You are here

#OccupyPA Report: The Lehigh Valley

posted on Tuesday, December 6th, 2011
Wayne Swingle and Sara Peters at Occupy Easton. Photo by Kara Newhouse.
Occupy Easton. Photo by Kara Newhouse.
Larry Deitch at Occupy Easton. Photo by Kara Newhouse.
Occupy Allentown. Photo by Kara Newhouse.
Occupy Allentown. Photo by Kara Newhouse.
Occupy Allentown. Photo by Kara Newhouse.
Occupy Bethlehem. Photo by Kara Newhouse.
Occupy Bethlehem. Photo by Kara Newhouse.
Occupy Bethlehem. Photo by Kara Newhouse.

Occupy Easton, Allentown and Bethlehem have different personalities and priorities, but they each identify as part of the Lehigh Valley and have worked together more directly than other Occupy groups around the state. They have coordinated on marches and actions, including protesting a housing foreclosure in late November.

With 26,000 residents, Easton is the smallest Pennsylvania city with an ongoing occupation. Occupy Easton started out with a group of working people and parents protesting on weekends, and on Nov. 17 they set up a camp with six tents. Their structure also has three solar panels and a car port.
Occupy Easton members are aware that the context they are working in is different from that of Occupy Wall Street and that they have to adapt their tactics accordingly. For example, 
they didn't hold the occupation in the main square because there is a very old farmers market there with which they didn’t want to interfere. Occupy Easton receives high community support at their events. In October, former professional boxer Larry Holmes, who grew up in the city, joined the Occupy members in a protest on Larry Holmes Drive. Around 50 people recently marched on Wells Fargo and Bank of America with, and they would like to hold a weekly bank march.
Like other Occupy’s, Easton is dealing with how to grow and change as winter arrives. Maintaining an encampment and resolving any associated drama requires lots of time and energy from participants. Some Occupy Easton members have proposed closing the camp. They are considering alternatives like occupying an indoor location or creating a co-operative café in the city.
In Allentown, five people who couldn’t afford to go to Occupy Wall Street started their local occupation Oct. 5, making it one Pennsylvania’s earliest overnight occupations. They began with one tent and have since grown to more than ten tents and a lively kitchen.
A significant local issue that Occupy Allentown has been tackling is the city’s arena project. Last spring, Mayor Ed Pawlowski announced plans to build a downtown entertainment complex that would include a minor league hockey arena, events space, shops and possibly a hotel. Allentown City Council has used eminent domain to remove local businesses that would not sell their property in the block where the arena will be. Several business owners and Occupy Allentown participants have called this an abuse of eminent domain law, which in Pennsylvania requires that public bodies only take property for “public use” or to eliminate blight. In November a local developer filed a lawsuit against the city on this issue.
According to Occupy Allentown members, the city police declared a “hands-off” policy toward the demonstrators, meaning that they will not protect them in any potential incidents.
Many punk and hip hop bands in the area or touring have supported the occupation, including a band called Sweet Fix that distributed free concert tickets to some occupiers.
Occupy Bethlehem considers itself a citizens’ oversight committee and has been active with public speaking, including at City Council meetings. Participants said they are good at putting individual issues aside to get down to core issues. They are located in the city’s north side, but they would like to start another one on the south side, which has more working class and Latino neighborhoods.
The occupation began in October and now has 15 tents, with roughly 30 people attending general assemblies twice a week. Participants said that in the beginning the police were friendly, and the mayor even brought them pizza once. Recently, however, city officials put eviction notices on each tent. The notices stated that the government can put “reasonable restrictions” on the “time, place and manner” of free speech. 
In addition to coordinating with other Occupy groups, Occupy Bethlehem has been reaching out to the area’s sustainability community.
Scroll down to see video of Occupy Lehigh Valley participants describing why they are part of the 99%.