Occupy Philadelphia celebrated its six-month anniversary Friday with signs, cheers, and a clear message: Though the group's City Hall encampment was disbanded over the winter, the group never went away.
For the last four months, organizers said, members of the group have been working on outreach campaigns involving plans to protest the city's restrictions on outdoor feeding of the homeless, occupy vacant lots, and provide free information on social issues.
This weekend, Occupy planned to roll out the first of its spring events, starting with a rally in Rittenhouse Square on Friday afternoon. The group of fewer than 100 members marched to Independence Mall, where some planned to stay all weekend in a short-term encampment. Park rangers said members would be allowed to stay as long as they did not camp or sleep there.
"Occupy has definitely influenced the national conversation, but I think we have a long way to go," said Julia Alford-Fowler, a doctoral student at Temple University who has had an informal leadership role in the group since its inception. "We have to keep up the fight, keep up the movement, or otherwise it just becomes kitsch."
Occupy Philadelphia began as an offshoot of New York City's Occupy Wall Street movement, set in motion to draw attention to what demonstrators see as a growing imbalance between a small number of America's rich and powerful and the rest of the country. Outposts have emerged in a number of cities around the country, and organizers say there is no set end date.
Occupy Philadelphia, which set up camp at Dilworth Plaza on Oct. 6, was evicted Nov. 30 so a construction project could begin.
At Rittenhouse Square, about 50 people gathered Friday to paint signs and reunite with old friends.
"We're trying to recapture the energy we had in October," said Mike Fox, 28, of Haddon Heights.
Dennis Payne, 51, said he believes the country needs to provide better for poor and underprivileged citizens, and hopes the Occupy movement would help bring that to pass.
"A lot of homeless and unemployed people want to work, but there's nothing for them," said Payne, of Kensington. "We need a society that thinks of the less fortunate among us."
Payne said the country's economic troubles had forced many people to realize how close to poverty they are.
"Before this, the poor knew how vulnerable they were, but I think now the middle class has gotten a wake-up call that they're not so secure," he said.
While demonstrators occupy Independence Mall, Occupy plans a series of "teach-ins" on topics such as civil rights and social justice. More rallies and marches are coming, members said.
"We're not here to cause a ruckus. . . . We're here to effect change," said Phil Pettipiece, 27, who came from Delaware for the weekend events. "This is a great thing, an extension of free speech. Occupying is taking up public space and continuing a tradition. There is supposed spin that the movement is faltering, but Occupy isn't going anywhere. We're still here."