Occupy movement members march to Phily City Hall

PHILADELPHIA—The cradle of liberty celebrated the nation’s 236th birthday on Wednesday with thousands of cupcakes, an old-fashioned parade and some modern-day political dissent.

Marching bands, floats, community groups and military service members paraded through Philadelphia’s historic district as crowds braved sweltering temperatures for the city’s annual patriotic tribute to America. It was the seventh day of a heat wave, with temperatures in the 90s.

Ellen Schmidt, 71, of Magnolia, N.J., said the hot weather could not keep her from a decades-long tradition of attending the July Fourth festivities, which include a swearing-in ceremony for new citizens in front of Independence Hall.

“I celebrate this country and the freedoms that we have, and the freedoms that I wish for everyone,” Schmidt said.

At the Independence Visitors Center, pastry chefs from the local Termini Bros. bakery decorated a flag-themed, five-tier cake. They later gave out more than 2,500 red, white and blue cupcakes.

Oscar-winning actress Ellen Burstyn read from the Declaration of Independence. Local dignitaries joined a group of children—among the youngest descendants of the document’s signers—at the yearly tapping of the Liberty Bell.

In addition, thousands packed a downtown parkway for an evening concert featuring hometown musicians The Roots and their surprise guest Lauryn Hill. Daryl Hall, Queen Latifah, Common and Joe Jonas also performed. A fireworks show followed.

Dissenters claimed the day as the perfect time to air their grievances, as the Founding Fathers did in 1776.

A small group of Vietnam veterans protesting war pitched a canopy on the edge of Independence Mall. The local tea party association held a private event at the visitors center.

And members of the Occupy movement assembled in nearby Franklin Square. Hundreds of Occupy members marched through Philadelphia Wednesday night to City Hall, carrying signs and chanting slogans. Two members were arrested, the group said. Philadelphia police did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation.

Occupy, which opposes economic inequality and corporate influence on government, has been holding a national gathering in the city since last week. Police rebuffed their efforts to occupy Independence Mall.

The five-day event has included workshops and speakers as well as several marches through the city; more than two dozen demonstrators have been arrested.

Chris Gagnon, 20, of East Providence, R.I., said he came to the gathering to talk about how the movement can regain the momentum it lost last fall after authorities dismantled many Occupy encampments across the nation.

He said he’s concerned about student loan debt, affordable health care and a reduction in public services—not just for himself, but for his whole generation.

“I don’t see myself having the same quality of life that my parents enjoyed,” Gagnon said.

On Thursday morning, Occupy members plan to walk from Philadelphia to Wall Street in New York City.


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