried one woman, a teacher, as the news spread outside Temple's Mitten Hall.
"You're kidding me," said a union worker, his arms full of giveaway T-shirts.
Occupy protesters stood waiting to get inside, their mouths bound with what they called "corporate gags," strips of cloth emblazoned with the logos of companies such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron. Several held signs proclaiming themselves part of the 99 percent, as opposed to the richest 1 percent of America.
Occupy Philadelphia organizers say they plan to join in a 99-minute general national strike Wednesday.
At midmorning Saturday, pounding rain and snow collapsed tents at the Occupy encampment outside City Hall. Rivers of slushy water flowed across the plaza. Organizers appealed for donations of wooden pallets, so protesters could raise their tents out of the water, and for winter coats, blankets, gloves, tarps, and sleeping bags.
Still, protest leaders said the cold, snowy weather actually was a help, separating the committed from the merely interested, and offering an opportunity to showcase the staying power of Occupy Philadelphia.
About 50 to 75 people marched from City Hall to Temple. Many others took the subway.
"The weather is only making us stronger," said Jessica Herwick, from Frackville, Pa. "We're not going to let a little weather stop us."
Outside City Hall, tents sagged in wind-driven rain and snow. On one was spray-painted: "Iraq vets occupy Philly."
Signs quoted Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and called for everything from a fairer tax system to an end to so-called fracking to extract natural gas.
"We are sorry for the inconvenience," one sign stated, "but this is a revolution."
"I'm here in the wind and rain to see what's going on," said Tom Coyle, 51, a house painter who stood in a City Hall vestibule.
He had come from Audubon, Camden County, to support the march and demand a fairer economy.
"Moving the money from the rich down through the system to the poor - whatever they want to label it, that's what should be done," he said. "How that is done is a whole different story. But that's the main thing."
He said the battle over the control of wealth was not a matter of Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, but a question centered on the U.S. Constitution.
"This is not how they set it up," he said, referring to the Founding Fathers. "They didn't anticipate that the rich would keep getting richer."
What's next for Occupy Philadelphia?
"I don't think anyone can predict," said Sable, the working-group leader. "We're here, and we've got no plans to leave."